If Ares and Aphrodite were just a little reserved in their enthusiasm for the new CEO’s agenda (setting aside their parental pride), the same could not be said for Hermes who would be the next to report.
There was not a single department head seated at the table who could match Hermes’ unbridled enthusiasm for Eros. Previous administrations had reduced Hermes to a glorified errand boy, but under Eros he enjoyed more power, more prestige, and more influence than even Ares himself.
Because Eros, in his wisdom, understood the power of marketing.
Some described Hermes as smooth. Others would rather use the word slippery. What was beyond debate to all who knew him was that Hermes had a razor tongue. The power that Ares enjoyed in sheer will and that Aphrodite enjoyed in seduction, Hermes enjoyed in speech – which was at the same time fearsome in its strength and seductive in its effect. He couldn’t just sell an iPhone to an Amish farmer. He could sell the idea of an iPhone to an Amish farmer. He could convince him that his forebears were wrong all along and that life was in some great respect not worth living without the help of an iPhone. After all, every good salesman is really a good Platonist. You’ve only really sold a thing once you have successfully sold the idea of the thing – or better yet, the feel of a thing. Feelings last even as moth and rust destroy. Replace things with feelings, and you have hooked a customer for life.
Hermes’ appearance matched his reputation. A good salesman knows the importance of controlling his environment. This control starts with appearance. Nothing was left to chance. From his suit to his smell to his smile, Hermes sent a uniform message that said, “Talk to me for directions to the good life.” He also possessed that intangible quality required of every successful salesman to dominate every room and every relationship without losing that priest-like intimacy that says “I am here only to serve you.”
“Friends, I’m afraid I must start my report with a mild complaint. ‘Meeting’ is a word wholly unsuitable for a occasion such as today. Meetings are dull, life-sucking, ominous affairs full of process and procedure. To call for a meeting is similar to making a threat. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that those led to the guillotine were first informed that they were being called to a meeting at noon tomorrow. On your birthday, do your friends and family invite you to a meeting? When you first fall in love, do you ask your beloved to accompany you to a meeting? No. The word for a thing becomes the thing, and this thing that we do today is no meeting. This thing is a celebration – a celebration of unparalleled proportions, a celebration of sacrifice, and cunning, and victory. A celebration of vision and leadership. We don’t bring our ‘progress reports’ today. Today we bring the good news – today, we bring…the gospel!”
Eros couldn’t help but smile at his friend’s unbridled enthusiasm even as others around the room were making no effort to hide the rolling of their eyes.
“Before I say anything else…” He turned to Aphrodite. “Thank you so much for your inspiring words. Was there ever a being whose wisdom and beauty walked hand-in-hand with such perfect grace and harmony?”
For a moment, Hermes and Aphrodite were alone in the room. “You forever walk in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies…”
“Oh my gods, give us a break, mailman.” Ares growled.
The spell was broken. “Ares. No need for jealousy. I haven’t forgotten about you. You’re pretty too. You know, it is refreshing in these days where style is everything and appearance is substance to find a person so radically committed to a personal style that says ‘I haven’t the time or the inclination to care about style or appearances.’ Everyone knows that you can’t be real by trying to be real which means, ironically, that you may be the most real among us. That might actually make you a fashion icon someday. Imagine that! Young people the world over adopting the look of Ares, God of War – complete with flattop haircuts and briefcases.” He broke out in a devilish grin.
“Hermes.” Eros lightly interjected. “As much as we’d all love to hear further commentary on Ares’ fashion choices…”
“Of course. My apologies, sir,” he said, clearly not apologizing.
“There is no need to apologize, but if you could, I’d like you to start with the baby.”
Ares smiled smugly.
“The baby. Yes. Well, contrary to the beliefs of some of my skeptics, the baby has actually been one of our wildest successes. It’s simple lesson in marketing really. We don’t want fear. We want their guards down and their sentiments up. Is there anything as cute and innocent and non-threatening as a baby?”
“A baby with a deadly weapon sounds pretty terrifying to me.” Someone said from across the room followed by laughter.
He smiled. “Allow them to think of Eros as a child – pure and innocent – a faultless child whose one and only desire is for the discovery of true love. Give him a holiday. Turn him into the freaking Easter Bunny. Let them think of nothing but romance and ‘falling in love’ and all the while they will come to forget how deadly those arrows can be.”
Eros looked at Hermes with a stern, unblinking expression. After a dramatic pause his face suddenly burst into loud, childlike laughter. “I don’t like it. But I kind of love it. Hermes, you’re a marvel. I wish half the people around this table shared half of your creativity. But now tell us about commerce.”
“Yes. Of course. Do you want to know the secret of Barbie?”
“Excuse me?” Ares woke back up.
“Barbie. The doll. Her secret is amazingly simple. It’s variety. You are never done buying a Barbie doll. There are always more accessories and clothes and cars and houses to buy. And just in case you’re ever tempted to think you’ve finally bought your Barbie all she could ever want, you learn that they’ve just released a dozen new Barbie dolls – each slightly different than the next. Ballet Barbie. Doctor Barbie. Pop Star Barbie. Hot Librarian Barbie. And in case you ever run out of Barbies to buy, we’ve also made available Barbie videos, lunch boxes, board games, and Barbie foosball. The reality is that nobody ever buys a Barbie. Barbie buys you.
Now, take this Barbie principle and apply it to the entire economy.” He walked to the window overlooking the city. “The greatest invention of the last fifty years has little to do with technology or machinery. The greatest invention of the last fifty years is the invention of the shopper. We have turned the consumer into a shopper who never stops shopping. His waking hours – and even his sleeping hours – are spent being continuously bombarded with messages about what he lacks. His shopping has become such a part of his life that he has become desensitized to its presence. His wants have become needs. We have created within him a status of unchecked discontentment with an imperative force. He doesn’t just want stuff. He wants to shop. He has to. ‘The good life is just one purchase away.’ ‘Buy this car, upgrade your house, replace your clothes, throw out your phone.’ There are always more accouterments that he simply MUST buy. There is a never-ending stream of bigger, better, faster, cheaper updates, reboots, hot trends, and must-haves that keep him always needing more. We have made him a prisoner of his own Desire by addicting him to cheap, plastic accessories.”
And what they don’t realize, because we have been so thorough in our marketing, is that the plastic of their accessories has created in them a plastic soul. They actually define themselves by their stuff – what they have or what they don’t yet have. They obsess about the perfect cheeseburger, the lightest shoes, the fastest boat, the coolest phone. They can’t tell you their neighbor’s name, but they can tell you the thread count on their sheets. They are no longer individuals but branding billboards. Nobody ever buys a Barbie. Barbie buys you.” He suddenly broke into song, “The world won’t end in darkness, it’ll end in family fun
With Coca Cola clouds behind a Big Mac sun .”
“Truly inspiring,” Eros interrupted. “Is there anything else?”
“Oh, I haven’t even got to my favorite part! It has been our goal to create a shopper who is consumed with nothing other than the fulfillment of his own desires. One of the persistent obstacles in creating such a pure shopper is the store itself. Stores are demanding. There is a cost in going to a store which has nothing to do with what you are buying. At a store you find yourself in the midst of a community – a community of fellow shoppers who only get in the way of your shopping. You wait with them in lines. You compete with them in grabbing the last slab of frozen meat or 65 inch TV. You may even have to talk with them as you check out. There was a time – seems ancient and quaint now – where others were not an impediment to shopping but a necessary and welcome perk. A shopper knew his butcher, his banker, his waitress, and his grocer by name. To shop was to participate in a community and thus to shop was about something other than the self. This is obviously a problem. We addressed this problem with bigger and bigger and piteously more efficient stores. Self-check out. Automatic tellers. Mass produced everything – from birthday cakes to sweaters – made somewhere else at little cost by a faceless somebody or a soulless machine. Others are no longer an anticipated part of shopping. They are now an annoyance in our way. But still, the store itself posed an intractable problem…until Bezos. Because of the Internet we have finally been able to create a shopping experience that is solely and purely about filling the desire of the self. The Internet has trapped the shopper finally within the world of his own consumerism. It is now only him and his stuff which with almost magical precision materializes from his computer to his porch. We’re even managing to do away with the pesky delivery man. There are to be no distractions from the shopper’s primary duty which is to shop. Now the shopper is able to take the store wherever he goes. The new Barbie Corvette is only a click away. The new Barbie Dream House will be delivered by drone in less than two days. The latest Barbie movie is available for streaming on your tablet. What a marvelous prison of pink that we have created for him!”