How to Lose Money and Influence People

National Forum, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

How to Lose Money and Influence People


When we told people that we were setting up an investment system where they could only LOSE money, many people laughed in our face. Today, a few short years later, many of the same are investing in our venture and laughing with us as their money disappears. They laugh because they are happy knowing that their money is returning "cultural profits" : in other words, helping to change culture for the better,and actively defying the very idea of success, reorienting it from making money to making a better place for living.

The system that is keeping these investors happy is called [R][TM]ark (pronounced "art-mark"), and its core is a Web-based database of aesthetic and social interventions in public spaces. These projects are displayed on the www.rtmark.com website in hopes of soliciting investment that will allow or reward their accomplishment.

BARBIE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION

Most of the projects listed in the www.rtmark.com database are elaborate publicity stunts that draw attention to social issues in a creative and humorous manner For example, one of the first successful projects to be supported by [R][TM]ark was something called "The Barbie Liberation Organization." The project was started by an anonymous individual, who posted his or her idea on the [R][TM]ark bulletin board. The person, upset about sexist and violent children's toys, suggested that one could create an educational publicity stunt by switching the voice boxes of talking Barbies and GI Joes. The person believed that when viewers saw Barbie Dolls saying things like "Dead men tell no lies!" and GI Joes asking "Wanna go shopping?" the absurd reversal would instantly reveal how these toys embody and teach violent and sexist ideas.

Soon after the project idea was posted, a group of veterans opposed to war toys saw the idea on the [R][TM]ark bulletin-board system, and immediately offered five thousand dollars (their investment) to anyone who successfully switched the voice boxes and received media attention.

With the idea listed and the investment secured, another group calling itself the "Barbie Liberation Organization" (BLO) stepped forward with a plan to buy hundreds of the dolls, perform the surgical switch, and then use a technique called "shop-giving" to secretly place them back on store shelves to be sold again.

The Barbie Liberation Organization was successful. Hundreds of kids and their parents experienced a moment of confusion at Christmas when they opened their gifts and discovered they had a very special toy. The confusion quickly gave way to laughter, and it did not take long for the media to pick up the story and run with it.

The story of the gender-bending Barbies spread quickly from local television and newspapers, to national and international media, and then later to talk radio and magazines.

Critics initially tried to dismiss the stunt by calling it theft and vandalism, but the BLO pointed out that stores made money twice from the product, because shop-giving meant that someone simply walked into the store and put it back on the shelf exactly where it had been before it was bought the first time. How could shop-giving be seen as anything but generous? In comparison to sneaking down the chimney of a private residence in the middle of the night to leave gifts, going into a store during regular hours and leaving something on the shelf seemed relatively sane.

When naysayers claimed the project would frustrate children who received the toys, they were quickly rebuffed by images of happy kids with their altered toys. Dozens of kids who received the altered dolls appeared on television news programs across the country, and without exception expressed joy at having such an unusual toy. Not a single person returned one.

So, what was the point of this project? By reversing the voices of the toys, the BLO, the veterans' group that invested in the project, and the individual who had the idea for the project all got their message out to hundreds of millions of people around the world. …

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