I just finished watching Network with some friends, as one is wont to do, and it got me thinking about the nature of the internet, this spot where you have found me and these words which, for the moment, you fancy are directed towards you. I am an individual. I’m writing these words right now with no outside influences, I adorn these pages typically with photographs I have taken, photographs I’ve chosen the spots for and manipulated into surreal angles and colors, words I have put a great deal of thought into. But I am not an individual, I am a brand.
You have forced me to be a brand. You, anonymous reader, in your idle curiosity, have given me no other choice.
I don’t get to be a human being, an individual, in the same way my parents did. Anything I say, since I do most of my speaking in text channels, may be ripped, canonized, vilified, or worse than any of these, syndicated by individuals, corporations, or committees. This website affords me control over who I am, it exists so that when I am sought, and when somebody finds me, they find what I want them to.
My brand is straight-forward, honest to a fault, with a bit of disdain for reality, a bit of “respectability”, and a bit of egalitarianism. I write, and my writing is “poetry” — a brand name which carries a certain haughtiness which I can pretend to pride myself on softening with a laissez-faire, ars-gratia-artis attitude, so long as the language I use still conveys intelligence and respectability.
We do this to each other and to ourselves because we know any new person we meet, any new project we embark upon, any new relationship of any kind, will begin, or nearly begin, with surveillance. To a dedicated man, everything I have ever said is on a record somewhere, and I must remain a brand, rather than an individual, because I cannot imagine all the possible contexts or popular belief structures my words could be put into. That is to say, I cannot predict what will be anathema tomorrow, and I can’t rightly say I know what is anathema right now.
The truth is that we are commodities, after a fashion, and it is up to us to maintain our value in a marketplace that will stretch into an eternity of futures, yet will never forget a word we’ve said.
Mostly what Network brought to mind, in a round-about way, was T. S. Eliot’s poem “A Cooking Egg,” which I would be remiss not to include just here:
I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a poem about branding, but I hope the connection is clear. Particularly, I thought, “We two shall lie together, lapt/In a five per cent Exchequer Bond.” While Max Schumacher yelled at Diana Christensen about how she was incapable of love. Let’s face it, our society has laid bare the fact that sex and marriage are transactional, and the “romantics,” now, are people willing to take a loss on their contracts.
In this poem, Pipit is a human being, and the other characters are the shadows cast by famous people, they are reduced in a handful of lines to their brands, and those brands are unquestionably better, more desirable, in their specifics and in their fantasies, than anything Pipit might offer. Then, when what is real has been buried beneath “snow-deep Alps,” you are surprised that you miss it, humble as it was.
We have been living atop a snowdrift for so long, we wouldn’t recognize Pipit in a photo the years we knew her, with her arm in ours. We would see her coat, which we bought her ourselves in our distant youth, and proclaim it was an ugly, shabby thing, we’d imagine no person willing to wear. We would look into her eyes and we would see only that they are not Jobyna Ralston’s or Madhubala’s, because our memories are that long, that disloyal, and that esoteric.
We are hard-boiled eggs.
We are still quarantined, and many probably feel like the world is burning outside. It’s not my intention to add to that misery that “deepens like a coastal shelf,” and I would encourage anyone who thinks our streets are burning to look out the window. What you have chosen to experience as a tragedy is only the shadow of a famous event.
2016 had a brand which these last four years have adopted, and that brand is “everything is getting worse every day and I’m getting to the point where I just can’t stand being alive anymore” and some of you adopted the motto “Giant Meteor 2020,” a jab at our collapsed political infrastructures. So you may feel like you want to get out of your chair, go to your window, throw it open, and yell “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”
But you will. You’ll keep taking it, because you are enjoying yourself. The brand of 2020 is a metatextual specter advertisers have cast over your world because it gets you incensed enough to engage with their narratives, their media, and ultimately, their products. That’s not to say you can completely ignore politics, or there aren’t people rioting in the streets, but most of our angst doesn’t come from knowing these things are happening, it comes from the insane idea that one of the two groups in conflict sees a world that is beyond our comprehension.
It’s important not to buy into that idea, that every protester is an antifa terrorist or that every white man is an oppressor, a rapist, and a racist. That is all designed to make you feel indignant, sanctimonious, angry. No matter which side you’re on, it’s the same media, serving you the same slop, for the same purpose. No sane person can call themselves a Republican or a Democrat in this environment. They aren’t even brands anymore, they are titles emptied of all significance. They both serve 2020’s apocalyptic brand, because doomsday has always commanded an impressive market share, and the Dow has been falling since before you were born.
Now because I don’t want to make this political — that merely hits upon the theme of “branding” that I felt like covering — I did want to share a first draft of a poem that has nothing to do with this business. Y’know, sometimes you want everything to tie together nicely, sometimes you just want a palate cleanser. Not that this is a particularly cheery one, but it is at least about kinship. Tentatively called “For Donna”: