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The MacRib is Back!   (Chris Sullins, September 23, 2008)

I want to assure you this is not a viral ad campaign. There is going to be a point to the title because it contains a small story within a much larger one. Also, the title contains a unique spelling for a reason. This is mainly for two visible reasons: reduce this essay’s indirect inclusion in a link back to a viral ad and keep some hungry corporate attorneys from coming after me on some kind of copyright infringement. Therefore, I will need to set a place on the table for the tale that is about to unfold.

I could make up a story (lie) about how my failure to take such “precautions” might also result in some sort of threat to my own safety. This seems to have become a favorite past-time of many actual or would-be leaders of both little groups and large nations in order to boost their status to members –and in the leader’s own eyes. I could greatly exaggerate the importance of some supposedly secret information which only a scant few possessed. And, if such knowledge was allowed to come out unhindered, it could position the viewer at a better angle in seeing a much more complete picture of the larger global conspiracy at work in our daily lives.

I could brush together an elaborate fictional picture of hit men with grease-painted faces waiting on the southwest side of Detroit for the call to sally forth. Of course, they would be mere disposable utensils themselves put to use by conspirators “very high up” on the corporate food chain. Given the abundance of media imagery already deeply ingrained in the audience the picture of a posse of insane clowns armed with MP5s complete with sound-suppressors and laser-sites already leaps to mind with only a single suggestion. Of course, they would be the “bad guys” who could be sent to stop me from telling you this story. The lines between truth and lie, fact and fiction have already dissolved in the global consciousness.

But if by strange coincidence you should hear about me falling in the near future after a massive hail of jacketed hollow points and a machete cut coupe de grace, further investigation beyond the cover story may be warranted. If the autopsy photos posted online show I died with a smile on my face, the dilemma in the psychological post-mortem may be to understand a single question. Was the smile painted upon my death-mask due to a last ditch adrenaline-charged moment of hope or merely an attempt of futile self-humor during a final carnival of carnage? Know this: In the end we’re all just empty plastic trays waiting to be stacked above the garbage can of this self-serving world.

Once upon a time there was a MacReady restaurant in a very small town where I lived back in the early 1980s. This was not a single family-owned business, but one that was part of a much larger clan. Each restaurant interior was set up in the same manner and they all had the usual Midwestern deep-fried meat and potatoes served in paper wrappers. As kids we had always liked the bag-pipe tooting cartoonish character who would march around in a kilt representing MacReady in the media to the billions served around the world. He was called Rory MacReady and wore a mullet of red hair. He made MacReady look like the kind of place to just sit down and have a happy meal.

One day our local MacReady served something new. It was called the MacRib. This prefabricated meat widget was passed off as pork haggis covered with BBQ sauce. The spongy bites weren’t too hard to squash down the gullet as long as it was lubed with plenty of sauce and followed by the usual quaff of bubbly sugar water.

Those of us familiar with quality meat and choice cuts from the local family farms knew this pork thing was the lowest quality of legally consumable tripe found at the bottom of a slaughterhouse barrel. However, a lot of people tried the MacRib since it was something new. At the local MacReady, it also seemed to do just as well as any of the other meals people ate there.

My family and I did a lot of business travel across the US back at the time. However, when we stopped in other MacReady restaurants in many locations both within our own state and in other states hundreds of miles away, the MacRib was rarely on the menu. In fact, the staff had never even heard of the MacRib. They thought we must have confused them with their main competitor, the Fish Queen and her flame-broiled fillets. Every once in a while, though, we would find the MacRib for sale in a MacReady in another isolated town many states away from our home.

After one particularly long trip that was devoid of MacRib, we stopped back at our local MacReady to place an order. To our surprise, we found our local store no longer carried it. We asked the manager about the missing MacRibs. The manager told us the MacRibs had been pulled by the head of the clan. He stated that although sales were actually quite good, the MacReady patriarch just didn’t feel the trend would sustain itself in all markets over the long run.

We were a little disappointed, but then another question came up. We asked why the MacRib had only been served in a few dispersed locations nationwide. This local store manager went into a detailed explanation about product test marketing and population demographics. He did this without a scripted outline or pre-printed brochure to hand out.

His verbal presentation was an entire generation before the age of flashy pie-chart projecting laptops and even regression analysis was still in its pre-SPSS statistical infancy. He used clear words conveying common concepts that any high school student versed in the 3 R’s prior to outcome-based education could understand. Given that we hadn’t consumed any pop yet and no caffeine or sugar had a chance to influence our nervous system, we were able to follow his lecture with full attention.

It took less than ten minutes for the local manager to do all this. Fast forward to the present and it would require months of data collection, followed by weeks of analysis by an outsourced agency in a second-world digital sweatshop, ending with a day-long seminar by a well-heeled $1000/hour consultant. In fact, the entire process today has a “propriety knowledge” label stamped on it faster than you can say “corporate counterespionage”.

Now the local manager can’t even tell you how or why the head office made its decision. Even doing so would violate a sub-paragraph in the lengthy text of his signed non-disclosure agreement that would make the computer filters at the top echelon of a government intelligence agency come to a constipated stop. All this assumes he’s even in the loop anymore which he isn’t.

Today’s local manager probably doesn’t know what stocks are in his 401K. He’s more likely worried about how to pay the household utility bills after his ARM resets. He’s only let in on the business decisions which affect his job when he gets a call as an afterthought from a regional manager. He fears the call which gives him at most 12 hours advance notice that his local restaurant will be closed and shuttered for good the next morning. His former employees will only discover this when they arrive at work to find themselves locked out and without jobs. The local manager will remain inside in the dark waiting for a designee of the regional manager to arrive. He will exchange his keys for his final paycheck.

Rewind to the story involving the meat-head kids in the Midwest:

Although the MacRib had been pulled and we were missing something small inside and growing hungrier by the minute, we were left with a new awareness that something larger had been substituted on the outside. It was the kind of realization that only takes place when there’s a new discovery about our place in the world. It harkens back to Adam losing his rib and waking up to find Eve standing there unadorned without a single fig leaf.

We felt very special. Our little town which never warranted enough ink for a dot on the national road map had been singled out and selected from above for something no one else got. We were very self-satisfied with that warm fuzzy feeling that only comes from the first taste of hidden worldly knowledge. After plucking from that tree, we couldn’t go back anyway. Besides, getting to know the proverbial Eve was a lot of fun.

Over the coming years both in our travels and while attending colleges, we noticed not only foods but various hard products test-marketed in other areas around the country. Sometimes the items would be taken statewide, then national, and international. The media advertising would follow the same pattern as it promoted an existing product. “Product placement” had yet to enter the mainstream vocabulary for another decade and a half.

Of course, we saw another trend of advertising that seemed to promote a product before it really existed. This was especially true of products that were far less tangible. These types of soft products and services only bubbled forth into the mainstream mind in the late-80s. Style over substance became a reality. And in the human mind, reality is 90 percent perception.

If a product or service sent a single bubble into the flotsam of our waking existence, my small group and I came up with a pet term for the early floating process. This phrase was only applied by us when the good or service seemed to flow from the screw of a rather large ship and had been kept purposely isolated afterward to a small area. The owner, registry, and flag of the ship were irrelevant.

The phrase harkened back to our moment of awareness in the Midwest. It had become symbolically akin to Oppenheimer’s statement about Vishnu and the atomic bomb. So it was with great reverence when we saw the process in action again and identified it as another “MacRib Test”.

As our knowledge about the world increased and we came to see the intermingling of government and corporate cooperation, we used the same phrase to describe various social engineering programs that had started at the local level as well. We watched the tests very closely and noted their transformation into something larger. There were both intended results and unintended consequences. There always are.

With very little additional effort we saw the heads of public and private agencies went back and forth across the same street during the entire run of the programs. As others on the outside became aware of this shell game a critical mass of awareness sometimes formed. As more light was shed on who was in bed with who and the incest became readily apparent, the public outcry could be explosive.

Not too long ago the response from above was to speed up the turnstile for a while. However, this only remained necessary when the public found the whole thing obscene. The next step handling the public was predictable: either involve them in the act itself or throw them a bone to distract attention. The key to that step was to keep it slow. I could use a myriad of different clichéd phrases from the frog in the slowly boiling water to the pinch of yeast that leavens the dough, but the fire beneath the pan is still made from lies and illusions.

During our lifetime there have been a lot of cooks standing together over the stovetop in the kitchen. The remodeled and redecorated dinning room has been full of activity. The household has a lot of pets, but even the lowest dog on the pack pecking order AKA “General Public” has been given ample table scraps over the years. There has been barely more than the occasional bark out of him as long as pieces of meat were thrown down from time to time. This Pavlovian conditioning has worked quite well using well-measured and carefully-timed instant gratification to breed his quiet contentment.

Obviously the general public had little input whatsoever in the preparation of the household’s big meal. Likewise, they would be seen as an annoyance during any course of this well-planned lengthy feast from the uncorking of the first bottle to the last bite of a calorie laden dessert of chocolate decadence. The public has been well-trained to wait at their place toward the end.

This is really a sad situation for the general public. They can’t fathom yet the true progression of what has taken place. Not only have they gone from beneath the table at the feet of the household diners and their guests, but they’ve been kicked out the door by their new masters. If they had a better vantage point to see the table, they’d realize those sitting around the table were also dogs. But it’s hard to do while they are sleeping or begging on all fours.

However it’s more than that. This isn’t just a matter of the public re-taking their place at the table among the other canines. That would still result in just a bunch of dogs that play cards around the table or retire for a game of pool after the meal is over anyway. A pack of dogs tend to degenerate over time, start barking at one another, lose discipline, and defecate on the inside floors around the house. One way or another, a new master will come in with a rolled up newspaper and clean things up. Some of the dogs may even find themselves put to sleep given their temperament and that of the master.

There are readers who might feel I’m being very hard on the public with the comparison so far. But, look how people have allowed their names to be changed. They have gone from being called citizens to consumers. A citizen is a very human word which denotes awareness, involvement, and participation. It’s a word that sounds active and conscious in its very nature. A consumer by contrast sounds far more passive. A lot of other animals and even inanimate processes consume things. A consumer sounds like sheep grazing.

We could feast on the crumbs of literary hyperbole all day, but then we’d forget the entrée in the oven. As I’ve mentioned in other essays there’s no easy pill to swallow in this journey of awareness and neither would it be nutritious or filling. Appreciating these things does not require an acquired taste. Although it may seem like an exotic food from a different land, it’s really just the simple home-cooking our forebears use to make. Such things take time, but it’s worth the effort in the long-run.

Think of it as someone who has consumed canned food all their lives who tastes fresh (or well-prepared) fruit or produce for the first time. The first bite is far different from everything they have already mentally pictured about that morsel’s usual accepted taste, smell, color, and texture. Although the natural food is actually healthier and far better in every way, they still have to unlearn what has been conditioned using the alternative. Not only are there all the surface differences they are keenly aware of and grappling with, but all the colorful mass media and marketing over the years that has been subconsciously associated in a positive emotional way with the poor substitute.

Many of us understand already how this substitution is directed by groups ranging from merchants to governments hawking everything from gold coins to black-ops. There is often evidence of at least a semi-conscious mind behind the pushers of a product or program. Likewise, outside identification of covert private and public “MacRib Tests” that are providing data on everything from profitable low-grade foodstuffs to predicting and pinpointing the location of the next fuel riot could become even more commonplace in the near future. Again, this all implies active, conscious direction with a stated goal that should have a measurable outcome.

The bigger problem could potentially be when part of or a whole process becomes subconscious or even unconscious altogether. This can be akin to not only leaving food in the oven too long, but the oven leaking gas or firing up on its own with nothing in it. This has potentially deadly effects to the lives of those inside.

There is more possible here than the blowback from a previously conscious action that comes back and hits someone in the face. I am referencing here a completely unconscious process that literally takes actions on its own. It has an effect upon live players who consciously or subconsciously then seek to find meaning to the unfolding circumstances. This can take on elements of real or imagined danger based upon their perceptions and the reactions they take. The mere potential for the molehill to grow into the mountain turns into a real crisis as the fear of what was possible makes it become reality.

Some will seek to control such processes and mitigate its negative effects for the minimal rescue of all, while others will take full advantage for their own selfish purposes. Completely unconnected events may inspire howls against an imaginary “MacRib Test” spurring resentment and reaction while actual directed exercises feed off of each other and confound meta-analyses. Either way the fractured pieces fall into their own self-propagating fractals.

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