Saturday, October 9, 2010

Privatizing Our Language

How do expressions start ? Who invents them ? As with music, the form I am most familiar with, there is little that originates with one person. Rather, expressions usually come from the exchange of ideas and millions of social interactions that organically grow, and are preserved or rejected based up social response. Language is a reservoir of our collective intelligence. It is the ultimate social and public asset we have.

So it is noteworthy that the private sector is increasingly muscling into our collective property - our Commons - through the branding of long established expressions and slogans. The 'Fair and Balanced' meme of a few years ago is one example. Recently while looking into a 2010 flu shot, and I noticed that a pharmacy has privatized the expression 'Arm Yourself' through trademark. As if no one ever said this before the pharmacy company's marketing department, with the backing of money and lawyers, decided to appropriate it.

Our Commons seems to be open for looting at every level.
One could imagine a future scenario, in a population encoded with microchip implants tied to a central clearinghouse - that one would have to pay a small fee for the use of privatized expressions. So, if one exclaimed "Chill Out !" , the company who owned the trademark would deduct a nickel from one's savings account. Why not ? After all, they would "own" it. Such is the insane and endgame logic of privatization.