"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 25 January 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Hot Copy



After 1,999 years of pursuing

novelty and canonizing change,

we've finally succumbed to

innovation overload. In 11

months, our cosmic warranty will

expire, and the general feeling

appears to be: Why bother adding

anything new to the imminent




On TV, reconditioned screensavers

like Love Boat: The Next

Wave, CHiPs '99, and Star Trek: More

Phasers and Crap compete with

simulations of other shows like

Sports Night and LateLine. If a

movie's an original, it

invariably arrives with a twin,

but for the most part, sequels and

cover versions rule the

multiplex. Avant-garde engineers

employ the same approach, using

colorized, shot-for-shot remakes

of '60s classics like the VW




In the arenas of celebrity

high-tech and celebrity

politics, counterfeit Bills earn

as much as US$2,000 per personal

appearance. Unlike most other

celebrity simulations, they

don't even have to sing or

dance: In these times of

increasingly precious mindshare,

it's enough just to starjack

those sectors of our

consciousness that the real

Bills occupy and associate them

with some rogue products and




While hyper-permutation, as

pioneered by 3M's infinite

variety of Post-It Notes, is

phenomenally profitable, it's

also decidedly old-wave. Of

course, the general principle

animating the practice still

holds true: After spending so

much time and money making an

impression on consumers

inundated by choice, it's

foolish to introduce anything

but slight variations on

originals that have already

proven successful. In the wake

of 72 different iterations of

Furby, however, one can't help

but predict that consumers will

soon be afflicted with such

debilitating brand fatigue that

even relatively insignificant

product differentiations will

emerge as barriers to sale, more

static for weary shoppers to




Thus, today's most

forward-thinking entrepreneurs

understand that the ideal is a

changeless, perpetually familiar

original, sold again and again

and again. While Gus Van Sant's

Psycho was a fairly

disappointing proof-of-concept

in box office terms, grossing

only $20 million so far, it

nonetheless remains as the most

ambitious example of the new

order. Yet how many people have

fully grasped its implications?

Take the fading semaphore

formerly known as Prince. For

years now, he's been enchanting

us with his bipolar

entrepreneurial style, where

strong ideas (a logo instead of

a name, the Web as

record-company wrecker) are

executed in abysmal style. His

current effort to capitalize on

the timeliness of his old

frat-party staple, 1999, sounded

good at first: Initially it was

reported that the funky nihilist

was planning to release "a

note-for-note copy" of the

original recording that Warner

Brothers now owns, perhaps

simply using the masters and

altering as little as one vocal

track. But the actual product

shows a greater resemblance to

Ty Inc.'s Beanie Babies than Van

Sant's Psycho: "Seven brand new

flava's of the classic track"

that unfortunately go down about

as smoothly as a 14-year-old can

of vintage New Coke. There's the

reggae version, the hip-hop

version, and probably the

extra-rare Royal Purple Peanut

version as well, and none of

them are likely to make Warner

Brother's accountants and

lawyers particularly jealous.


In the past, artists tried to

avoid the one-hit wonder label,

but today those who embrace it,

those who forsake growth and

innovation and reinvention and

simply churn out the same stuff

that made them famous in the

first place are the ones who

stand the best chance of

surviving in a mercilessly

over-saturated market. As Sugar

Ray's Mark McGrath, discoursing

in Spin with telling honesty

(even his resignation is

disposable!), put it: "Fly has

shown us what we're best at. I

don't want to say, 'Don't bite

the hand that feeds you,' but

don't bite the hand that feeds

you, you know?"


To this end, it was incredibly

short-sighted of the normally

visionary Van Sant to abandon

his project after just one

movie. He could have been the

first director ever to remake a

sequel: Richard Franklin's taut

1983 thriller, Psycho II. And if

Van Sant found it so edifying to

occupy the mind of famous

director Alfred Hitchcock, why

not also occupy the mind of

famous actor/director Anthony

Perkins, who helmed Psycho III in




Stubborn eclectics may decry the

creative limitations of such

thinking, but in truth, the

public has little interest in

Meanie Babies or Preemie Babies

or Puffkins. They want Beanie

Babies, and that's it, even if

they're not actually real Beanie

Babies. Actual products remain

as hard currency for those who

still balk at the idea of paying

something for nothing, but of

course, what really matters is

the messages and associations

that underlie these products.

That's why alleged aficionados

are happy to smoke fake Cuban

cigars rolled from banana

leaves, hair, dog fur, and

string: The display of

hedonistic connoisseurship

matters more than the actual



In the same manner, the idea of

venerable gravitas apparently

matters more to TV newsmagazines

than does actual news, which is

why 60 Minutes II features as a

core component of its

programming mix previously aired

60 Minutes segments, which

presumably lost their status as

news the first time they were

broadcast. For students of

contemporary copycatting, 60

Minutes II is of particular

interest: while Paleozoic

correspondents Mike Wallace and

Andy Rooney were partially

cryonicized in the early '90s in

an effort to slow their

inexorable deterioration, time

is running out on them. Will the

clone of 60 Minutes eventually

feature actual stand-alone life

forms created from the

still-vital index finger of

Wallace and the generous jowls

of Rooney? Perhaps Dr. Richard

Seed, who's been working

diligently in a $15 million,

Japanese-funded cloning lab, has

the answers.



Indeed, cloning will likely play

a larger role as the trend

toward exact duplicates

accelerates: At the same time

that manufacturers increase

their efficiency by focusing on

a smaller number of products,

cloning will allow them to

increase their target audience.

In other words, one of the many

ethical dilemmas associated with

cloning - the notion that the

process would be used to create

a new strain of broom-pushing,

organ-donating, service-economy

slaves - is fairly unlikely to

materialize. There's already

plenty of actual people to

fulfill the world's McJobs.

What's really needed is a new

strain of super-affluent

spendthrifts. For example, think

of the impact a dozen Jerry

Seinfelds would have on the

fortunes of Porsche.


But what about the rest of us,

who lack the money it would take

to breed and maintain a stable

of profligate

doppelgängers? How can we

help keep the engines of

commerce humming? Look to the

nation's desktop counterfeiting

hobbyists for guidance. In 1995,

less than 1 percent of the

counterfeit cash recovered by

federal authorities was computer

generated; last year,

approximately 40 percent of the

more than $100 million in fake

cash that authorities recovered

was made on computers. Personal

computers have democratized what

was once a specialized

profession. While counterfeiting

has never posed a significant

threat to the economy, that

could change when the practice

evolves from a few hundred

skilled forgers minting millions

of dollars each to millions of

desktop counterfeiters minting a

few hundred dollars each.


Despite the illegality of the

act and the threat it poses

toward economic stability, we

can't help but think it has its

rightful place in a world of

pervasive duplication. After

all, what better way to pay for

a ticket to Gus Van Sant's

Psycho or a spurious Beanie Baby

than with a shot-for-shot remake

of a $20 bill?

courtesy of St. Huck