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27 Nov 97

New Nikes, Shot into the Stars

New Nikes, Shot into the Stars

When you think of the tall African boys in dirty white Michael Jordan T-shirts, or the way China halts communal production to watch "Dallas," why be surprised that the electronically amplified voices of pure desire would reach past the narrow bands of atmosphere into the great deep of background radiation?

If only that great cosmic blowhard, Carl Sagan, had survived to see these new, slippery, lanky things on the news, dressed in baggy pants and polo shirts, accessorizing with sunglasses and wallet chains, or dressed like skateboarders, with the skateboard balanced on the top of a coatrack body. All that romantic, hard-science bullshit about cosmic brotherhood and alien superiority would seem foolish, now.

We all saw the look in the UN Secretary's brown eyes, when he handed over the first of the thousands of "friendship packages." Was he proud of the interstellar desirability of earthly goods, or disappointed--for they gave us nothing in return, not even a tour of the ship. But the orders keep coming.

Truckload after truckload roll into the giant craft, three every hour. In New York, in Seattle, in Paris, in Naples, the ad agencies and public relations firms are rallying with military fervor, insisting that the utilitarian, black plastic boxes carry their products into the dark heavens. Free samples of shampoo and boxer shorts build the brand on distant, gaseous planets. Ads have appeared with photos of extraterrestrials wearing Nike Sneakers on its head, an Armani T-shirts worn as a necklace. Bennetton has gone out of control with its latest campaigns, showing an earthly woman engaged in intercourse with one of those slippery slug-things, both wearing Bennetton hats.

This powerful, extraterrestrial desire is not without cost. There was a terrible accident with some cologne, something the alien physiognomy couldn't tolerate. Pure vitriol--the sloppy, slippery skin melting like caramel, with pictures in the paper.

Of course, the business of the world is almost stopped, and the story of these visitors is in the papers, on the evening and morning news, the talk shows, and on the Internet. There will be miniseries in a couple of months, and a movie is being filmed. Not since the last war have people been so attached to the screen. Certain delegates for the United States are learning to speak a new language, as the delegates also try to teach our language to our guests--hoping that they will soon be able to explain the concept of barter and money, to explain the acronym ROI, and gain the knowledge to travel to the stars ourself, brochures in hand.

So, really, was it any surprise that when they finally came, when the strange animals sucking nitrogen through straws arrived in silent, zebra-striped crafts, they came not for peace, or understanding, but for Nike sweatpants, videotapes of "Santa Barbara," and Garfield toys with suction cups that stick comically to the windows of their faster-than-light spaceships?


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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