Remember back in 1993 when a group known only as the Barbie Liberation Organization surprised consumers and made national headlines by switching the voice boxes of 300 G.I. Joe and Barbie dolls? A sparkling Barbie huskily intoned, "Dead men tell no lies" while a combat-ready Joe squealed, "Want to go shopping?"
Or how about last year, when the computer-software company Maxis discovered only after shipping its macho adventure game SimCopter that one of the scenes in the game showed two men kissing each other?
Few knew these two blips on the media screen were connected-both stunts were funded by a mysterious, little-known entity that calls itself ®™ark. The group likens itself to a brokerage firm, finding donors to fund acts of corporate sabotage; it claims to have rewarded 17 subversive acts in the past five years. An anonymous ®™ark spokesperson e-mails me that the group consists of individuals, some of them academics, who encourage "the intelligent sabotage of mass-produced items."
In the past, recipients of an ®™ark prize knew little if anything about their benefactor. (The Maxis programmer who hooked up two computerized himbos in SimCopter-and was subsequently fired-received an anonymous $3,000 money order from ®™ark.) Now ®™ark has gone public, sort of-in the form of a Web site (http://www.paranoia.com/~rtmark/) that lists the cash bounties the group is willing to pay for certain projects. There's $3,000 reserved for the first person who will "alter or erect an edition of inner-city billboards of liquor or cigarettes so that they show a model completely wasted by disease, or imprisoned." And $750 is promised to each policeman in a major city "no smaller than Chicago" who confronts businessmen on the street after 6 P.M., asking for identification and informing them of a 6 P.M. curfew for affluent men.
While some ®™ark-endorsed projects seem to be little more than juvenile pranks writ large, they can be valuable reminders of how corporations can be inadvertently inhuman.
"Our ultimate aim is to make the corporate environment conform to people's desires," the group's spokesperson writes, "to change the power balance a bit."