Despite being held captive in a disused garage in Streatham, Conspiracy Monkey is, nevertheless, a primate on a mission. Fed on a strict diet of cigarettes and amphetamines, he casts his eye over the output of the contemporary mass media in an attempt to discern the hidden agenda of those in power.

"The role of the media in a democratic society is to train the minds of the people to a virtuous attachment to their government and to the arrangements of the social, economic and political order more generally."
- Noam Chomsky

"[The Beast] also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no-one could buy or sell unless he had that mark."
- Biblical prophecy (Rev 13 vv16-17)

"Anyone in marketing or advertising... kill yourselves. You are Satan's little helpers and it's the only way to save your souls. Kill yourselves, kill yourselves, kill yourselves."
- Bill Hicks

As we enter the twenty first century increasing numbers of people are realising the truth behind the theory that the corporate controlled governments of the western world are working to enslave their populations ever more securely into an economic system which benefits the rich and powerful while manipulating and exploiting everyone else. Some researchers are of the opinion that a future stage in the step by step enslavement of humanity into progressively more authoritarian structures of control will be to assign a unique personal number to each citizen and then imprint this number, in the form of a barcode, firstly onto a smart card and eventually (perhaps after some worldwide economic crisis) onto their body. With all financial transactions then being carried out by scanning the barcode, the ability of our totalitarian regime to monitor and control its citizens will be vastly increased.

Most of the technology needed to implement such a system is already available and quietly being eased into action in various guises throughout the world; systems such as the EFTPOS (Electronic Funds Transfer at the Point Of Sale) scheme in use throughout New Zealand and the Mondex electronic cash scheme being piloted in several British towns have the potential, when combined with the rapidly increasing bandwidth and processing power of the information superhighway, to form the backbone of an electronic economy.

There are, however, several significant hurdles that need to be overcome before this Orwellian nightmare can become a reality. The greatest of the practical problems is that of centralising the information on an individual into a single repository and assigning a unique identifier to each person. This issue is also being quietly dealt with around the world; governments are spending vast sums to centralise their records, computer systems holding a variety of data such as medical, police and DSS records can now be relatively easily interfaced together and when tagged with a unique number, such as the one now assigned to passport holders, the practical problems are well on the way to being resolved.

After the technical difficulties are overcome, the future planners will then have the task of selling the whole idea to us, the people. Such a campaign of propaganda will necessarily work on several levels, both intellectual and emotional, overt and subliminal and will be waged through the mainstream media which, having been under corporate ownership for many years, has well dug channels of control. The more overt propaganda will not appear until the proposal for the barcode system is made known in the public sphere, but a more subtle form of propaganda is quite likely in the years leading up to the event, including such approaches as a focusing of news stories on the benefits of the cashless society while at the same time pointing out the growing problem of credit card fraud. An approach similar to this can be seen on the web site associated with the new barcoded ID card being introduced in the U.S. state of Illinois. Smiling faces on the cards abound, catchy slogans ("A Safer State with .08") are employed and simplistic descriptions of the benefits ("It offers new tools for law enforcement and protects us all from fraud and misuse of identification") are listed. Possible civil liberties issues are not mentioned anywhere.

The social planners, however, know that rational arguments count for very little in the public sphere and that ultimately the success or failure of the barcode scheme will depend on the public's emotional reaction to the whole idea and to the barcode as a symbol. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that over the last three years images of barcodes have been systematically appearing in advertising campaigns and in television graphics, often accompanied by subtle messages designed to insinuate the barcode into the mass consciousness with positive associations.

The campaign began in August 1996 (in the UK, at least) with an advertisement for The University of North London shown on London Weekend Television and in cinemas around the capital. The advert was set in a London street in the near future and depicted a cashless society in which the citizens had barcodes on their palms. The voice over explained that cash had become obsolete and that all financial transactions were carried out by pressing the barcode against screens similar to the ATM screens in use today. It also explained that among the benefits of the system were that fraud had been abolished and that all of the records for an individual could now be conveniently stored together. At the end of the advert the voice over said "You can't predict the future, but you can prepare for it", a slogan intended to tie in with a poster campaign carried out on the London Underground by the same university.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the advert was that everyone in it appeared ridiculously happy. One clip showed a smiling family raising their bar-coded palms to the camera and another featured a long-haired youth doing the same. The advert concluded with a young man holding out his bar-coded palm to a girl. "It's all in hand" she said.

Several weeks later Conspiracy Monkey spotted a barcode image appearing in an advert for the Post Office. The advert featured images of people from all around the world and concluded with an image of a barcode moving across the screen from right to left. As it did so, the voice over said "Bringing People Together", thus linking this idea with the barcode, as well as the Post Office, in the subconscious of the viewer.

Other instances of this surreptitious sneaking of bar codes into adverts noticed by Conspiracy Monkey are as follows:

  1. Becks "The best bars have a code" adverts featuring a full page, red on green bar code and a little bottle of Becks beer in the corner.

  2. Virgin's 1998 sale adverts featuring a full page, red on white bar code.

  3. Adverts for Sega World in London consist of half a minute or so of chaotic imagery and conclude with a large eye opening and closing. As the eye opens for the last time a bar code can clearly be seen in it and after a short time is replaced by a picture of Sonic the Hedgehog.

  4. Adverts for Sainsburys feature a barcode being scanned by a laser. This is only on screen for a second or two before being replaced by an image of two smiling faces.

  5. Cinema and poster adverts for Impulse perfume consist of a large bar code with models walking around in the gaps between the lines.

  6. On the front cover of literature advertising Barclays "The Banking Code" young person and student accounts, appeared a large, red on blue barcode with two young people standing in front of it.

  7. Literature from the Nat West bank also features barcode imagery.

  8. TV adverts for the Kwik Save sale showed various food goods appearing on the screen before being shunted off to the left by a big, red on white barcode.

  9. Magazine adverts for the new album by DJ Carl Cox feature graphics of airline luggage labels, which amounts to three large barcodes being displayed. Barcode imagery can also be found throughout various UK clubbing magazines.

  10. Government adverts addressing the threat of the Millennium Bug feature an image of a bar code flashing onto the screen.

  11. Posters advertising the UK investment house M&G feature a large barcode with the number underneath signifying the number of investors currently investing with M&G.

  12. Adverts for the Eddie Murphy film, Holy Man, feature obvious barcode imagery.

  13. TV adverts for The Times newspaper conclude with the name of the newspaper superimposed on a full screen, white on black barcode.

Conspiracy Monkey has also noticed images of barcodes being used in TV and magazine graphics. The most interesting examples are as follows:

  1. The logo for Rebel TV, Sky TV's American dangerous sports show is a barcode with the word Rebel superimposed on it. This appears in the corner of the screen throughout the entire show.

  2. Channel 5's trailers for its coverage of sporting events featured football clips with bar codes appearing and then fading away.

  3. Channel 5's just before the hour news bulletins follow the format of a newsreader sitting in front of a bank of TV screens. Images of barcodes can clearly be seen moving across the screens in wave-like patterns for the duration of the bulletin.

  4. In the ITV sitcom, Babes in the Wood, the bar frequented by the main characters is called "Bar Coda". A shot of the outside of this establishment is shown several times during each episode.

  5. Live TV's trailers for its new season of programs take the form of a large, full screen bar code with various words such as "Sport" periodically superimposed on it.

  6. Graphics on Sky TV depict an image of a barcode morphing into the word "Sky".

  7. The front cover of the book Your Personal Survival Guide to the 21st Century shows a baby with a barcode on his/her forehead. It's worth contemplating the association between words and images here, particularly if, as some researchers are suggesting, the barcode is to be introduced as a "temporary measure" during a period of worldwide economic turmoil.

  8. The cover of the book Rune by Christopher Fowler is an image of a human eye with a barcode in the pupil.

  9. The cover of the book The Manipulators - A Conspiracy to Make us Buy by Jeffrey Robinson is a picture of a carrot with a barcode on it. Conspiracy Monkey considers it a nice touch that a book exposing the tricks of the advertising industry is actually involved in the campaign.

What we are witnessing here is the rebranding of the barcode, a systematic attempt to alter the associations which arise in the mind of the viewer when an image of a barcode is shown and a key technique of the advertising industry. Barcodes are no longer about mass production, authoritarianism and a loss of individuality, we are being told; they are about youth, beer, football and being a rebel. And, of course, they are about bringing people together.

All this effort is to ensure that the public is not immediately repulsed by the idea of being bar-coded when the scheme is proposed openly. If we immediately feel that the scheme will lead to a loss of individuality and to us becoming sucked into a faceless system then even as apathetic as we have become, we may protest. If, however, the barcode is part of everyday life, associated with things that we enjoy and make us feel secure, then we will feel much more comfortable about the idea of having it on our bodies.

Of course, taking this idea further, the planners would ultimately love to make the barcode into a fashion symbol - something "cool" to be seen wearing as a pithy, ironic statement on modern society. Conspiracy Monkey thinks that this could be behind the T-shirt with a barcode design on the front that he recently saw being worn by a character on the BBC's Eastenders and the new Adidas T-shirts also sporting a barcode design. Rebranding the barcode as cool is also the plan behind the liberal use of barcode imagery throughout various UK clubbing magazines and on the covers and sleeve-notes of club music/ambient CDs (The Dream Injection and Essential Selection series being prime examples). In general the club generation is young, intelligent, values it's individuality and considers itself anti-establishment, and for this reason may possibly mobilise a campaign of resistence against being barcoded. It will be somewhat ironic if, through this propaganda, the club generation comes to see the barcode as being cool and perhaps even subversive!

Unfortunately, once this image has been established it begins to take on a life of it's own, leading other artists and designers wanting to capture the ironic quality of the barcode into unwittingly using the image in their designs. This, Conspiracy Monkey hopes, is what has led David Bowie into using barcode imagery on the cover of his new album, After Hours, and on the cover of the new single Survive (note the survival connotations once again).

Conspiracy Monkey hopes that this is what has led Bowie into using the barcode imagery, although it has to be said that by recently starting his own online bank Bowie has shown himself to be capable of anything.

The idea that the planners could take this plan to its limit and attempt, in classic advertising style, to make the barcode appear sexy was something that Conspiracy Monkey considered and then dismissed as being a virtual impossibility. This was, however, until he was in Plaistow, East London recently and found himself confronted by a huge advertising hoarding displaying a pair of pert, tight buttocks tattooed with a barcode. Exactly what product was being advertised here was not obvious, which makes this advertisement all the more curious.

So can anything be done to counter this barcode propaganda? Well, Conspiracy Monkey believes that most effective challenge to this campaign will work on the same principles as the campaign itself. In other words instead of attempting to prove using reason and evidence to the public that there is a plan to barcode them, the ideal counter-campaign would simply consist of highly negative barcode imagery placed in as many public places as possible. To this end Conspiracy Monkey has produced a poster featuring an image of a human skull superimposed on a barcode. This A4 image can be printed directly from the following link:

Conspiracy Monkey's anti-Barcode Image

The aim is to post these in as many public places as possible, from subways to pub toilets, from bus windows to telephone booths, in an attempt to instil fear into the mass psyche at the sight of a barcode. Conspiracy Monkey would also like to hear from anyone who has the means to produce stickers from this image or perhaps even other images on the same theme.

The fact that the barcode propaganda campaign has already begun suggests that there may not be much time left before those in charge propose the scheme to the public. If there is to be any opposition to it then there is no time to lose.

"Given the choice between intersecting with a monetary system that leaves a detailed electronic trail of all one's financial activities, and a parallel system that ensures anonymity and privacy, people will opt for the latter. Moreover, they will demand the latter, because the current monetary system is being turned into the principal instrument of surveillance and control by tyrannical elements in Western governments."
- J. Orlin Grabbe

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