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80 proof

2033 The Future of Misbehavior From the editors of Nerve.com Chronicle Books: 198 pp., $22.95

July 15, 2007|Diana Wagman | Diana Wagman, a professor at Cal State Long Beach, is the author of the novels "Skin Deep," "Spontaneous" and "Bump."

WAY, way back in the early '60s, Andy Warhol inflamed the art world with his Campbell's soup cans. Was it art or was it advertising? Since then, the lines have become more blurred as corporations sponsor everything from art museums to concert halls.

The commercials preceding movies today are only slightly more blatant than the product placement in the films themselves. In the future, I can envision the L.A. Philharmonic's cellos covered with corporate logos. A symphony performance will look like a NASCAR event. And books won't be reviewed; instead, merchandisers of products -- like, say, vodka -- will sponsor books and advertise them using review-like words: "entertaining," "thought-provoking" and the ubiquitous "luminous."

Oh, wait -- that's not the future; a recent half-page ad ran in the New York Times Style section for Svedka vodka and its companion anthology, "2033: The Future of Misbehavior." OK, maybe the ad didn't use the word "luminous," but the introduction to this lightweight collection of one-note jokes -- compiled by Nerve.com, a sex, arts and culture oriented website -- concludes, "grab a can of your favorite ... super-beverage (or, as we prefer, a refreshing vodka cocktail) and spend some time in the future."

Why should Nerve.com tell me what to drink? Because a vodka company is behind this book.

No single story mentions vodka specifically, but the book's exterior is one big liquor ad, with pictures of the unmistakable -- and fetching -- Svedka spokes-robot on the front, back and spine. On the publication page, a strange paragraph reveals that the book was "made possible" by "the influence of Svedka, voted the Number One Vodka of 2033."

I hope that means most of it was written when the authors were drunk. How else to explain contributor Rick Moody's tired business plan for Times Square, Jay McInerney's predictable screenplay of reverse sexual harassment and Rachel Shukert's pointless memo about the Paris Hilton fellowship masquerading as real stories.

Not all the entries are unfortunate choices -- just as not all flavored vodkas were thought up in some trendy marketing hell. Will Self's "The Principle" is hilarious and as good as his usual work. Jami Attenberg's "In the Bushes" is a mournful ode to automobiles and sex. But as a whole, this gathering of very short stories tells us nothing about the future, only how vapid, meaningless and solipsistic our lives are now. By 2033, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and the aforementioned Hilton -- in other words, the pop icons of 2007 -- will likely be forgotten, yet 11 of these 18 stories feature someone like them who is a regular in People magazine. Is it art? Or is it soup?

Well, so what if it's not literature. In its primary function as a sales tool, it works. After reading these stories, I really wanted a good, stiff drink -- of old-fashioned bourbon.

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