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"Living the Sponsored Life"

(Published March 27, 1998, with much assistance from Jenny Rydin)

A few weekends ago, I was halfheartedly watching the NFL draft on ESPN. I was less interested in the actual content of the show than I was in the fact that it was something on TV, and I needed something to lower my metabolism. Plus, I simply cannot get enough of that delightful Chris Berman.

Anyway, when ESPN was about to break to a commercial, the camera panned over the audience that had assembled for the 22-hour event, and I noticed that virtually every article of clothing worn by the fans had some sort of corporate logo prominently displayed somewhere on it. Reebok, Pepsi, and even DuPont were represented, and I started thinking about the poverty situation in our country. I think I just may have a solution.

The way I see it, a significant percentage of the United States population is either in dire need of some sort of financial aid or in a position where a little extra cash would at least make their lives somewhat easier to swallow. Thanks to Reagan, these poor souls have virtually no hope of ever getting out of the red, no matter how insistently they shake their Dixie cups at passersby.

On the other side of the barn, the United States also has an ungodly number of huge corporations that use their astronomical revenue to do nothing but purchase smaller corporations, which earn them more revenue with which they buy more small corporations and so on and so on until every business in the world is a Time-Warner company. Now, these Michael Moore nightmares could certainly stand to shed a few dollars to help the unfortunate, but we all know they aren't going to do anything philanthropic unless there's some good P.R. in it for them. This is why most corporations make a big show of being official Olympic sponsors. Somehow, that qualifies as charity.

However, corporations are always willing to splurge on an advertising campaign. Just recently, movie studios, soft drink companies, and credit card manufacturers scrambled madly over one another to garner ridiculously expensive commercial time on the long-overdue Seinfeld series finale. So here's my solution: corporations should pay to sponsor people, just like they do sporting events, award shows, and state-of-the-union addresses.

Allow me to clarify what I mean. Let's say, on a cold and gray Chicago morning, a poor little baby child is born in the ghetto. The baby's mama cries, for if there's one thing that she don't need, it's another little hungry mouth to feed. How's she going to pay for this kid's doctor bills? Education? Clothing? She hasn't a clue. Then, a popular pizza chain enters the picture. They agree to pay $10,000 a year to the woman if she will agree to name her newborn child after their company. The woman accepts the proposition, and little Little Caesar has a grand start on life.

Some might say that naming children after corporations is disgusting and one more step toward advertising reaching critical mass in our society. I say it's a win-win situation, though. People frequently pay for T-shirts, bumper stickers, and other merchandise that serves no purpose but to advertise a certain product (how often have you seen a Nike swoosh on the back of a car?), so logic dictates they'd have no qualms about taking a fee to name their child, say, Lever 2000. The corporations, on the other hand, get a year's worth of name-recognition advertising for less money than your average 30-second commercial spot.

Of course, the people-sponsoring fee wouldn't be the same for every company. Kids with socially desirable names such as Coke, Gap, or Marlboro would probably receive less per year than kids who had less "cool" corporate sponsors, such as Olean, Proctor & Gamble, and Depends. And we'd have to limit creepy, tyrannical companies like Microsoft and Franklin Quest to perhaps five kids per 100, for variety's sake. Those guys would buy up every kid in the world if they could.

So there's my solution, take it or leave it. I know it's a bit unusual, but think about it. No more poverty, cheap advertising, and more evenly distributed wealth. And for $10,000 a year, I'd rip my shirt open and paint "YOUR AD HERE," Soy Bomb-style, on my chest, wouldn't you?

READER COMMENTS:

Chris writes: Just wanted to let you know...I loved how you slipped the cold and gray Chicago morning into your webpage. Very nice! P.S. "Living the Sponsored Life" was very nice too. I'm sure people would soon get over their natural revulsion at having children named after, say, tampons or imitation cheese food products. As a society, we're already most of the way there, having gotten over our revulsion at everything from billboards to corporate-sponsored football stadiums ("3Com Park" is our own local example, and people have by and large forgotten how bizarre the name is.)


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