by Charles Pearson
(Swans - February 23, 2009) "All I want to know is -- are we going to win?"
I had never known Felix Wilmott so agitated.
"Last month's poll was encouraging," I said soothingly.
"If you mean the Times' poll, I don't trust theirs. That rat Murdick might have fixed it to give me a false sense of security."
He was right there. Murdick the Third would use every trick in the book to ensure that he was the next UK president. We all knew that Carruthers, the present incumbent, had reneged on the promises he had made to the media mogul for his support in the previous election. Murdick had decided that only when he himself was running the country, could he be sure that his vast Times-Warner-Exxon-RentaPolitician empire, (popularly known as TWERP), would receive all the tax breaks and other favours it undoubtedly deserved.
I assured Felix once again that he was still the people's choice for president. He retorted that the share price of Wilmott Corp. had slipped on the Beijing Exchange and they were always the first to know, adding icily that it was not too late for him to switch to another advertising company to handle his election campaign. "You'd better get off your butt and do something," he roared as he left my office.
I sighed. NewGene Foods, a subsidiary of Wilmott Corp., had finally ousted Tesco as the market leader in the U.K., but they were still battling hard with Wal*Mart in other parts of the world, particularly China. Now that people voted for transnational corporations rather than for political parties, even experienced P.R. men like me had a hard life. The global input on a client's image was ridiculously complicated. By comparison, manipulating elections for old-fashioned party politicians had been child's play. But it was no good just sitting here and moping. I picked up the phone.
Half an hour later Beresford joined me at the bar of "The Jolly Magician." Beresford had good contacts in TWERP and I paid him well, even for rumours. "Anything new, Matt?" I asked.
"I reckon this beer gets worse," he said, pushing his glass away disgustedly.
"I'm sure you're right." I hadn't even tasted my half. "I don't suppose TWERP have taken over the brewery and fired half the workforce," I said wistfully. "I could use some dirt like that."
"No such luck. You know as well as I do that the Artful Digger wouldn't consider anything like that until after the election."
I bought him the brandy I knew he'd been hankering for. "Well?" I prompted.
"It's getting harder to get to know anything." Matt played with his glass. "They've tightened up their security a lot. One of my best contacts got the boot just because he was seen going through a checkout at about the same time as a reporter. Of course, it didn't help that it was a NewGene checkout."
"I need something," I said. "I'll increase your commission if I can use it."
We both knew that the public was simply bored with sexual scandals, insider dealing, and most financial trickery. Language had been manipulated so well that people had to read Edgar Allen Poe to come across the word "corruption," and even "sleaze" had disappeared from most dictionaries. The something I needed had to have a clearly perceived, direct effect on most people's expectations to have any political clout. Something like... Matt put it into words.
"The National Lottery. There have been rumours about that."
"Such as? They didn't even bid for it last time."
"As far as the public knows, they didn't." Beresford smiled. "How much do they know about Outer Mongolia? How much do you know about Chu Chin Chow?"
I whistled. He wasn't referring to the old musical. The Chu Chin Chow Corp. had won the bid for the Lottery three years ago and millions of British punters were less than pleased about it. Any day, in any public bar, you would hear someone loudly proclaim that every Saturday night at least two directors of that company should be chucked into the revolving sphere along with those numbered balls and spun at high speed. This would not only provide better entertainment for the TV viewers than the antics of the smart talking presenters, but Chu Chin Chow might then decide to keep some of their promises. That billion euros prize would at last be won and the working men's Lottery syndicates get the fair deal they were entitled to.
Back at the office I mulled over what Beresford had told me. Outer Mongolia might as well not exist for all we knew about it. I decided to send Bathgate. He was the gangling Aussie Wilmott had pressurised me into hiring, and who was almost certainly being paid to spy on my activities. He would find that difficult from Outer Mongolia, but his investigative abilities could be useful there if there was anything in Beresford's rumour.
Bathgate did not like the idea, but I was firm. I suggested he should spend a few hours adding to his no doubt considerable, but unfortunately incomplete, knowledge of Outer Mongolia. His flight to Bogdoiin Hiid was already booked and the plane did not leave until 8.00 a.m. the next day.
He contacted me five days later. "It's cold here," he complained.
"Well, you can't expect everywhere to be as warm as Alice Springs," I said reasonably. "Have you found anything out about Chu Chin Chow?"
"Nothing definite yet, but I think I'm getting close to someone who might spill the beans, but we're going to need a big bribe."
"Then you'd better make sure it's worth it."
As soon as he started moaning again how cold it was, I cut him off.
A week later he told me it would cost fifty thousand dollars. I decided to risk it. Wilmott would be paying and he could afford it.
To say the evidence was complicated was the understatement of the century. It needed a team of top (and expensive) accountants to find their way along the murky trail of subsidiaries, shared directorships, figureheads, and money-laundering complexes in six different countries. Finally the accountants' co-ordinator announced that they had broken it.
What I had to do now was to decide how to release the bombshell on the Lottery punters, aka the voters. Given Murdick's stranglehold on the media, getting sufficient credible publicity for our revelation would not be easy.
"Just how are you going to do it?" asked Bathgate, leaning back in his chair and wiggling his stockinged feet voluptuously against a scorching hot radiator. He was always moaning how close he had come to losing toes through frostbite, in a Mongolian province that some sadist had named Ulaanbaatar Hot.
"We have ways and means," I said. The less Bathgate (and Wilmott) knew about my business methods the better.
I got the ball rolling through subliminal messaging, mostly using Murdick's own media. It was satisfying to know that the endless and stupefying adverts on Murdick's TV channels were now frequently interspersed with subversive slogans such as: "The Lottery -- Another Murdick Rip-Off!" and "Chu Chin Chow -- A Front for TWERP!"
The best about subliminal technology was that when done skilfully the broadcasters were no more aware of what was being hammered into the viewers' unconscious minds than the recipients. Beresford and I had a merry time at The Jolly Magician embroidering exotic holiday adverts put out by Murdick-owned companies with subliminal warnings like, "Holiday? This Is As Big a Scam As Murdick's Lottery" and "Stay at Home, but Don't Play Murdick's Crooked Lottery!"
After a few weeks of this I thought the punters were sufficiently primed and we could administer the coup de grâce.
The Lottery TV organisers had slotted into their programmes interviews with recent winners. These always followed the normal, ghastly "Look at me I'm a celebrity now!" pattern, copied from the most moronic species of Quiz Shows. On this memorable Saturday evening, the top presenter, Ffloyd Fingelbert, flashed his newly recrowned teeth at the camera before favouring the waiting celebrity-to-be with his lordly attention. To a fanfare of trumpets he informed the awestruck studio audience and millions of viewers that the gentleman before them, Mr. Tod Blister, was one of the lucky winners from the previous week. "But was it just luck, Tod, or did you have a system?"
"Oh, I had a system alright, or me and my mates did," Tod said firmly. He was not smiling and he seemed to be holding his bullet head at an aggressive angle. Ffloyd sensed that something was not quite right, but he was confident that his renowned charm would enable him to keep everything under control.
"Then you fully deserve your winnings, Tod. Do you intend carrying on playing the Lottery?" The stock answer to this question was, "Of course, I do. I may win even more next time and anyway it's so thrilling to play!" Ffloyd knew that Tod must have said something like that in rehearsal to get the nod to appear on a programme going out live.
Lively, Tod's reaction to Ffloyd's question certainly was. As much physical as verbal. He reached out with one burly arm and seizing the presenter by his trademark fluorescent bow tie, hauled him almost off his feet. "Listen, you low-life," he hissed. "You work for them, don't you? Those cheating bastards that run the Lottery. With our system we shoulda won the bonus as well as the measly five grand we got between the six of us. And now we know whose pocket all that dough goes into, don't we? The biggest cheat and conman of the lot. Murdick!"
I think in Tod Blister, Beresford and I had chosen well. We offered him a substantial bribe early, before the TV people contacted him, judging that he was cunning enough to conceal his smouldering fury about the Lottery until the best possible moment. We had no difficulty convincing him who was profiting most from the Lottery; the subliminal messages had already found a ready home in Tod's shaven head.
Tod was not alone though. A cameraman, almost certainly ignoring frenzied protests from the show's producer, was panning along row after row of an increasingly agitated studio audience. Most of them were scowling and waving their hands and the noise they were making contrasted strongly with standard canned applause. The producer was clearly having no more success with his sound technicians than with the camera man (well, we had paid them handsomely), because cries of "It's a rip-off!" and "Down with cheating Murdick!" blared from my TV set, and I thought happily, from all those millions and millions of TVs countrywide.
Unfortunately, as I had learned as a fledgling PR man, crowds are unpredictable. Once roused they can be diverted quite easily into channels not chosen by the original rabble-rousers, although that is a harsh description of someone in my profession. I prefer to think of it as pulling the wool from the public eye.
The young man who was now getting the attention of the camera and the microphones clearly thought that was his mission in life also and he was concerned to get his message over to the viewers, not just to the people in the studio. "It's time you all woke up," he said. "It's not just Murdick and TWERP who are ripping you off. Wilmott and NewGene are just as bad. So are all the rest of the fat cats and their lousy corporations. We need to see the end of all the transnationals. Don't vote for any of them. We want democracy not plutocracy!"
The speaker knew he was having an impact and he carried on for several minutes. The crowd applauded him enthusiastically.
Well now, I thought. "Fat cats" sounded dated, but I had to admit the rest of his spiel wasn't too bad and it was delivered with some passion yet without hectoring. I suppose he must have picked up something from his dad over the years, although Kevin had always appeared to be loftily indifferent to my work. Certainly he had somehow got to know about what I'd arranged to happen on this Lottery show and decided to take advantage of it. And I always thought he had about as much interest in politics as I had in the excruciating din that he called music making.
And would you believe it, that din was coming from the TV now! Kevin had not sat down after his speech, but made his way to the front of the auditorium where he was speedily joined by a number of hulking youths, most of them black and all of them carrying musical instruments. Cuban music it sounded like to me, though I'm no expert. Kevin was leading them. In no time at all the audience was swaying in time to the band. It was becoming like that long dead but still remembered show, Top of the Pops. The lyrics were scathingly political though and I was amazed how many in the audience knew them.
Kevin was still at University and I had heard that in some of those places -- and even in schools -- there were attempts to revive interest in old-fashioned political parties. The mainstream media, naturally, had either ignored this or mocked it, sneering, "What are they going to call these movements? Even Newer Labour? Neo-ecoTories? And Marx with Music, perhaps?"
"Nineteen sixty-eight all over again!" Unconsciously I voiced my thought aloud.
"But more effective, it is to be hoped." My wife had come into the room from the kitchen, where she had been cleaning. Betty never allowed the house robots to work in there, because they didn't get into the corners she was always saying.
"You mean you actually approve of this?" I said, gesturing towards the TV, which was showing another close-up of Kevin. "And of that frustrated band leader we spawned?"
"If you had not been so obsessed with manipulating the public to vote for one tycoon rather than another, it might have dawned on you that your family had rather different views." She pointed at the TV and added, with a smile, "Kevin doesn't look frustrated now. I'm glad to see our plan worked."
"My God! You set this up. Well, I hope you realise that I shall lose the Wilmott contract because of your meddling." I turned the TV off before I gave way to my urge to put my foot through it.
"There'll be compensations though." Betty sat on my lap and put her arms round me. I knew I was defeated when she did that, but I made the effort. "Some other plan you've got," I sneered.
"Me and Kevin think you would do a fine job organising our new party. We shan't be short of funds. Half the women in this town will be donating and collecting for it. I've not been wasting my time at all those Women's Institute gatherings."
"What are you calling this party?" I asked, curiosity overcoming my exasperation.
"Ah, now. Your first job will be to choose the name. But I do have suggestions."
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