S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 29 September 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Leader of the Packaging

 

[]

As a junior high school student,

Brian Warner was quick to

discover the commercial

possibilities of art, producing

Stupid, a crude six-page

knockoff of Mad and Cracked that

he sold to his friends for a

quarter per copy. Later,

according to his admittedly

unreliable autobiography, he

began selling heavy metal albums

at jacked-up prices to Christian

school classmates who were too

stupid or timid to visit the

local record store and purchase

such albums themselves. Whether

or not the story's true, it

perfectly forecasts Warner's

adult role as musical middleman

Marilyn Manson, whose skill at

repackaging forbidden and

forgotten musical genres for the

masses has once again landed him

on the cover of Rolling Stone

and on the record charts; his

latest effort, Mechanical

Animals, is currently the

nation's best-selling album.

 

Manson, alas, hasn't gotten much

credit for his considerable

marketing acumen: His

music-press detractors tend to

dismiss it with an offhanded

sneer - as if selling millions

of albums through the sheer

force of marketing were

something that could be done at

will. Even more unjust, however,

the business press has all but

ignored him. A few months ago,

Advertising Age published its

Marketing 100 list, an annual

feature in which the magazine

"salutes those visionaries who

latch onto an idea, run with it,

and achieve their goal of

greater sales or recognition."

While relative obscurities like

Dean's Milk Chugs and Hatuey

beer helped round out the list

of better-known products like

Prozac, The Drudge Report, and

South Park, Manson, who's fast

becoming the Susan Lucci of the

marketing world, was once again

overlooked.

 

And, yet, over the last three

years, Mister Superstar's

marketplace success can rival

anyone's - he's had two

best-selling albums, a

best-selling book, and a

best-selling videotape. An

all-purpose entertainment brand

whose upside is far greater than

his only rivals - Howard Stern,

Jerry Seinfeld, and Will Smith -

Manson should not only be at the

top of Ad Age's list, he should

be the subject of seminars and

colloquiums at every MBA program

in the nation. After all, do

Stern, Seinfeld, or Smith even

have a logo, much less one as

resonant as Manson's

alt.swooshtika bolt, with its

immediate appeal to all the

sickly, uncoordinated

übermenschen whom Nike's

sports-centric brand of

All-American Nietzscheanism

fails to address?

 

[]

Among all of the resourceful

businessman's considerable

assets, the most valuable one is

the name "Marilyn Manson." Even

more than Windows or Yahoo or

Starbucks, it's the most

immediately evocative brand of

the '90s. Indeed, while Manson

has frequently explained how he

deliberately chose to fashion a

new identity from two people who

had revised their own original

identities, it goes even further

than that. After all, the

Marilyn of Brian Warner's

imagination was not the

flesh-and-blood Norma

Jean, who'd died years before

he'd even been born, nor even

the video ghost of that persona

(it's hard to imagine the

nascent satanist choosing

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes over Santa

Sangre at the local

Blockbuster), but rather, the

completely flattened, iconized

Marilyn of postcards and Warhol

prints. And Charles Manson, the

most abstract of all mass

murderers, has a similarly

conceptual appeal: For the last

two decades or so, he's been

little more than an arresting

visage on a Sonic Youth fan's

T-shirt, an almost fictive

gargoyle kept in prison not

because he killed somebody, but

because he'd become famous for

killing somebody (whom he didn't

actually kill). In short, the

two people Warner used to form

the basis of his new identity

had long since ceased to exist

as people, functioning as a kind

of universally understood media

shorthand that signified any

number of things - glamour,

evil, media, fame, bad drugs -

that an aspiring provocateur

might find useful to package.

 

[]

The extremely reconstitutable

identity Manson fashioned for

himself is currently serving him

quite effectively: While

performers like Pee Wee Herman

and Chris Farley quickly trapped

themselves in their own

exaggerated personas, Manson

appears destined for a long,

profitable career of

Madonnaesque reinvention.

Indeed, when mainstream success,

a move to LA, and an upgrade

from well-worn porno consorts

like Traci Lords and Jenna

Jameson to genuine Hollywood

movie star Rose McGowan

threatened to invalidate

Manson's status as the ultimate

rebel-outsider Antichrist

Superstar, he simply recast

himself as an even more

alienated outsider - Omega, the

glamorous, superfreak

space-being of Mechanical

Animals.

 

Along with Manson's fans, music

critics have mostly bought this

alleged transformation; their

reviews are filled with phrases

like "a previously unsuspected

vulnerability," "surprisingly

warm," and "depth that [was] not

apparent on [his] earlier

albums." In truth, the

difference between Antichrist

Superstar and Mechanical

Animals is less emotional than

promotional, a fact that Manson

underscores when, with sardonic

Popeilesque redundancy, he

sneers "I'm the new, I'm the

new, new model," two-thirds of

the way through the album, as if

he can no longer bear to infuse

the charade with any degree of

sincerity.

 

[]

Not that such candor even

matters - journalists need a new

story to tell just as much as

Manson needs a new one to sell,

especially now that his old

Christian adversaries are

currently too preoccupied with

Beelzebubba to protest the God

of Fuck's relatively

inconsequential brand of

Beavis-and-Butt-hedonism, thus

the myth of musical maturation

and new-sprung vulnerability.

When, in fact, beneath the

industrial-gray primer of

Antichrist Superstar and the

superglam detailing of

Mechanical Animals, one finds

the same catchy hooks and

soundbites, the same

kick-out-the-iambs martial

cadences and, most important,

the same grand poperatic

bombast. (And why not? It would

have contradicted Manson's core

aesthetic to abandon the model

he spent the last decade

perfecting just when it proved

popular: The satanic

hauntrepreneur has always

equated artistic success with

mass appeal.)

 

Ultimately, Mechanical Animals

is less a musical watershed than

a marketing one: It demonstrates

that the protean pan-droid can

essentially be anything to

everyone. Indeed, try to imagine

Manson in a role that seems

untenably contradictory or

otherwise improbable. Movie

star? The LaChapelle portrait of

him in Spin from a while back,

cavorting with a tribe of

freakish, mini-Goth school kids,

should have been enough to

inspire a three-picture deal

with Kevin Williamson. Upscale

lingerie designer? If

ex-Seinfeld squeezetoy Shoshanna

Lonstein can do it, why can't

Marilyn? Warped Hollywood square

in Whoopi Goldberg's new

celebrities conservation program?

Manson has always shown at least

as much aptitude for one-liners

as he has for eyeliner. In the

end, the possibilities are truly

unlimited. With a brand

architecture as sound as

Manson's, it's definitely

possible to have your cake and

sodomize it, too.




courtesy of St. Huck