Between the glittering intersections of anywhere-America, the car speeds past billboards advertising other cars, on its way to a hospital. The red of the traffic light reminds the driver of how much he needs a maxi-sized coke. "Nearly there", he says to his wife in labour. Outside the delivery room he paces and leafs through one magazine after the other. "It's a boy. Have you chosen a name?" the mid-wife asks. "Timberland", he proudly replies.
Elsewhere a geek is getting an Apple tattooed on his shoulder. Deeper in the bowels of the transmetropolitan sprawl, someone is getting branded, skin-deep. On a TV screen, CNN helps brand the monster and the saint. The same image on a different screen reflects the view of a Bangkok street lined with stall-sellers pushing the illegitimate twins of cloned labels.
Years ago one afternoon, I stood in the Tuscan countryside, behind a Franciscan monastery, fishing in a pond. The 10-year son of a cousin being apologetic that the fishing rod he had given me was not a designer one.
On the train from Rome to Milan the other day, a guy from some food-watchdog NGO is lecturing the three twentysomethings sat next to him about what can and cant be eaten, like some alter ego of the Man from Del Monte. From time to the time, the three asked questions about brands and supermarkets, never about generic foodstuff.
All the above act as ads, random trailers, to the blockbuster movie of our times: the brand-saturated life.
Now, beyond all the urgent considerations involving the current hyper-liberalisation drive that replaces people with the prayer for maximising profit and which hides behind the smiling font of a shiny logo, what intrigues me is the level of intimacy reached by the pervasiveness of brand in what we know as life. The layer it interfaces between desire and act.
A brand is a name is a brand. As a species, after all, we are extremely fond of giving names. But what is recalled by a brand?
I remember one summer dawn when I was sixteen, after a night full of (no)future and Roman punks, dossing at someone's house, and everybody was asleep and a ray of light filtered through the blinds and shone across ten or so pairs of 10-hole Dr Martens in a row. The image of those boots blasting like a three-minute song.
There was some article somewhere blogged a few weeks ago about implanting brand-friendly false memories in "consumers". Beyond any fictional recollection, beyond the Saatchi & Saatchi-sad lovemarks, first-hand memories are peppered with brands.
But are they props or protagonists? In an experience economy, do we risk impoverishing the depth and breadth of our experience? Is not the act of consumption reductive? After all, a car consumes gas but we can delight in a banquet.
Ultimately, I find I return to the same question like I do to a pair of Levi's: excluding finances for a fanciful once, what makes us wealthy or poor?
It's getting late. Outside the lazy sound of rain is broken by the chime of a medieval church bell. A reminder of our antiquity.
Unsure if something has been said or if this has just been senseless zapping through satellite thought-channels. Feeling a bit like Travolta in Grease singing: "stranded at the drive-in, branded a fool..."