NEW YORK -- "When the approach came through," British writer Fay Weldon says, "I thought, 'Oh no, dear me, I am a literary author. You can't do this kind of thing; my name will be mud forever.' But then after a while I thought, 'I don't care. Let it be mud. They never give me the Booker Prize (Great Britain's equivalent to the Pulitzer) anyway.'"
With that reasoning Weldon sat down to crank out her latest novel, "The Bulgari Connection," a 200-page social comedy about the clash between a wealthy wife and her husband's wealthy ex. In a product-placement deal familiar to moviegoers everywhere, she was paid an undisclosed amount by the Italian jewelry company to prominently mention Bulgari and its products at least 12 times. Weldon ultimately decided to go even further, placing the company name in the title and making its jewelry the basis of the book's plot.
"The Bulgari Connection," soon to be distributed in the United States by Grove/Atlantic, is believed to be the first major novel containing paid product placement.
Well, they never gave me the Pulitzer Prize either. And though I undoubtedly have readers who respect my integrity and journalistic independence, many more are completely unaware of the tremendous, and probably useless, sacrifices I've made over the years just to stay clean. If I died today, I'd leave behind a pretty cool obit but not much of an estate. In short: Integrity's nice, but the pay sucks.
From this moment forward I will embrace crass free-market capitalism with the zeal of a great white chowing down on a couch-fattened teen-ager. And while you may notice a few minor changes here and there, such is the small cost of keeping your newspaper's subscription price low, the Web free and my car fully serviced.
Last week's column, for example, dealt with Israeli-Palestinian violence and possible long-term solutions for Middle East peace. It contained this sentence: "Successive Israeli governments have employed various means of combating the demographic threat, most notably refusing Arabs living in Lebanese refugee camps the right to return to the homes they fled in 1948."
A savvy ad rep could have spiced up that dud as follows: "Successive governments of Israel, home to dozens of conveniently located McDonald's restaurants where special value meals are 25 percent off through the end of October, have employed various means of combating the demographic threat, most notably refusing Arabs -- note to Muslim readers: All McDonald's hamburgers are virtually 100 percent free of the meat of the unclean pig! -- living in Lebanese refugee camps (take a Happy Meal to go!) the right to return to the homes they fled in 1948, millions and millions served since then." That sentence, worth merely $1.30 through old-fashioned newspaper syndication, nearly triples to $3.66 thanks to the modern miracle of product placement!
You fourth-estate types can spare me your uptight watchdogs-of-democracy letters. Now that every politician from the president to the pope is bought and paid for by transnational corporations, the journalists and opinion mongers who cover them can't afford to be put at a financial disadvantage vis-a-vis their quarry. Let me cite an utterly believable example: Just the other day, I tried to sneak into the White House. Carrying a secret recording device strapped to my thorax, I planned to casually saunter up to W. and ask him: "So, George, how much did you pay off Sandra Day O'Connor back in December?"
Pulitzer Prize, here I come! But before I could rush off to release my scoop to the world, a Secret Service dude noticed that I wasn't driving the "right" car upon arrival at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. "Is that a '66 or a '67?" he asked about my Barracuda.
"It's a '66."
"Sorry, man. You don't belong here. Only people in long, late-model limos come here. Get lost, columnist scum!" So much for my well-planned constitutional crisis.
Don't you see? I can't afford a long, late-model limo. But that wouldn't be the case if I started renting out every other word to the highest bidder. I promise: I wouldn't change. I'd still be out there fighting for you, for us and for America. The only difference is, I'd be chowing down on a delicious, juicy Big Mac while I was doing it.
Ted Rall is a syndicated cartoonist for Universal Press Syndicate. This column was fueled by a No. 4 Value Meal (size: large) purchased at the McDonald's Restaurant at Broadway and West 96th Street in New York City.
Copyright 2001 Ted Rall