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TAKE THREE: Three views of the Southland | PATT MORRISON

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January 02, 1998|PATT MORRISON

When the alarm on his bedside Westclox went off, the man who would be president hefted himself off his Sealy Posturepedic and into the bathroom, where he dragged a Schick razor across his face and splashed his still passably young jowls with Old Spice. The smell of Chock Full o'Nuts perking on the Mr. Coffee roused him to the realization, as he fumbled to knot his Ermenegildo Zegna tie, that today was his last day as a private man, the last day he could drive his Jeep Grand Wagoneer without Sony minicams dogging him. Today he'd hold court at the Marriott for the money men of IBM, of GE. They'd hand over their Chase Manhattan bank draft campaign contributions and then let him know, subtly, what they'd expect of him when he got to the Oval Office (a registered trademark of the United States of America).

This is how the whole world will operate under the tyranny of Product Placement unless, like Hong Kong's chicken flu, it is quarantined and gassed right now.

For megacorps and megamoguls, product placement is a cozy arrangement to put their products in movies for some consideration, usually one that can be taken to the bank.

For we who are on the trickle-down end, product placement means this: Rather than staying home and watching free TV, which has too many commercials, we pay $7 to enjoy a commercial-free theatrical film, only to find it stuffed with visual commercials: Meryl Streep sipping 7-Up out in Madison County, Ralph Fiennes driving a Mercedes around post-apocalypse L.A., Michelle Pfeiffer the high school teacher eating a Butterfinger bar.

But the Olympic gold of product placement comes this month, when a cable channel I will not name--all right, it's Showtime; now show me the money--airs a version of the film "Jerry Maguire" that is 47 seconds longer than the theatrical version. Tacked on to the end will be a made-up Reebok commercial that had perished on the cutting room floor because the writer/director thought it spoiled the film's ending.

But when Commerce struts in, Art gets left at the altar. Reebok sued TriStar for allegedly reneging on a product placement and promo tie-in deal. The case was settled out of court on the QT, but I'd bet a pair of Nikes that the trashed 47 seconds aren't being spliced on just to flesh out Showtime's schedule.

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And to think they used to fire DJs for taking payola from record companies in exchange for playing their records on the air. Poor Alan Freed--if he'd been around nowadays, his only crime might be not thinking big enough.

And to think the '50s Commie-hunting generation was so anxious about subliminal advertising corrupting us on the sly that it didn't foresee product placement, that two-ton hammer, dropping on its head.

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Why didn't Shakespeare dream up this for the Old Globe? "And now, ye message from our noble sponsor: Hast thou driven a Ford lately? No? Well, hast thou at least forded a river?"

Or, the comedy smash of 1668 at the Drury Lane Theatre, "She Would If She Could," is brought to you by Nell Gwynn Orange Juice, a Squeeze Fit for a King.

Already, we're surrounded. In an effort to wring even more out of you than the $1.50 bank fee, 165 ATMs in San Diego now force customers to endure car and movie ads to withdraw their own money. Can the day be far behind when book publishers sell ads for those wasteful white spaces at chapters' end? Whose company will be first to accept a hefty fee in exchange for ads on the inside doors of toilet stalls?

But that's thinking small. Untold opportunities awaited an alert product-placer after that massacre in Chiapas. The coffins--pictures of which appeared on front pages across the world--could have borne any message in the guise of charity, like, "Donated by Rent-a-Coffin: We're There When You Need Us, but Not a Minute Longer."

L.A. County could have defrayed the cost of the whole O.J. matter with sponsorship by Bruno Magli (whose sales, by the way, rose by 50% afterward). Even a routine burglary case could be underwritten by "Crime Ink--Fingerprints With Conviction, for a Quarter of a Decade."

The day will come that we'll have to pay for a place where, as Hamlet said, the rest is silence. Pony up a buck to ride the elevator that doesn't play Muzak.

The fictional anti-hero Dorian Gray saw reflected in his portrait the corruptions of his era: dissipation, vice, depravity. Our age will look in the mirror and see not its own face but ad space: this face brought to you by (top to bottom) Pantene shampoo, Revlon mascara, Clearasil, Dr. Beauchamp Credit Dentist and Crest Toothpaste.

Me, I'm terrified of waking up some morning and finding that my bedsheets have somehow been manufactured to transfer the words RALPH LAUREN onto my butt.

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