Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments Posted 05.04.08 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Rob Walker

This Joke’s for You


In Mike Judge’s movie Idiocracy, an average and unambitious guy played by Luke Wilson hibernates as part of a military experiment and wakes up 500 years later. The America he wakes up to has devolved radically: inarticulate citizens stare slack-jawed at the base entertainments of the Violence Channel, the president is a former wrestler who presides over monster-truck gladiator spectacles in a rundown arena and the crops are dying because they are being irrigated with a sports drink called Brawndo, “the Thirst Mutilator.” It’s very funny. It’s also, if you happen to think about it, kind of depressing.

Some present-day brands exist in this dystopian future; Starbucks and Fuddruckers are there, although they have changed in ways that really can’t be described here. The dubious Brawndo attained its dominant role simply by buying the government agencies that might thwart its power and by marginalizing the use of water by corporate fiat. Witless consumers parrot the drink’s advertised inclusion of electrolytes as the best thing about it — though they clearly don’t know what electrolytes are or why they are supposed to be good. Of course, that is all made up. There is no Brawndo. Or there wasn’t until last November, when this instrument of consumer-culture satire joined actual consumer culture: 10,000 cases and counting of Brawndo have sold online or via convenience stores in the Northeast and other regions.

This happened not because of a movie-studio marketing brainstorm. (Twentieth Century Fox released the film briefly and without much enthusiasm in 2006 before tossing it to the DVD market, where it has gained a cult following.) It happened because of an “Idiocracy” fan in Oakland named Pete Hottelet. A graphic designer with very particular pop-culture tastes, Hottelet has started a business devoted to bringing to life certain products from movies. His business is called Omni Consumer Products, a name borrowed from the fictional megacorporation in “Robocop.” In addition to Brawndo, Omni has acquired from Paramount the license to market Sex Panther, a made-up cologne from the Will Ferrell vehicle “Anchorman” (“150% More Awesome Than Any Other Cologne. Ever.”).

Hottelet’s manufacturing partner is Redux Beverages. Redux was founded in 2006 by Jamey Kirby, a former software engineer, and is best known for a real energy drink called Cocaine. Cocaine received a lot of attention before “we had some issues with the F.D.A.,” Kirby says. He pulled it out of stores, and while he was retooling the marketing to address F.D.A. objections (he says it went back on the market in February), he heard from Hottelet — “an absolutely brilliant guy.” Hottelet explained the pitch: the drink had to contain electrolytes and had to be an alarmingly bright green, as in the movie.

“I watched ‘Idiocracy,’ and I was like, ‘O.K., we’re in,’ ” Kirby says. “Based on how things are going on in the world, and especially our country right now, this is a shoo-in.” He laughs as he says this, so I wasn’t sure what he meant. Are we already living “Idiocracy”? “Absolutely,” he says. “It’s all about overcommercialization.” The video ads on the Brawndo site, commissioned by Hottelet, feature members of Picnicface, a Canadian comedy troop, shouting hilariously over-the-top pitches: “It’s like a monster truck you pour into your face!” (The pitches actually owe quite a bit to videos Picnicface has made for a drink called Powerthirst — which doesn’t exist. I don’t think.)

It’s interesting to consider the Brawndo project as metasubversion, making it possible to express knowing amusement at the absurdity of American commerce by buying something. But maybe the message is simply that cautionary tales about dumbed-down culture are a futile endeavor: show us an argument that we will buy anything, no matter how idiotic, and we say, “Awesome — how much for that?”

Or maybe the lesson is something else altogether. “People want to know, ‘Who are you?’ ” Hottelet says. “I don’t know. Some guy.” This is a telling comment. Invariably the darkly comic sci-fi future is dominated by huge media conglomerates and overbearing corporations that deliver us into some idiocracy or other by force, and from above. But we know things haven’t turned out that way, and it’s now the wily and tech-enabled citizen who embarrasses companies and politicians or becomes a virtual celebrity or — why not? — makes Brawdo a tangible thing in the world. The stupid-funny future is all around us, and we can’t get enough of it, and we have Some Guy to thank. 


This essay was originally published in The New York Times Magazine, May 4, 2008.  

|
Share This Story

Comments

Design Observer encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.
Read Complete Comments Policy >>


Name             

Email address 




Please type the text shown in the graphic.


|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Walker is a technology/culture columnist for Yahoo News. He is the former Consumed columnist for The New York Times Magazine, and has contributed to many publications. He is co-editor (with Joshua Glenn) of the book Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, and author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are
More Bio >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









RELATED POSTS


Lucia Eames, 1930-2014
An appreciation of Lucia Eames (1930-2014).

The Filmic Page: Chris Marker's Commentaires
The French director Chris Marker’s book Commentaires is as innovative as book design as his documentaries are as films.

Horror Movie Posters
Accidental Mysteries for November 3, 2012 highlights vintage horror movie posters.

From the Archive: Brian Eno, Artist of Light
An early profile of ambient musician and producer Brian Eno’s parallel career as a visual artist.

An Archive of Czech Film Posters
Accidental Mysteries for June 30, 2013 showcases an archive of Czech film posters.