A crowd had gathered before the tower in expectation of an appearance by the Chief Marketing Officer, the murmur of voices interrupted only by the squawks of the purple flamingos in the Italian fountain whose soothing and luxurious splish-splash confirmed the transparent and yet eternal boundary separating the CMO from the people and the people from the CMO’s daughter Ana, today dressed as a vampire in recognition of the solemnity of the occasion. The CMO’s eulogy, however, did not entertain the people as in days of old, perhaps because this time there was no enemy to blame but gravity, and so the crowd began to lose interest, until at last the platform bearing the body of the fallen window-washer was lowered onto the podium from above, and the house lights all lit up and CMO and daughter mournfully embraced, cueing the Philharmonic orchestra to strike up the National Anthem at an accelerated tempo, the Honor Guard to hurl their sabers, the women’s Olympic gymnast team to somersault across the stage, and then the CMO’s daughter threw herself atop the coffin, fireworks exploded over the bay, and the security personnel ushered away the family of the fallen hero.
The CMO and the CMO’s daughter retreated back into the atrium of the Tower, past the installation art, the massage parlor, the business center which requires an electronic key-card to enter, though since the power shortages following the workers’ strikes the great empty tower ran on generators that left little power for anything besides illuminating the spectacular public appearances of the Chief Marketing Officer, who sometimes appeared before the people as a strong powerful woman, other times as a strong powerful man, and no one remembered which one was the original, and some said it was a man voted into the office who then dressed as a woman to secure the women’s support in subsequent elections, while others said it was a woman who had had to play the part of a man in order to secure her influence abroad, but even up close and in natural light no one could tell, not because the costumes were convincing but because both genders looked so equally artificial, which, as the fortunes reminded us Mondays through Wednesdays, such categories were, though some of us believed that the CMO had transcended the category of gender altogether, though they were in the minority, for what would marketing be without the idea of gender?
In the absence of electricity, we were forced to manage our nation’s brand image with scraps of paper the size of fortune cookie that we called the Fortunes, each one containing little quotes accompanied by images of popular celebrities. Every night from the heights of the tower the fortunes rained down in a torrent of white paper upon the city. Monday through Wednesday the fortunes encouraged diversity and the celebration of all identities and a call for slow and systematic reform within the current limits of the law, but from Thursday through Saturday the Fortunes contained desperate shrieks and xenophobic rants and calls to arms and messages or images that implied when they did not directly state that the electricity crisis or the water shortage or this or that epidemic disease was the fault of some group of foreigners, provoking many people to form violent gangs, but then on late Saturday afternoon, just when the lynching or the pogrom or the stoning or the burning in effigy of some minority group was about to take place, Sunday came, and with it the fortunes containing coupons, some of them really quite good deals, and everyone ran off to shop because the coupons were only good that day, and when they had bought many things at remarkably reduced rates they collapsed exhausted, and awoke on Monday to capture in the wind the little fluttering fortunes containing messages of acceptance and self-expression and reminders to resist the patriarchy and above all not hurt anyone’s feelings, and thus the hate and fear of the people was allayed, and their discontent redirected, and they passed the afternoons debating the affirmations of the slogans that whirled in the breeze around them and fell into their hair and their recently purchased birdbaths and their discount kiddie pools, forgetting for a while the hunger and the darkness and the massacres and all their tedious little domestic tragedies. Or so the CMO described it to us in our weekly team dinners, assuring us that the Fortunes were producing precisely the intended effect. Our people are a most political people, the CMO liked to say, and they must never be discouraged from participating in politics, it our job to ensure that they are informed enough to participate, and so the CMO always made sure that whatever the crisis, the people were never deprived of their fortunes.
One night, the CMO, dressed in tasteful mauve business to evening casual, arrived rather later than usual to the team dinner, explaining that the delay had been caused because Ana had to be “tucked in and hear her bedtime story,” and of course though many of us wondered why a 27-year-old woman still needed to be tucked in every night by her parent, we all adopted the sympathetic expressions of understanding fellow parents (though none of us had children). Then Fernando, the CMO’s personal and extremely good-looking assistant, cautiously expressed his concern about the contradictory messages being rained down upon the city every week. He feared that the office of the CMO might lose its credibility, that we we would only confuse the people instead of communicating with them, to which the CMO responded “There is no such thing as communication. Communication is a myth, a pretext whose only purpose it to confirm the tribal rituals and hierarchies with the effect of conserving the sacred principle according to which one MAN, invested with an absolute power, tells people about things, and the others read or watch or listen to HIM in a state of absolute submission. To communicate something to someone is to deprive them of their freedom, and this country stands for nothing if it does not stand for freedom!” whereupon the CMO took a swig of Riesling, and after a brief and perplexed pause we all clapped–the word freedom was always our cue to clap–and then the CMO continued explaining how the most important thing for anyone who works in marketing to know is that no one NEEDS your information, nothing you do is necessary or valuable to them in any way, and your job is to never let them suspect this fact even for a second. You must maintain the social fiction that they NEED to hear what you are telling them, because if this social fiction of informational NEED is ever destroyed, new and undoubtedly worse social fictions will come to take its place,” the CMO concluded, and we all nodded thoughtfully as if ruminating over the wisdom of her discourse and then delved into the roasted lamb with mint sauce.