What do Microsoft and Michael Jackson have in common? (I mean besides the fanatical desire to take over the entire known metaverse and re-shape it in their respective images.) Why, the use of controversy to hype their products. I just read this week in the San Francisco Examiner that Microsoft is looking for a way to uncouple its much-ballyhooed communications software from Windows 95 (or Windows 96, as I like to call it), if the Justice Department keeps harassing them. Message: Everybody buy lotsa copies of our software before the big bad Feds break it up. Just like they took away the phone company and subjected everybody to endless A.T.&T vs MCI commercials. Me, I'm probably gonna wait until Windows 4.1. (Or whatever they're going to call the "we-promise-this-will-fix-all-the-bugs" rush-release six months after Windows 95 comes out. Will it be called Windows 95.1?? Sounds like a radio station: "You're tuned into Windows 95.1, all grunge, all the time.") I mean, I'll wait unless, of course, I can, well, you know . . . After all, he is the richest man in the world, and I'm not.
Michael Jackson is, of course, a past master at the controversy + hype = mega-sales equation -- from Columbia Records forcing MTV to play "Billie Jean" (a good thing, but not done in the spirit of helping his fellow African-American musicians) to the "Thriller" video to the car-smashing sequence in "Black and White" to his whole jack-booted movie trailer (and bless you, "Prime Time Live," for running that, otherwise I would have never seen it), Mikey has always been able to maintain his weirdo-child public persona while pushing all of our sex and violence buttons. Hey, for that I commend him.
After all, I guarantee you that he probably has his house wired directly into the main computer at SoundScan so he can keep tracking of the sales of his records as they're happening ("Gosh, Lisa Marie, they just sold one in Memphis!"), like in the Home Shopping Club. You gotta figure Michael knows that -- for artists with a proven fan base like his -- sales start extraordinarily high, plummet, and then level off for the long haul, where the real money is quietly made. So I see the whole "Jew me ... Kike me" controversy as one more way to run up sales of HIStory fast -- better buy now, since he's gonna re-record the vocals on one song! Then, rush out and buy the new version, too!
According to one report I read, Michael decided to re-record the song because Steven Speilberg, one of his "some of my best friends are Jewish" supposedly complained. Of course, Speilberg probably complains to Drew Barrymore about showing her tits everywhere, but she's a little closer to her artistic integrity than Michael. Besides, Michael would probably say that her childhood wasn't as tough as his.
Of course, it didn't work -- HIStory sold "only" 391,000 copies in its first week out of the box -- something that you or I would love to do with anything we've created, but a stone disappointment to Michael, who after all, has to keep Lisa Marie happy, something you or I don't have to do. Even worse, on the old hype-vs.-performance meter, HIStory had a dismal showing of 5,086,646,4657,603,055 to 1 in terms of actual measurable hype to sales, as compiled by the crack staff of Augustus Stamphammer and Associates. By way of comparison, Stamphammer points out that Guns N' Roses 1991 Use Your Illusion twins each sold 675,000 in their first week (hey, I bought one of each), and when measured against the hype for those records, it actually came out to an even 1 to 1 ratio. And W. Axl Rose only had to keep Stephanie Seymour happy -- or at least in their videos.
( For the all-time champ, at least in pop music,
Stamphammer's says its Pearl Jam's 1993 Vs. album,
nearly a million copies in its first week with no single, no video, and
little more than a couple of ads in magazines saying, "Hey, we're
putting our second album out if you wanna buy one.")
(What Stamphammer failed to explain, of course, is how there can be 4657 million, but I'm no number wizard.)
Windows 95 , however, is expected to do better than HIStory.
Well, Newsweek magazine seems to be running a special this month on alleged nut-case bombers. The message I'm getting is that all you have to do is blow things up, and wham! you're their latest cover star. Last week it was Timothy McVeigh, and this week, its the Unabomber, who was so pissed about McVeigh's publicity (not to mention that dreamy cover photo) that he effectively tossed a spanner in California air travel as a "prank." Who does he think he is, The Riddler?
And even worse, the Post Office out here won't take any packages over 12 ounces. I guess that they're worried about another mail bombing affecting their reputation, but it seems to me that A) they're pissing off far more people in a futile attempt to punish the entire class cos one kid farted during nap time, and B) it's not like their reputation could get any worse. It's the second dumbest thing I've heard of all week -- right after the Flag-Burning Amendment passing Congress. (Ooooooooohhh, now there's an Crisis Issue. Cripes.)
And as far as the Unabomber's manifesto goes, I say that they should run the sucker. This is not a slippery slope. The Unabomber is an exception, not a new rule. Those who think that there will be a rash of copycats just don't understand the new media at all. After all, as an avowed technophobe, he has no choice but to resort to the newspapers and magazines. (And I love the fact that , that Bob Guccione has somehow weasled his way into this story. I can see it now -- "The Unabomber In A Very Special Three-Way!"). But the rest of the anarchists, nutcases, and the other assorted crazies that make this the greatest country ever in which to live (HAPPY 220nd BIRTHDAY, AMERICA!!!), are all out here on the Net, happily publishing their manifestos, threats and philosophies every single day of their lives.
And speaking of his manifesto, here are the Unabomber's three pet peeves:
1) The dehumanizing technology that has had a negative
effect on people's lives.
2) The shadowy elite of leaders and experts who have trampled the human race.
3) The cheesy, 1970s photo that every newspaper and TV station in the country runs. Nobody has hair, a mustache, or especially sunglasses like that anymore.
By the way, I'd like to thank David Letterman for the form of that joke, and would like to let him know that I'm available to write jokes for him anytime.
This space is available for advertising. I am so ready to sell out to corporate America for some decent money. Even Microsoft!
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This rant written on 04 July, 1995.
I was listening to Nirvana -- Unplugged and
Neil Young -- Mirror Ball as I wrote it.
I was listening to Pearl Jam -- Vitalogy as I HTMLized it.