Newsgroups: alt.slack

Subject: RTMARK- Do these guys have their cards yet?

From: Bob_Chapman@NOSPAM!.brown.edu (Crazy Bob)

Date: 7 Mar 1998 04:57:19 GMT

 

WHAT a "Bob"flogging WEEK!!! First I learn about the Xanadu Hypercorps

(which I want to join NOW), then I read about RTMARK.

 

Quit your job for "Bob"? These guys take it ONE STEP BEYOND!!!

Check out the homepage: http://www.paranoia.com/~rtmark

 

But for now, here's how I first found out about this shizzit...

 

From the Providence Phoenix (http://www.providencephoenix.com/archive/

features/98/03/05/DILBERT.html):

 

The Dilbert front

 

Pranks may be as old as flaming bags of dung, but this

year, for the first time, mysterious organizations are

publicly offering corporate saboteurs good money for

their trouble. We have entered the age of subsidized

mischief

 

by Ellen Barry

 

REG.(TM)ARK changed Jacques Servin's life, but he has never had the

pleasure of an introduction. He sometimes dreams about the group --

"they were this big organization, and they had this big building, and I

was wandering through it" -- but at this point, a year after he carried

out a high-profile act of corporate sabotage for reg.(TM)ark

(pronounced "artmark"), their relationship has probably reached its

permanent form: they know who he is, but he will never know who they

are.

 

It's a shame, because he'd like to say thank you.

 

"I'm not a fearless person. I just kind of do my job," says Servin, a

34-year-old computer programmer from San Francisco. "But I saw this on

the list [of reg.(TM)ark's projects] and it triggered my natural

willingness to do something like this."

 

What he did was to reprogram a video game called SimCopter so that,

instead of rewarding the player with an image of scantily clad women

rubbing themselves against the hero, the screen showed two boys in

swimsuits planting kisses on each other. The next day, Servin was

fired. Right away, things started getting better. He made the evening

news, and he made friends, and -- by the time the buzz over his prank

had died down -- he was making double his old salary. He also made

$5000, which reg.(TM)ark sent by money order, telling him only that the

funds had come from an anonymous donor. But the real payoff, he says in

retrospect, was a little more metaphysical.

 

"I felt more powerful. I brought down a system a little bit. I

embarrassed a whole company," he says. Even at this remove, he regards

that single act as a watershed in his life. "I affected a stock!" he

says, more than a year after the fact, in a tone of apparent delight.

 

IN THE dozens of interviews he granted after the SimCopter project,

Servin didn't mention reg.(TM)ark once -- he was under explicit orders

to pass himself off as a totally independent, unremunerated prankster,

even though he got the idea, the instructions, and the funding from

reg.(TM)ark. There was a similar gag order in the case of the Barbie

Liberation Organization, a group that in 1993 received $10,000 in

reg.(TM)ark funds to switch the voice boxes of 300 GI Joe and Barbie

dolls so that the GI Joes said "I like to go shopping with you" and

Barbie said "Dead men tell no lies." Then, a few months ago,

reg.(TM)ark got back in touch with its former collaborators to announce

that it was going public, and wanted assistance in advertising its

activities.

 

"It seemed like a change in policy," says Igor Vamos, a spokesman for

the BLO, "but I figured we owed them."

 

This could turn out to be the year that organized sabotage comes out of

the closet. The Foundation for Convulsive Beauty -- an anonymous

organization that did not surface after vigorous electronic inquiry --

has publicized its pledge to award $20,000 this month for 1997's

"Gilbert Kelly Award for best act of creative subversion affecting any

highly visible commercial product."

 

And reg.(TM)ark, which considers the Foundation its "philosophical

forbear," has taken an aggressive step into public view. reg.(TM)ark

now maintains a Web site at http://www.paranoia.com/~rtmark that lists

both the sabotage projects it is hoping to assign to the right person

(e.g., for "an employee of one of the three largest car manufacturers

in the US [to cause] at least hundreds of cars to be shipped with gas

tanks that hold between half a gallon and a gallon of gas only") and

the amount of money available on the missions' completion (in this

case, $2500). Other projects are seeking financing, such as a proposal

to ship out paper cups bearing "the likeness of any widely despised

historical figure." reg.(TM)ark representatives promise that this year,

one of their "workers" will carry out a project as high-profile as the

Barbie and SimCopter projects, thereby drawing attention to

reg.(TM)ark's cause.

 

Precisely what reg.(TM)ark's cause might be is a murky matter. In

extensive e-mail interviews over the past week -- this glasnost

business goes only so far -- they identified themselves to this extent:

they are a small group of professionals (mostly, it seems, academics,

and mostly West Coast) who came up with the reg.(TM)ark concept in 1991

after making contact with one another through Internet newsgroups that

specialize in anarchist topics. They trace their philosophy to Karl

Marx and anarchist thinkers like the Oregon-based philosopher Hakim

Bey.

 

Unlike most anarchist theorists in the past, though, reg.(TM)ark

singles out corporations as the ultimate -- and in fact the only --

enemy worth addressing, representatives told me. The idea is this:

protesting the government is pointless, since corporations now "rule

the planet." Protesting corporations is a subtle business, says an

reg.(TM)ark spokesman. Labor unions have been ineffective at changing

the way people think, because their tactics are not dramatic enough,

and they "certainly haven't made workers militant in the least," a

member writes. So reg.(TM)ark has dispensed with the picket-line model

of activism.

 

"People know how to protest the government -- there's a huge history to

that, a lot written, a lot of examples -- but not how to protest

corporations," wrote one spokesperson. "We hope to redirect people's

thinking about protest now that power has been redirected."

 

The method reg.(TM)ark has come up with relies on high-concept,

nonviolent, nonharmful internal sabotage. Generally, the project is

assigned to someone willing to lose his or her job for the cause. Over

the past five years, 17 projects have been funded and carried out, and

in three of the cases, the perpetrator has been fired as a result,

according to reg.(TM)ark.

 

Ideally, the project should make individuals feel just the way Jacques

Servin felt -- as if they have the power to affect institutions.

Ideally, corporations themselves will be forced to adjust to the

growing ranks of activist workers "by giving free rein to their

conscience, and also by making life good enough for the worker so that

the few thousand dollars that can be offered by reg.(TM)ark (or

successor organizations) will not seem significant." This utopian

vision will be attained when workers make clear their ability to wreak

daily havoc, forcing corporations to acknowledge them as formidable

forces and abandon what is commonly known as the "corporate mindset."

 

Ideally, this would usher in a whole new relationship between the

corporation and the individual. "Perhaps," reg.(TM)ark muses

electronically, "each corporation will have an aesthetics and

philosophy department."

 

reg.(TM)ARK'S CONCEPT is based on the assumption that employees have a

deep-seated desire to misbehave. Fortunately for reg.(TM)ark, this is

the case; as Martin Sprouse documented in his 1992 book Sabotage in the

American Workplace (Pressure Drop Press), practically everyone who is

employed already misbehaves substantially, with or without a

philosophical underpinning. After interviewing hundreds of workers --

who had done things as mundane as stealing office supplies, and as

aggressive as knowingly cashing bad checks -- Sprouse came to the

conclusion that "work is the one place where people actually get

revenge." [<- !! -CB]

 

Sabotage of the more theatrical variety can even be a professional

asset. Through his new Web-based organization, Whistlesmiths,

reg.(TM)ark alumnus Servin makes the case that a high-profile act of

subversion can make a worker appear bold, irreverent, and original ("Do

you feel trapped by your job? Did you know that getting fired

creatively, with much attendant publicity, will most likely enhance

your career?"). [<- !!!!!!!! -CB] As well as principled. What makes

reg.(TM)ark's task easier is that most of their collaborators have

their own political messages: the Barbie Liberation Organization, for

example, was organized to challenge gender stereotypes and had planned

the voice box switch long before its members had even heard of

reg.(TM)ark.

 

As far as reg.(TM)ark is concerned, its anonymous spokespeople write,

one political message is as good as another. What's essential to

reg.(TM)ark's cause is the moment of public shock. This

nondenominational political theater lies at the heart of reg.(TM)ark's

ideology: there is no ideology. There is just an assault.

 

"We're hopeful about our chances for survival because our program and

agenda are relatively nondogmatic," one representative wrote. "We don't

have points over which to argue. . . . The only requirement we have for

new projects is that they subvert things, with a purpose."

 

To date, though, those purposes have been traditionally liberal-left:

the feminist Barbie project, the gay-rights SimCopter gag. reg.(TM)ark

spokespeople say they would gladly accept a conservative project, such

as an anti-abortion message, so long as it "also points out the

crassness of consumerism and helps highlight the massive control

corporations have over our heads." Ideally, however, reg.(TM)ark

projects would be pure dada -- dictators on paper cups, for instance,

bring home no message other than that culture can be messed with. But

even with the promise of cash rewards, reg.(TM)ark doesn't come across

too many underemployed dada activists.

 

It would be wrong to call reg.(TM)ark's masterminds revolutionaries;

they consider revolution impossible, at least for the time being.

Instead, they want to make people think differently. And they hope that

after the Idi Amin Dixie cups have been recalled, companies will go to

work trying to make room for the power of the individual. But in the

few projects that have been carried out, the quantifiable impact

disappears like a footprint in a mud puddle: in the case of Jacques

Servin, for instance, his employer came out with a program to remove

the kissing boys within one day of the bug's discovery. And after the

Barbie Liberation Organization went to all that trouble savaging

Mattel's approach to gender, Vamos was left wondering if the money he

received had come from Mattel's competitors -- or even from Mattel

itself, because there is no such thing as bad publicity.

 

It's hard to measure the effectiveness of this kind of tactic;

reg.(TM)ark's anarchic strategy is so oblique that it can be infinitely

misunderstood. And to wait for the psychological changes to reach the

point of social upheaval -- a world in which corporations worry about

their cumulative impact on human identity -- would require the patience

of a million swamis, as well as truly evangelical optimism. It's a form

of revolution for activists who have given up on the idea of evolution.

 

In that, reg.(TM)ark is not without historical precedent. In Russia,

the Soviets used to ship high school students out to the collective

farms to pick potatoes in the late summer; the teenagers would take the

opportunity to lose their virginity and practice drinking vodka. My

friend Yuri used to tell me about it, and he always said there were two

kinds of teenagers: the teenagers who earnestly assisted in the

harvest, and the teenagers (Yuri was one of these) who sat on the

harvesting machines and threw potatoes into the engines.

 

When the Party breathed its last, in 1991, credit went to Mikhail

Gorbachev, and to Ronald Reagan, and to the martyred dissidents who

risked their lives railing against the system. Perhaps some notice

should have gone to the generations of adolescent potato-throwers, who

may not have envisioned real change but who did their part by

stubbornly gumming up the works. Then again, the potato-throwers didn't

tend to disable the harvesters for very long. The machines burped,

faltered, and then roared back to life.