Artifact: Brand X

Credit:RCNCredit:RCNThis striking image was not found blowing through Tiananmen Square, nor is it the cover of Francis Fukuyama's next book. It is an ad for Starpower, a company offering phone, cable, and Internet service in the Washington, D.C., area, and is one of a series of posters plastered throughout that city.

The power of the image--Lenin both overthrown symbolically and hanged in effigy--intentionally evokes the pictures of communism's symbolic annihilation throughout Eastern Europe in 1989-1990. But the Starpower ad does some notable annihilating of its own: It reduces communism--and its history of complete failure--to the role of consumer mistake. Lenin lives, this time as the rhetorical equivalent
of corn flakes that get soggy and detergent that leaves a ring around the collar. He's the ultimate Brand X.

Starpower's campaign is almost too pure: No reference is made to any of Starpower's competitors, nor does the company make any claims at all for itself. The sparse copy about late repairmen suggests only that uncompetitive institutions cannot survive. This poster sells only choice.

In an age of statuary, the torso of Ozymandias, king of kings, was carted off as scrap for re-use. In an age of information, the same thing happens to his picture.

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