(Dominic Sicilia is a former' advertising and promotion executive in, the music industry. At the time of this article's publishing, he was a businessman, writer and editor-at-large of the L.A. Weekly.)
IT IS THE FIRST SATURDAY of summer, as ever a day of liberation for kids. But for the fourth year in a row, the number of kids in U.S. schools is at a record low. Having achieved zero population growth, America has stabilized demographically. Nearly the same number of people are born, get to be nine, enter their 50s, and so on each year. But in America, 2002, one thinks young.
Political power has begun to shift away from the four major blocs. Now oil-rich Mexico, the newly industrialized Arab states and nuclear-armed Brazil are in power centers as well as in an increasingly inter-dependent world. But much of the national power is elusive, as real economic muscle has shifted even more to international corporations, particularly to the entertainment conglomerates (CBS, RCA, WCC, MCA-Sony and others) whose profits in global amusement and information have transcended national interests.
MCA-Sony is the most telling example. The original takeover in the 80s of MCA by the Japanese company, Sony, was given fresh impetus by an infusion of Mexican oil money in the 90s. MCA-Sony then moved energetically on the international scene to tie up entertainment, informational, publishing and educational materials and systems in more than 30 countries. Rumors persist on Wall St. that the company is about to make a tender offer to IBM shareholders.
Long-range weather forecasting via satellite became an exact science in the 90s. That knowledge, combined with Americas rich and plentiful land, good water and superior technology, has made this country the supplier of more than half the world's food, 20 percent more than in the 1970s. The Southwestern Land Act of 1986 opened up millions of acres of newly irrigated land for tenant farming by the post-oil boom Mexicans, who bought land with money sent by their newly-rich relatives back home.
Russia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and North Africa must import food to survive. This food-interdependence has been a key factor in the balance of world power and therefore, peace.
The tuna dog and the soy dog are America's latest instant food favorites.
The Space Colonies
More than 1,500 people now live and work on four orbiting satellites. A variety Of small manufacturing processes take place in the satellites, utilizing the zero gravity conditions possible in space. The critical micro-technical industry is getting priority on this precious "space-in-space" as it becomes available.
The four outposts are already casually accepted by most of the earth's population. The twice-weekly shuttle flight and easy return, is an important psychological factor for the inhabitants. The waiting time to visit the satellites is now, six years for all but the highest VIPs and critical technicians. To promote the satellites with the public, NASA has set aside a limited number of seats on each flight for civilians. The lottery system NASA adopted three years ago, tickets for which cost $5 each, has proved immensely popular with the public. NASA has already raised $5 billion with the lottery.
The Entertainment Conglomerates
The world entertainment power block consists of the European-based Polygram Group; MCA-Sony; CBS International; Warner Communications Group; RCA International and Transamerica. The biggest in terms of gross sales, CBS International, has recently announced its first $60 billion annual international sales year. The other show business giants have similar growth patterns and the trend is still up. Significant was the recent sale of the first 100 million unit disc. Though sales volume is expected to drop off due to both the growth of home cable and the new LTS laser system which does not require the actual disc, increased use royalties will offset the loss at the bottom line.
Television, which shaped elections through its golden 1960s and 1970s, still figured in the power-balance until about 1990. But its impact was significantly reduced by the staggering success of Beta Max and MCA-Sony's follow-up, Beta-Mix, which allowed people to choose their own, programs free of commercial intrusion.
Ironically, radio is more popular than ever. America's vast radio network turned out to be the key to the 1988 Presidential election. The surprise upset of the incumbent President changed American political, campaigning for ever. The variety of micro print-out, data available to the home screen at the touch of a button is immense. Younger people are conditioned to print-out newspapers, books and magazines.
The persistent backstage struggle between the entertainment conglomerates and the old federal government-corporate alliance has grown uglier. Not since Sen. Joe McCarthy went after communists in Hollywood in the '50s has the situation been so tense.
The struggle is over who will, control the images that influence America. The military-industrial corporations and their allies in government, including a large segment of Congress, wants the government to withdraw satellite and cable licensing permits (or use whatever pressure necessary) unless the entertainment conglomerates change the thrust of their artistic product. Critics argue that the image of Americans as eternally rebellious teenagers absorbed with rock music, dope, sex and technological gadgets-and the money to purchase them-has created a generation indifferent to the defense of the country. The network of defense and oil-line industrial corporations, their profits threatened, see this image as self-serving for the entertainment conglomerates, which, they say, has profited dramatically from Americans who have learned they are supposed to be absorbed with rock and hig technology.
Prodded by allies of the defense corporations in the intelligence and defense communities, the Drug Enforcement Administration has opened a major investigation of drug use within the entertainment industry.
Though relative newcomers to power politics, the entertainment representatives play the game skilfully. Having learned in California in the 70s and '80s that money is political power, as the elections of Governors Brown and Curb demonstrated, the entertainment conglomerate now pours millions each year into election campaigns. Secretary of the Treasury Richard Trugman, the grand old man of the Democratic Party financing and a former record company executive, is one of the leading strategists in the counter-attack.
Although not the originator of the idea, it was Trugman who in the late '80s persuaded the entertainment companies to invest heavily in American colleges and universities. Eager for grant money following the end of most free tuition, programs-a change forced by the conservative-led tax revolts of the '70s and '80s-the schools quickly created faculties, devoted to entertainment technology and product. Considered the, "new liberals," these academics fueled, the intellectual drive against their more conservative colleagues, many of whom were supported by grants from old-line defense-industrial corporations. In the vicious battle now brewing between the federal agencies and the entertainment conglomerates-a battle over the ultimate power to control, information and therefore -people's minds the academics have come down heavily in favor of the "free speech" of the entertainment conglomerate. Most artists, entertainers and other figures from the creative world have joined in a media blitz against the proposed withdrawal of satellite and cable licenses.
A Day in the Life
Bobby is 15 years old. He lives in an average house in Tarzana with his parents, his sister, Jennifer, 21, and his brother, Michael 20. He has just completed the tenth grade. At Bobby's school, all tests are scored and reported instantly by computer. Homework and home testing is performed on the family, computer using a TV screen for a read-out. The ever-growing curriculum in televised adult education now covers a range of subjects so broad that companies selling home teaching programs have stepped up efforts for the elimination of public schooling beyond age 12.
Bobby's brother, Michael, is still in college. He is studying micro-technology and hopes to get into automotive computers, one of the fastest growing fields in American business since the introduction of the completely computerized car in 1989.
Bobby is awakened by pre-selected music turned on by his computer. 1980s' fashions have been revived this year and, ironically, Bobby has been dressing just like his father did in his teens.
Breakfast is, fast and simple. In the kitchen; Bobby places a frozen, 10-inch food cassette under the microwave cooker unit. In 10 seconds, it ejects a meal of both hot and cold food. Radio frequency and conductor technology now allows the precise cooking, or non-cooking, of various food elements simultaneously. In fact, the term "fast food" has not been used since the late '80s when all food became fast food.
On the console is Bobby's private computer terminal, which gives a read-out on his television screen. He once spent three weeks of his spare time programming it to produce an unending stream of wing-shaped figures, then he erased it. This was before he broke the telephone and cable company codes. Now, he'd probably have transmitted the images over the cable network.
Bobby grew up as one of the calculator toy babies of the '90s. who learned to love read-outs right in his crib. Fascinated by calculators, he has never been without one. Lately he carries a simple 30-function with a mid-range size memory. In school, he belongs to the "Push 'n' Pull" computer club. The more serious computer kids consider him a bit of a maverick because he, thinks of his computer as a toy. But he is more of a rebel than they know.
Albert Einstein Calling
Bobby is on a waiting list today to talk to Albert Einstein at Princeton. In 1987, the university developed, a software program of all of Einstein's works, treatise, speeches, letters and even known casual conversations, recreating his ideas and thought patterns in a computer. Einstein's speech profile was programmed into the computer from electronically reproduced tapes, and the computer speaks through a voice mechanism in an accurate mechanical recreation of Einstein's voice. It is possible to question the computer, and get back an answer Einstein might have given. Other computer personalities are being created at universities and companies everywhere.
Using grant money from CBS, UCLA unveiled its Sigmund Freud program two, months ago. The Einstein computer has solved some unique scientific problems in its five-year history. But younger people are particularly interested in its philosophical remarks. After breakfast, Bobby goes to the computer room to watch some music. He selects a colorful 12-inch cassette from a wall file and inserts it into his Beta-Mix tape machine. Bobby can't afford the newest model, but his machine still does some intriguing tricks. Through a system of amplifiers and tape decks of various configurations for both picture and sound, he can record, play, and more importantly, mix anything his heart desires.
He selects the classic '90s rock opera, Atlantis, by the rock group Queen and patched up his hardware in the "mix" mode. A picture comes up on the 2-by-3-foot screen on the wall. As credits appear on the screen, Bobby tears open a red, white and gold pack of Golden State brand marijuana cigarettes. California's best, from the enormous grass farms in Kern County. He's been smoking since he was 13; all age limits on marijuana smoking have been eliminated by state proposition 7 in 1993.
The entertainment conglomerates, especially Warner Communications and Polygram International, dominate the leisure drugs market, having successfully out-marketed the major liquor companies and the tobacco giants. Americas radio network was the key to Warner's success.
Bobby's brother, Michael, smokes Motown Records' new Brown 'n' Gold, a rich, hashy blend. Jennifer smokes, too, preferring the lighter Acapulco Slims from Capitol.
The rich smoke hangs in the air as Bobby starts to play with his Beta-Mix machine. Chrome knobs, 24 of them, control the volume of each of the 24 tracks of sound on the master tape, allowing him to remix the Queen album to his own taste, and mix it differently every time. He can enjoy infinite Queen. By recording a mix, he creates a new album. The American Society of Tapists (AST) sponsors an annual contest for amateur mixers. Though it's been done lots of times, Bobby has an interesting version of the Apollo II trip tapes mixed with the help of his computer with some ancient Pink Floyd and synthesized parts of Stairway to Heaven that he wants to enter in this year's contest.
Bobby has an appointment this Saturday at his friend Steve's house. Steve is 23, a college dropout and an artist. He belongs to an artistic and music collective called "Cable Phreaks" with which Bobby has been associated for nearly a year. Artistic descendants of the "blue box"' telephone builders of the '70s, who ripped off the phone company so successfully, the Cable Phreaks have broken many of the secret communication codes of the cable and telephone companies, allowing them to access instantly millions of home or business computer-TV terminals.
Helped in part by Bobby's computer skills, the group learned to interrupt feeds from the entertainment companies and transmit their own materials. Through underground news bulletins, the Cable Phreaks managed to open the way for "guerilla" musicians and artists long ignored by the entertainment conglomerate to get their work before the public "Guerilla art," it was called, and though denounced by the L.A. Times editorial page as "juvenile" and "undemocratic," it had found a waiting audience and was being taken very seriously. Security people from AT&T and the entertainment companies, backed strongly by the FBI, were searching hard for the "guerillas"-in part because of their potential economic impact should the trend grow; in part because of federal worry about organized crime use of the codes. In Washington the guerillas were just more ammunition for the enemies of the entertainment conglomerate. Bobby and Steve were wanted, and it was no joke. Only last month a San Francisco "guerilla" had been sentenced to four years in prison.
In Steves entertainment room is a computer-realized oil painting. The latest commercial manifestation of computer art is the breakdown of painting masterpieces into their basic elements and the reconfiguring into cubist, impressionist, or randomly abstract versions of the classic painting.
Also in Steve's room is a holographic, video projection, which he uses mostly for erotic simulations. It is 3-dimensional sex in whatever form turns you on, technology having broken through in the field of voyeurism. The holographic "orgie" by Jim Hanes, Jr. in Paris in 1992 was the first to allow the spectator to be in the midst of this
incredible scene. Visible from almost all angles, the sexual scene is viewed in freedom and leisure. There is, of course, nothing to touch (but one's mind). The impact of this art was lessened only by the fact that the real thing can now be legally purchased in many states.
Steve subscribes to the new LTS: Laser Transmittal Sound systems. From a listing of more than 100,000 albums, he can select programs of his choice. From the electronic Schwann catalog, Steve gets the code number for a couple of albums. On his telephone, he punches up the control code number, his subscriber code and the album and cut code. The cost of each play (approximately 38 cents) will be charged to his monthly LTS bill. Inexpensive, considering the current $35.00 cost of discs and tapes.
To kill time before an important meeting, Steve and Bobby decide to drive to the latest biofeedback amusement center in downtown L.A. They take positions across a two-way read-out screen. Donning lightweight plastic conductor headbands, they nod "start" to each other. The headbands pick up electronic changes in their thought patterns, convert them into impulses and run them through the computerized game board. Bobby beats Steve in two warm-up sets of tennis. Steve comes back to beat him in a very fast cross-country road race. Bobby takes dominance with a strong showing in "Space-to-Space" Missiles.
Now, relaxed and refreshed from the meditation inherent in the concentration process, they leave the amusement center and head for their appointment in Hollywood.
Marketing As Entertainment
They drive to the giant three-square-block, Tower Superstore. This computer-organized shopping center is the latest in total entertainment marketing outlets.
Today, a band is plugging its new album by performing in the small smoke-filled Tower Room Disco. A video program of their album plays on a screen behind them. The music is carried into the rest of the store by loudspeakers. In-store live shows are a significant factor in selling product. Short commercials periodically interrupt to advertise a new album or film.
Record stores entered the entertainment business heavily in the '80s in part to defend against record bootleggers, counter-feiters and low-cost mail-order companies. The stores also had to deal with the threat posed by the major performing arenas and concert halls. As concert promoters realized the size and purchasing power of their
captive audience, they successfully began to sell albums and rock merchandise at all live events.
This store is fully equipped to custom mix video discs according to customer preference. The buyer selects the sound track, cut by cut, and combines it with one of a variety of visuals available from the store catalog.
The adults section can even mix porno films to favorite rock, pop or country selections. Artist resistance to pornodiscs was overcome in the late 1980s when their accountants and managers realized the scope and purchasing power of the porno, and, of course, gay market.
Tower innovated the Gay section in 1980 and has always had the nation's best selection of gay porn. Starved for variety, Tower, and most other chains, have instituted revival sales to recycle long-dead albums and groups in new configurations.
Last month, the original Turtles were united to promote a 35-year-old album. This week an album by Lothar and the Hand People is No. 18 nationally. The 33-year-old Record sounds as fresh as new, remixed for todays sound. The original tracks are available for serious mixers for $45. Bobby picks up the new videodisc by Cindy Silver, the sex goddess on his T-shirt. Steve buys a Cindy Silver poster (over 41/2 million sold). As they charge their purchases, a big board computer, readout over the checkout counter shows national sales of all discs. The charts readjust themselves instantly to reflect purchases, so it's always known which cut is number one on the charts.
A new artist has hit the charts. A bell goes off and a small buzz goes through the crowd. "Another instant millionaire," Bobby says.
The six-o'clock news will probably carry an item about the artist and songwriter, maybe the producer of the album. Most TV news shows and newspapers have a regular "Today's New Millionaire" feature. In mass-marketing America, millionaires are created overnight-though, of course, a million dollars isn't what it used to be. In fact, one of America's most powerful groups is the new billionaire's club, The group now numbers about 130 members from entertainment, sports, real estate, leisure drugs and, of course, oil.
The Lady With The Tattoo
Steve points out a girl to Bobby. On her arm, is a tattoo in red of a running dog. It is an unusual tattoo even after the recent wave of popularity for the ancient decorative art, kicked off in the late '90s when a San Francisco company developed tattoo ink that faded in a year. The social stigma of permanence was eliminated and fashion set in.
"That's her," Steve says. Together they move to join the girl. "Let's go outside," she suggests. They stroll toward Sunset Boulevard and the Lillian Roxon Memorial Rock Museum and Center. Passing the modern building, they see a photograph of Lillian Roxon, the pioneer writer of the golden age of rock (1952 to 1969), for whom the museum is named. Inside, they know, is a free exhibit of the history of rock, including a display of Bob Dylan's wrecked motorcycle, rare recordings, Beatles clothes, historic guitars and assorted memorabilia from such early rock stars as Chuck Berry. An exhibit of holographic album cover art is featured this month.
As they walk, Steve and Bobby explain enough of the code-breaking system to permit the transmissions she is planning. The woman, a member of a lesbian artists and musicians collective, has been vouched for by a friend. Bobby detects an uneasiness about her that in turn makes him uneasy.
He attributes it all to the high risk of the situation. When the woman leaves, he says nothing to Steve.
That night Bobby passes up an opportunity to go with Steve to the "Disco Ranch" in Newhall, the giant drive-in disco with seven dance floors accommodating as many as 10,000 people. His parents have gone out for the night to one of the bigger vocales, the sing-along clubs that now flourish in every town in America. Vocales are to singing what discos are to dancing. Bobby considers them dumb but knows that some far-out thinkers, Andy Warhol among them, think that discos and vocales will merge as the wave of the future.
Bobby chooses to go to bed early. He selects a program for his "Nightmind", unconscious learning. Tonight he wants to refresh himself in English vocabulary and spelling, run through some muscle reinforcing sounds and listen to a short self-confidence program by a noted psychologist. The three-hour program will move Bobbys life ahead as he sleeps. A short, dream-inducing tone serves as an intermission. In the morning he can test himself on the computer to determine exactly what he learned in his sleep.
Assured of a positive night's sleep, Bobby switches on the late news. The lead item is a story about a bizarre lawsuit filed in New York. A woman is suing Larry Flynt Enterprises for manufacturing a sex toy that damaged her relationship with her husband. The toy, a life-size, styro-molded female with all sexual appurtenances and capabilities, has a voice facility and allows computer input.
According to the woman, her husband connected the doll to their home computer and programmed the toy to cater vocally to all his fantasies. In time, he developed the machine's personality to the point where he preferred the doll to his wife.
Laughing, Bobby starts to fall asleep. A sensor in the TV that picks up his lowered body temperature and breathing rate automatically turns off the set. He drifts off into a pleasant dream.
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Suddenly, there is a crash from the living-room. Quickly awakened, Bobby stumbles to the door and opens it. In the living-room is the woman with the red dog tattoo on her arm. Around her are men in uniform.
"That's him!" the woman says, pointing at Bobby.
"What are you doing?" Bobby asks incredulously.
"Honey, I'm from entertainment security and these guys are cops you are under arrest."