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The “Power” Con

Bumper Sticker Idea of the Week: CONSUMERS SUCK.

Chuck Berry may have been something of a visionary if not a leftist in the rock-and-roll 50s. (He invented rock-and-roll music simply by being a rhythm-and-blues musician attempting to write a country song. The result was “Maybelline.”) Berry has always been up-front and unrepentant about being in it for the money although he never made the millions that many of his imitators, like the Rolling Stones, did. By music industry standards, Chuck Berry is a Mom-and-Pop business operation.

It's only one line from one of his songs, “Brown-eyed Handsome Man,” I'm thinking of, but it was probably my first exposure, in an art form, to the truth of life in the American lower economic classes: “Arrested on charges of unemployment, I was sittin' on the witness stand…”

American life in the 50s was about having money, it's only more so now, and to a ridiculous degree. And let's not forget “power.” Money and power. Most people's drive for power seems to come from a desire to control the lives of others — to push people around.

In 1989 I was fortunate enough to have a benefactor who believed in my work and had the money to buy a computer. I'm still using the same machine, since all I still need is word processor. But by today's standards it's a joke, a dinosaur that can't even be used to access the Internet. I'm still on a bunch of computer and software catalog mailing lists. For years now I've been reading these testaments to self-absorption and power-lust.

There's hardly a commercial software program or piece of computer hardware anywhere that isn't promoted with promises of giving the consumer “power.” Nowhere does any of this hype mention that if thirty million computer owners have the same machinery and software, they all have equal “power.” And since power is relative, they're all back where they started in the Power Game — nowhere. Not only that, I wonder how many upgrade-crazed consumers of computer products notice exactly how the promotional copy is really worded. Every new software program and upgrade advertisement speaks boldly about what the particular item “allows” you to do. Spend thousands in order to be “allowed” to do certain things with a computer that supposedly gives you “power.” But where is the power, really? It's in the hands of those who do the allowing, not those who are allowed.

Once in a while, for some perverted reason, I read the “business” section of a mainstream newspaper. If anyone still doubts that these papers are anything but corporate shills, try to find anything in the Business section that isn't just plain advertising, promo or big-time ass-kissing. Without fail, the Seattle Times has at least one “article” on Boeing and another about Microsoft every day. Weyerhaueser runs a close third. The piece I'm looking at is the announcement of another version of Windows for what used to be called message-pad computers but now are referred to merely, although surprisingly honestly, as “hand-held consumer devices.” (Seriously, what multi-billion dollar corporation would ever put real power into the hands of “consumers”?)

These “hand-held consumer devices” are intended for Internet access. They allow you to access the Internet. See? And what is the Internet, for the most part, but a global marketing arena? Look at My Web Page, Buy My Crap. And you pay to get in.

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