Space invaders

Space invaders

Space invaders (2019)

See ‘Bonus video,’ below, for the video version.

Soft drinks giant PepsiCo has consulted with a Russian space startup offering brands the chance to project their logos into the night skies via low-orbit satellites.

                              “Pepsi considers space billboards to project logo across night sky using satellites

                                          (The Independent)

No problem, eh? Just part of a global campaign to erode our private spaces and our private choices to vanishing point. More and more, without so much as a by-your-leave, commercial interests invade both our privacy and our right to view a world uncluttered by distracting and often ugly twaddle.

Inflatable Technologies for Sculpture in Earth Orbit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few items from that recent article in the Independent (above):

Soft drinks giant PepsiCo has consulted with a Russian space startup offering brands the chance to project their logos into the night skies via low-orbit satellites. …

It is not the first time extra terrestrial advertising has been proposed, with one Japanese startup aiming to place billboards on the surface of the moon by 2020.

Tokyo-based Ispace raised $90 million in 2017 to kickstart what it calls the “lunar economy”, which involves – at least in part – setting up small advertising hoards on the moon that can be viewed from Earth. …

A separate Japanese space startup aims to deploy micro satellites to create an artificial meteor shower above Hiroshima in 2020 in the hope of delivering a “whole new level of entertainment”.

Outrageous, is it not? Where did all this come from, and how can anyone let it happen? In fact it’s been sneaking up on us for some time.

 

Space invaders (1987)

Here’s something I wrote for the Bangkok Post in 1987 (later collected in Bangkok Old Hand, a book from Post Publications:

In 1989, France is going to mark the centennial of the Eiffel Tower by orbiting a “Light Ring” — a circular rubber hose 4.5 miles in diameter with reflective Mylar spheres all along its circumference. This graffito, soon to be scrawled 500 miles high on its celestial billboard, bodes ill for us all. Larger than the moon, seen from the surface of the Earth, it’ll dominate the night sky throughout the world. Poets, lovers, musers on the Infinite Mysteries, only recently reconciled to footprints on the moon, now face vandalism on a really awesome scale.

Call me Nostradamus (failed) 

… Let’s take a wee trip into the future. The year is 1997, let’s say. You’ve gone to Phukradeung National Park to get away from Bangkok and its 11,000,000 people including fruit hawkers with the new directional-beam, super-amplified speakers that target individual people in their beds.

Ah, yes. Now you’re practically in the wilderness, all primed for the wonders of nature. Evening approaches, and you weight your blanket with a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine and her. High on this remote grassy plateau, with the lonesome pine trees soughing in the breeze, you eagerly await the appearance of the stars, which you haven’t seen since 1993, the pollution and the lights of the megalopolis having obscured them for years now.… coke graphics…

But what’s this? As the last light of day fades, unfamiliar constellations begin to appear. Is that a hammer and sickle burning red in the northeast? It’s dark now, and you see more: Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola vie for command of the western hemisphere of the heavens. You had read about this, but it didn’t really sink in. Coca-Cola’s celestial sign starts to blink rhythmically in time to… what? Something is covering the soughing of the wind in the trees. Something… Ah — there it is: the new “Things Go Better With Coke” jingle. It’s true, what the papers said; recent technological breakthroughs now permit purveyors of soft drinks and ideologies alike to bounce amplified sound waves off the ionosphere. They can hawk their goods to whole hemispheres at a time.

And look up there! Your companion is pointing at the breathtaking four-colour Nissan ad for its 1998 models. She turns to you, McDonald’s Golden Arches shining in her eyes.

“You really ought to trade in that old wreck you’re driving, ” she says.

I wrote that 32 years ago, predicting the sky would be full of new celestial constellations 10 years later. In the event, that was only about 25 years short of what appears to be in the works now. Not bad.

Space invaders (circa 2057)

Call me Nostradamus (part 2) 

In my next post I’ll present visitors with views of the Earth’s night sky from two different perspectives 40 or 50 years on, in the latter half of the 21st century.

***

 

In case you crave further unsettling right now.

 

* Ad Agency Puts Brightest Man-made Object into Orbit 

“… if all goes well for the team behind the project, it will be the second brightest object in the night sky, second only to the Moon.”

 

* Russian Startup StartRocket Wants to Put Ads in Space by 2021

 

 

Bonus video. 

 

***

Bonus for dedicated readers.

Here’s the whole of “Space Invaders” (1987):

 

From Bangkok Old Hand (Bangkok: Post Books, 1993, out of print)

This story first appeared in the Bangkok Postin 1987. As it turned out, France reconsidered, and the “space invaders” never appeared. Not yet they haven’t, anyway. But modern technology has continued to invade whatever peace and tranquility remains of more traditional ways of life.

 

The other day I was moved to pen an immortal word or two before breakfast. Birds twittered and chirped as I sat at my study window overlooking the lush green of the temple grounds across the way.

Suddenly, birdsong and tranquil reverie were blasted into shards by deafening exhortations to buy somebody’s fresh fruit. In the lane outside, there cruised a little pickup truck piled high with papayas and guavas. How could the vendor afford such a high-powered public address system, I wondered, if his fruit was going as cheaply as he claimed? And why did none of my neighbours run out to strangle him? These were a couple of the questions that exercised my mind that morning.

Sure, these people have to make a living. But do they have to use such an obtrusive means of doing so? Okay, so it only lasted a few minutes, and those words I was thinking of penning would’ve had even less to offer posterity than those I set to this page now. But a rare mood had been broken. Besides, I might’ve been a sick baby, wide awake now and entertaining a family of nine. Or I might have had a hangover.

Other hawkers frequent the lane outside. A tinkle of bells heralds the ice-cream man. There’s the klack-klack-klack of the couple with a bicycle cart who sell noodles in the evening, one member of the partnership pedaling, the other riding pillion, rapping out a simple tattoo with two bamboo sticks. There’s the funny hee-haw horn of the sweets salesman. Occasionally a knife-and-tool sharpener trundles through, treating us to his sing-song refrain. I can enjoy all of these sounds as part of the ambience of the neighbourhood.

These are things even the birds can get down and jam with. It’s modern technology that’s the problem.

Here are a few more contrasts collected from the soi outside my house.

* Cheerful snatches of song as a woman dips rainwater from a big earthenware jar for her morning ablutions. ROCK AND ROLL FROM THE 50-MEGATON STEREO SPEAKERS SOME MUSIC-LOVER HAS HAD INSTALLED IN HIS CAR.

I’ve always admired the generosity of those who buy expensive stereo equipment and then want to share their music with everyone. On the other hand, sometimes you aren’t in the mood for music, especially when you’re caught between two minstrel disk jockeys, and enjoying the stereo effect of Damp Banana on one side and the Heavy Metal Mothers on the other.

* The group in the little house down the way that assembles Friday nights to drink Mekhong whiskey and play Thai music on traditional instruments. THE SON OF THE POLICEMAN IN THE BIG HOUSE ACROSS THE SOI WHO HAS REGULAR AND MUCH-NEEDED POP-MUSIC BAND PRACTICE OUTSIDE IN THE COURTYARD.

Everything is amplified to coffee-shop decibel levels. I can’t even go to the police — they are the police.

 

Some things even the birds can get down and jam with. Modern technology doesn’t generally feature among these things.

 

* The seamstress with sewing machine in the lane, pedaling and humming and sewing all day. THE MUSIC-TAPE VENDOR, DOWN THE SOI AND OUT ON THE STREET, SAMPLES BLARING LOUD ENOUGH TO DROWN OUT THE SOUNDS OF TRAFFIC.

And he sets up right beside the only public telephone box for hundreds of metres around.

Hey, calm down, my girlfriend tells me. It’s not so bad. Relax. It’s the Thai Way.

Right, I answer: how would you feel if someone — without knocking or any other ceremony — came clumping into your house, maybe banging on a pot at the same time, and marched around in large boots for an hour or two? An unacceptable invasion of your personal space? Then how is that different from our neighbor’s big-band practice? It’s just as disruptive to life here in my study. And the 50-megaton stereo sets, are they not equally an invasion of one’s privacy?

But think of ages past, she says. You might have been sitting there having your tea and gazing contentedly at the needle-point motto over the mantel — “A Man’s Home Is His Castle” — when a noisy Mongol horde or the Black Plague or something came calling. That’s a pretty fair invasion of your privacy, isn’t it? It’s nothing new. You just have to put up with it.

Resign yourself to it, right? Well, maybe; but I haven’t even given you the bad news, yet. Technology has already found new and peculiarly aggravating ways to intrude upon us (the hydrogen bomb and the stereo amplifier, for example). Shortly, however, this invasion is going to assume truly colossal dimensions.

You’ve probably read about it in the newspaper. In 1989, France is going to orbit a “Light Ring” — a circular rubber hose 4.5 miles in diameter with reflective Mylar spheres all along its circumference — to mark the centennial of the Eiffel Tower. This graffito, soon to be scrawled 500 miles high on its celestial billboard, bodes ill for us all. Larger than the moon, seen from the surface of the Earth, it’ll dominate the night sky throughout the world. Poets, lovers, musers on the Infinite Mysteries, only recently reconciled to footprints on the moon, now face vandalism on a really awesome scale.

Granted, this particular gimmick is supposed to disintegrate after three years. That’s great. Fine. The question is, however, what’s next?

 

Technology already intrudes upon us in any number of aggravating ways (consider, e.g., the hydrogen bomb and the stereo amplifier). But more is on the way, and maybe soon.

 

The year is 1997, let’s say. You’ve gone to Phukradeung National Park to get away from Bangkok, and its 11,000,000 people and fruit hawkers with the new directional-beam super-amplified speakers that target individual people in their beds.

Ah, yes; but now you’re practically in the wilderness, all primed for the wonders of nature. Evening approaches, and you weight your blanket with a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and Her. High on this remote grassy plateau, with the lonesome pine trees soughing in the breeze, you eagerly await the appearance of the stars, which you haven’t seen since 1993, the pollution and the lights of the megalopolis having obscured them for years now.

But what’s this? As the last light of day fades, unfamiliar constellations begin to appear. Is that a hammer and sickle burning red in the northeast? It’s dark now, and you see more: Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola vie for command of the western hemisphere of the heavens. You had read about this, but it didn’t really sink in. Coca-Cola’s celestial sign starts to blink rhythmically in time to… what? Something is covering the soughing of the wind in the trees. Something… Ah — there it is: the new “Things Go Better With Coke” jingle. It’s true, what the papers said; recent technological breakthroughs now permit purveyors of soft drinks and ideologies alike to bounce amplified sound waves off the ionosphere. They can hawk their goods to whole hemispheres at a time.

And look up there! Your companion is pointing at the breathtaking four-colour Nissan ad for its 1998 models. She turns to you, McDonald’s Golden Arches shining in her eyes.

“You really ought to trade in that old wreck you’re driving,” she says.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe it’s time to resist. Why don’t more people complain about amplified fruit vendors? Today it was my morning reverie; tomorrow it’ll be good-bye starry heavens and hello “TWINKLE, TWINKLE LITTLE TWINKIE (WE NOW COME IN FOUR FABULOUS FLAVORS!)”.

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Space invaders

  1. You oughta put a [sic] after “hoards”, lest people think your vocabulary is no better than the Guardian’s.

    • Your comment is much appreciated, and the ‘sic’ is probably merited. However, in the Guardian’s defence, I’ll nitpick back at you:

      “hoarding (ˈhɔːdɪŋ)
      n
      1. (Marketing) a large board used for displaying advertising posters, as by a road. Also called (esp US and Canadian): billboard”

      “Hoard,” I believe, is an obsolete version of “hoarding,” and closer to to the French antecendent.

      🙂

  2. Regarding Space Invaders. I think we should be up in arms! We’ll have to seek solace in a planetarium..!

    • Aha! A footprint upon the deserted beach of my website, evidence that another has passed this way.

      I love your idea of planetariums as retreats from the commercial colonization of every space, both external and, soon, internal. Though the planetariums could probably earn a bundle by updating their celestial orgs on a regular basis (just to reflect the current realities, eh?).

Leave a Comment