Coupon Democracy

by Ben G. Price


Caveat Emptor! "Buyer Beware!" Not every sale is a bargain, and the hidden costs of a purchase can turn a "steal" into theft by the seller. As in all things touched by the American consumer culture, purchases of goods and services (especially, these days, political services) are really complex exchanges of money, merchandise, man-power, and mind-set. Nothing so straight-forward as trade nor barter survives in the "legitimate" economy. The reason for the disappearance of simplicity in matters of commerce is the adoption of bamboozlement as a modus operandi by career merchants, who have inbred themselves as a whole business class down in the sewers of human intercourse. The craft of merchantilism has become the art of bewitching. What once were the merchant's customers have been transformed by the Circe of advertising into consumer swine without personhood: zombies dancing to the damned fiddling of marketeers. Consumers as depicted by advertisers are now co-conspirators in the swindle of a lifetime. We're supposed to buy-into the deceptions that TV commercials endorse, and we're suppose to participate in the deception.

See if you remember these recent examples: an instant chemical beverage mix is being sold. Now, if we hide behind a kitchen door and imitate the swooshing and whirring of a personal electronic vending machine, the packet of powder will yield a genuine and genuinely appreciated delicacy, cappuccino. Or how about the Rice Krispie squares commercial wherein the harried mom, trying to read a few more pages of her junk fiction romance, perpetrates a similar deceit on her family? While they wait impatiently in the dining room, she indulges herself with a few more pages, and when familial pressure grows too great she flings flour in her face to feign zealous effort and gain undeserved adulation for creating a gummy mold of marshmallow and cereal.

Just funny and innocent and entertaining, right? Until you find out what it costs the manufacturer to throw the powder or cereal into the packet, then compare that to the price you and your family pay for the "convenience" of having it "ready made" to throw into the micro-wave and your own family's face! Not to mention the fact that you and the rest of America's taxpayers subsidized the commercial that sold you and them the concoction, and the manufacturer won't pay a dime for promotional fees. Now who's got dehydrated egg yolk and BHT on the face? That's right, you even subsidized the costs of the commercial, since advertising is a fully deductible business expense for the multinational conglomerates who can "afford" prime air time on TV.

The rules of mass ensorcellment haven't changed much since the witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth cast a spell over Elizabethan audiences. The trick is and always has been to replace the surrounding reality that keeps vying for the audience's attention with a fantasy, a staged alternate reality that they are more comfortable with and willing to pay to experience. Old Will, the epic voice of the English tongue, wrote "The play's the thing," but there is no conscience to be caught in today's profit king. The prime directive of our modern illusocracy: "the show must go on," and the profit must continue to accrue to the "investor," which is to say the rich man who leverages influence into a Rube Goldberg legal contraption that funnels money into his bank account for no accountable reason.

Bait and switch is the underlying strategy by which we are sold on the notion that we must buy (or buy-into) things we really don't need at a cost we really can't afford. If we were acting purely out of self-motivation, we would decide not to own by way of indenture a catalogue of "must-have conveniences" that inconvenience us into debt, over-time, and sacrificing more legitimate investments (such as time with family and friends). Ownership of motivation is the keystone to controlling behavior, and the mutant human business class has invested every possible dollar of excess profit to discover and claim as their own the means and methods of projecting false desire and artificial need into the minds of their financial host organisms, "consumers."

Proxy control of human behavior by the so-called producer (they produce nothing) parasites on communities causes the host (the sucker, the mark, the buyer, the customer, in short, you!) to imagine its infection by commercialism and material addiction to be benevolent. The host brain (yours) imagines some super-human force has made a smorgasbord of commodities available to it at a cost only marginally above your means, never realizing that your every working hour is even now being translated into a commodity offered to a neighbor across town or across the ocean at a similarly high mark-up. Does all this profit mean you're soon going to get a big raise? Nyuk nyuk! Wise guy, eh?

The break-up of the human community via the wedge of media-hyped commodity glorification has been a long-standing commercial project designed to prevent each of us from claiming credit for creating the goods, completing the services, yet reaping minimal remuneration for our contribution to the human economy. We don't talk to each other about our accomplishments because we are individually permitted such limited access to the knowledge concerning the outcome of all our labor. Few workers see finished products as identifiably attributable to their own efforts, and so the desire to claim pride of workmanship is turned away, and the profiteers invent rationalizations out of incredulous claims of duty to stockholders in order to justify the theft of labor, while looking down on laborers as incidental to the creation of wealth.

The modern necromancy of advertising and market research brings to life out of the general indifference of most common people a temporary enthusiasm. It is an avidness evoked in the targeted consumer that lives long enough to see the sale made, the deal closed, but not so long as to outlive the limited warranty. Since nothing sucks seed like success, advertisers promise everything short of a blow job to elevate the real sucker's money out of his pocket. Once the job of lightening the jeans of the mark's seed money is accomplished, the john is just another apostle of the gospel of consumption. Hero today, Ghandi tomorrow.


Shakespeare, in his day, had his secret patrons who paid him a stipend and ensured that his works would have their audience. By some quirk of historical sentimentality, literary scholars have imagined, or at least have taught their students, that those anonymous patrons contributed to the output of the Bard purely out of a love of the arts and culture. It is, like the legend of Daniel Boone or Paul Bunyan, too tall a tale to take seriously. All words are the beginning of orthodoxy. We can not speak together without coming apart from ourselves. We can not sell our words without coming apart from our souls. To be sure, words that are paid for can turn out artistic. They can not turn out true to the heart of the author.

Every culture has its defining epic, an embodiment in language of the facts, sentiments, attitudes, morality and values that will be built upon for the age in which the culture thrives. Greek culture had the Iliad and Odyssey. A war poem and a mythic justification for the invention of individuality in the form of Odysseus, the hero. Not surprisingly, democracy, the rarest form of government in history, was founded first in Greece, where the individual citizen first mattered. Rome had its Aeneid, an epic based on an artificially constructed hero and an artificially mythologized founding tale. And an artificial pantheon of gods and goddesses pilfered from the Greek psyche.

To save the empire from its early senility, the Christian sect, with its universal mythology of brotherhood, had to be coopted ad hoc because citizens of Rome had adopted for themselves the Imperial supremacy of their founding tale, a paleoethnocentricity that could not be shared with the people of their conquered lands who had no stake in that old saw about Romulus and Remus. Only a universalizing myth would do to hold European minds to a common weal dictated from Rome. Catholicism (universalism) was invented, and all its glorious works of faith and inquisition, to enlist the victims of militant Romanism into the ranks of history.

Milton might like to have become the English speaking Homer, but he could not overcome the artifice of his attempt to re-establish a Christian theme for the political ends of the British Empire, as against the historical and human verisimilitude embodied in the poetic mastery of his elder and better, Shakespeare. Shakespeare outshone him because there was a cultural myth to be established by the former, and merely a reinforcement of it was offered as a cultural project to the latter. Shakespeare was commissioned by his patrons to mythologize the British royalty and give the crown of England access to the pantheon of all the paleocultural gods. Through his plays he was to encapsulate the pharoeic qualities and exciting virtues of crowned and revered personages. Shakespeare's was essentially a PR effort for the crown of England, and he served it masterfully.

With the final collapse of Roman hegemony, parochialisms like King James' version of scripture, Martin Luther's version of Christianity, and the experimentalism of science which, though it aspired to catholicism (universality) relied on the individuality of observation, the brief interlude referred to as the "enlightenment" seemed to hint at the possibility that democracy would play a significant part in human history. Alas, the parochial confusion of the "enlightenment" with the "reformation" is simply explained: the former is a liberation from orthodoxy and the later is a replacement of the old with a new orthodoxy. That Shakespeare, "the Bard's," works were often commissioned, as are all works of pop culture these days, by someone who sought to gain by promoting the point of view presented by him is not at issue. He wrote in an era when whatever was written to be widely read was promoted to advance some cause. And Shakespeare's advancement of British royalty as Olympian in character via the drama of their struggles is, if not well remarked then at least viscerally well known. Yesterday's problems affect today's, but are not today's. What is at issue today is the question of who are the patrons of today's public performance spectacles, and what are they promoting? And why is there a chasm between the founding myths of the American culture and the reality of American culture as it is practiced and proselytize around the globe?

American culture itself is a performance spectacle. This is a new thing under the sun, some people think, when in reality it is only the technology of communication that makes the exotic exhibitionism of American lifestyle as a global performance so conspicuously spectacular. But it is not the content of the program that is its substance. Rather, it is the power relationships between the patrons (sponsors), the performers (laborer/producers), and the audience (or consumers).

The prosaic experience of domestic American politics, for instance, parallels the inventiveness of market manipulation in the supermarket. We've all heard the "free market" arguments against controlling dangerous or obnoxious products through regulation. It goes like this: people will vote with their feet and their dollars. If they don't want a product, they'll walk. If they want a product, they'll vote for it with the dollars they spend on it. Of course, what a person will buy depends a great deal on what a person has been lead to believe about the values and effects of a commodity.


The difference between the average American's expectations about his or her life and reality is a matter of copious recorded market statistics, though such information (however much it might form the core of a true understanding of society) remains proprietary in nature and hence secret and of use only to those who have paid for the right to abuse us. But it is no secret that the so-called American Dream is down the outhouse of history, a double seater venue where both "major" pain in the ass political parties come to drop legislative petards on the last flowering of democracy in three millennia. It wouldn't be so bad if it were fertilizer they were dropping, but it's toxic sludge they rain on us. And they seethe their privileged rage at our inability to thrive in it. The mode of abiding in this commode of providing is based on the hypnotic deciding allowed within the stench of presiding law manipulators. Poetry in commotion.

Tokens are everything. We are an anal retentive culture in the most and least Freudian sense of the term. We are compulsive, obstreperous to learning and true knowledge, resistant to whatever might advance us past our follies, embracing of our images, our idols, our totems of our pretensions to ownership of this moment as unique in all eternity. Before us are all gods. We shall have none lord over us, save the god of our desires. And so we are slaves to the dirt, to which we will sacrifice our being. Let us prey.

Our rights are trading cards in the underground barter system of devalued democracy. Our constitution is a comic book with iridescent super heroes in it: the hues of justice change depending on the amount of bad kryptonite the opposing party throws at our icons. Justice is a cartoon. The balloons our two dimensional citizens exclaim out of themselves are gaseous inflations of dependent ideology, not points of view defended by law. The pimple-faced adolescents of politics have won. Pretend justice supercedes real justice because it is more romantic, exciting, and self-reifying.

We've been converted into coupon-clipping freedom bargain hunters. Every new bill that passes the legislature is a totem to be clipped from the newspaper and waved under the noses of those we think we've just got one-up on. Retailers don't give you a straightforward across the board price cut; they make you shop for the brand names they're getting kick-backs for endorsing, have you read every square nanometer of the ad for an expiration date, clip out the micro billboard, and shuffle through your purse or "coupon organizer" for it one last time at the store. Meanwhile, the brand you really like without the preservatives in the dull packaging remains on the shelf, if it was ever stocked at all. It goes unsold. It goes "out of business."

American politics has devolved to the same sort of coupon democracy. Sure, you can vote for anyone the poll booth stocks as an option. Trouble is, by the time you get there, most of the competition for ballot shelf space has been driven out of business. Sure they had organic and natural grown ideas, without all the corporate contributions and additives, but were they packaged as nicely? Did they have the big name recognition?

To be sure, coupons aren't just for consumers. No sireee! Just when you thought you understood "capitalist democracy" along comes a new spin on the free market. "Gee, aren't liberty and the free market the same thing?" you ask. Well of course they are, my friend! Just ask any corporate CEO!

Who will write the epic that glorifies this age? Let the bastard die in the cradle!