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September 20, 2013

Brand on Fire (Or: You’re Not the Boss of Me!)

Weegee photographs

What sends shivers up and down my spine is the thought of Westinghouse PR green-lighting the placement of their logo on the hood of a dude getting smoked in that ultramodern device, the gas chamber. …How far branding has come!

Today, advertising has become so mimetic, so hopelessly embedded, that we hardly know where we leave off and it begins. (Isn’t that the message of this Adbuster cover, by the way — that the brands know and define us better than we do ourselves?)

Adbuster coke machine cover

Still, there are those occasional social disruptions where we’re reminded for an instant how much the advertisers, office holders and publishers, as a consortium, are delivering us the juice. Not since Stephen Colbert turned that mutual backscratcher’s club — otherwise known as the 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner — into an Andy Kauffman routine have I seen a comparable example of what happened the other day.

Russell Brand GQ Hugo Boss

The latest ripping open of the upper echelon’s social circuit kimono was perpetrated by Russell Brand, a member of the entertainment wing of the celebrity class with the confidence (and the crazy act) not to give a damn where his next croissant might be coming from. Hopefully there are more than five or seven of you out there who still care about the toxification of public culture by way of trendier hoods on a lot more heads.

Russell Brand at the GQ a 009
I urge you to read Russell Brand’s explanation of/for his behavior at GQ’s “fabricated fun” faux award event. (“They aren’t parties, they’re spaceships.”) Consider why he chose to riff on the link between the Nazi’s and “an irrelevant menswear supplier.” Heed his questions about why London’s political elite would be hobnobbing with its chroniclers. Consider for a moment how brands and brand rituals have become embedded in your own wallpaper. And finally, absorb his admonition in the end to trust in yourself and those around you to try and get your feel back.

After appreciating the not-complete lunacy of calling bullshit on the ritual publicity photo, and the morphing of one’s visage into a Bossy brand sandwich, read the article. Read it in its entirety.

update: corrected electric chair reference to gas chamber.

photo 1:Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images circa 1945. caption: An American prisoner, sentenced to death, is strapped into a chair in the gas chamber. The black hood carries a Westinghouse Electric Company logo. image 2: Adbusters: “Journal Of The Mental Environment.” photos 3 & 4: Richard Young/ Rex Features via Digitalspy.)

  • reinzig

    Definitely worth a read….though you might correct the reference to the first photo as someone getting “fried” in an electric chair, when your reference says it is a gas chamber. I know, it’s incredibly picky, and completely irrelevant to the point that you’re making–which is a good one–but for us research-y, fact-y type people, stuff like this makes it harder to read articles without getting distracted…..

  • Tom

    The Weegee is fascinating. It must be a remnant of the turn of the century “war of the currents” between Edison’s direct current and Westinghouse’s alternating current. A/C was technically superior, so Edison tried to stop it by waging a fear campaign saying that A/C was “more lethal” and would lead to fatal cardiac arrhythmias. While he personally opposed capital punishment, he designed the first electric chairs in the late 19th century–of course using A/C power. He referred to the fate of the condemned as being “Westinghoused.”

    • Scarabus

      Yeah. Edison went so far as to electrocute an elephant. Her name was Topsy.

  • Thomas

    Interestingly, Lapham’s Quarterly features a fine essay covering some very related subjects, also well worth reading:

  • Joe

    It’s been corrected to a “has chamber” and “Nazi’s” doesn’t need an apostrophe.

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