The Election

by Brad OH Inc.

I arrived at the fourth annual United Corporate Global Election promptly at 9:47am, and immediately began to regret the flask of whiskey I’d surreptitiously quaffed on the commuter shuttle over. The ride had been a full 45 minutes, and as I’d been rushed at high velocity over the rooftops of the lower Bronx in the tiny tin compartment, the decision had seemed entirely justified.

Now, matters had changed. Shuffling along the fully enclosed commuter pad, I only barely managed to get my Citizen Spending Registration Card hung around my neck as a mass of humanity encased and funnelled me through huge revolving doors. Quick flashes of red light dotted my chest, no doubt registering my number and assuring I had the appropriate Citizen Spending Credit rating for admittance.

It wouldn’t matter here. Just a proactive effort to speed things up at the registration booth further down—a precaution that seemed insufficient, as the line crawled along at a snail’s pace.

“Holy hell,” I muttered to myself, “it’s even worse than I imagined.”

The walls, the floors, and even the ceilings were glaring neon screens, all competing against one another in a mad frenzy to sell whatever confounded products the Six Super-Corporations had for us today. They would be successful, I knew.

I’d never been to one of these grand affairs before. When the Corporate Suffrage bill had passed I’d been in the midst of a frenetic bender in Laos, and the entire period was a bitter and scattered memory. Since then, I’d been rambling along, bouncing around tiny Caribbean islands and nations too impoverished to give a good god damn about meaningless international elections.

This lifestyle had afforded me no shortage of human interest stories to cover. But these were trivialities, and the entire time I knew in my heart that I was skirting the real issues; chasing them out of my mind with drink, and turning a blind eye to the worry lines creeping across my once enthusiastic countenance.

The elections were always a point of interest, but a freelance journalist is always on the move, and seldom do circumstances conspire to allow our ilk to write what we please.

A hopelessly trite job posting in the Big Apple had changed all that, however, and I’d jumped at the opportunity. Now I advanced one half-step at a time, thrilled with the prospect of reaching the heart of the corporate beast I’d been avoiding for the last four years—exposing it to the elements and the wild, and letting the flies do their work.

In all honesty, it’s a pretty good time to be a writer. People will eagerly devour anything that lights up their screens without a second thought. It makes for an active story market, and the truth is as good a story as any. Besides, someone’s gotta tell it.

“Scan your card.” The voice took me by surprise. I’d been lost in my ruminations, and had failed to perceive the registration booth finally close in. The man speaking sat in a big round chair. It wrapped around him as if the plastic itself was molded to his swollen form, and his words came from jiggling jowls of a sickly pallor.

“Scan your card,” he repeated monotonously.

I leaned into the porcelain counter and offered my host the most charming smile I could manage. “Duke O’Brady, here from ‘Citizens United E-Magazine’ to report on the election.”

The unbearable irony of the magazine’s name had always bothered me, but my lamentations had fallen on deaf ears during my single visit to the central office.

“Our name was designed to incite feelings of harmony and safety,” the young lady had told me as if from a placard held just behind my head.

“It always had been, that’s the damn problem,” I’d insisted, but I was getting nowhere fast, and I knew it.

“Scan your card,” the bloated man repeated once again. I couldn’t be sure whether he was unaware I’d been the same singular person the entire time, or if he simply lacked the training to alter his script even an iota. Furthermore, I didn’t care.

Scanning my card made a confirmatory beep, and the man waved me through.

“Finally,” I grumbled, filing along with the rest of the mob through a short glass hallway. Outside, trees stretched up tall and timeless, vines and bushes pressing against the glass as if nature itself conspired to return this world to its natural state.

“It’s beautiful,” a lady said to a tall, thin man beside her. But I’d overheard, and felt it my patriotic duty to get involved.

“It’s fake,” I explained matter-of-factly. I was too old and experienced to muster any false sympathy. “Just projections playing across the screens. They want you to feel optimistic, you didn’t see a damn forest when you walked in, did you?”

The woman frowned, shaking her head; a sorrowful Christian in the presence of an unbaptized street-urchin.

Patriotism had never gotten me anywhere.

Thinking back, it wasn’t fair to blame my drinking on the horrendous conditions of the commuter shuttle. Not entirely. It had been partially motivated by the nagging fear that whatever I was going to experience here would be such a terrible shock that it might be too much for my strained mental constitution, and cause me to crumble into a chattering mess. Then I’d most likely be scooped up by the nearest corporate rep and put on display like some atavistic half-man; mad with the overbearing weight of its own twisted reality.

Stepping out of the bright green passage-way, I knew immediately I’d under-estimated the state of affairs.

The space was massive beyond my wildest imagination. Certainly it had seemed gargantuan through the tiny stained windows as I’d swept over on my way to the commuter pad, but standing inside now was entirely overwhelming.

The United Corporate Global Election Center had been erected for the first event of its kind in 2023. Construction had started a full 7 months before the passing of the Corporate Suffrage bill, but this fact didn’t seem to interest many people these days.

Just as it was in the lobby, every visible surface was alight with propaganda. These were not political endorsements, nor were they scathing intellectual attacks on political opponents. Those were relics of the past which none but our most seasoned readers will recall.

“Feeling tired?” one screen chirped as I passed by. The screen dimmed noticeably as it spoke the words, and I could see the shoulders of everyone in its vicinity slouch with the change. “Get yourself an energy boosting ‘Super-Slam’, available at any G&E solicitations table.” With this, the screen and surrounding environment brightened, and all around me people straightened up. The most ambitious stood on trembling tip-toes, craning their necks and smiling broadly upon catching sight of a glaring G&E logo in the distance.

Then they were gone.

“Mother of misfortune,” I muttered absently, deciding immediately that I’d need another drink as soon as possible.

“Feeling worn thin? Get yourself a refreshing ‘Whiskey Wake-Up’, available at any Viacom solicitations table.”

I silently cursed the Big Six, and then shuffled off towards the gigantic orange ‘Viacom’ logo in the distance.

A hundred thousand clinking metallic voices were chirping from all around. The outer walls of the room were lined with the voting stations proper, their lengths segregated into equal portions for each of the six core corporations: G&E, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS.

Once approved for voter eligibility—a simple process involving scanning your Citizen Spending Registration Card to prove you’d spent at least a little bit of money on one of the Big Six over the past year—a citizen was welcome to approach the booths at their leisure, allotting any of the dollars they’d spent towards whatever Leadership Traits that particular corporation offered.

A hollow feminine voice spoke from one of the booths to my right. “Many voters appreciate a Lead Citizen who wears Nike clothing!” The woman standing at the booth tapped the screen excitedly. “You’ve chosen the Leadership Trait: ‘Wears Nike’, if this is correct, press 1,” the voice rattled, and the woman jumped up and down in her stupor.

“Must be one of the preferred choices,” I spoke sidelong to a lanky old man shuffling along beside me, hoping he’d share my reticence.

“Do you know at which booth I can vote for a sharply dressed leader?” he asked me with a distinguished accent, “preferably Versace?”

“Get out of here you fucking animal!” I shouted, and sent him scampering off to find his own way amid the squealing machines and pacified voters.

Among the Big Six, you could vote for just about any leadership trait you could dream of—they owned them all anyway. As long as you had Citizen Spending Credits to allot, you could design whatever sort of a leader you wanted.

Of course, there were pre-determined traits suggested as ‘Preferred Choices’. These were agreed upon by the Big Six in advance, and the little automated machines would spit out their trendy tips as if sharing hot insider information.

Half of me half-expected to find a curtain somewhere in the fray, ready to be pulled back at the end of the day revealing the new Lead Citizen of the  United Corporate Global Alliance—a perfect amalgamation of all the ‘Preferred Choices’ ready and rearing to go to work.

But quarter expectations weren’t worth much, and I knew the final leader would only be revealed after 7 days’ time. “Used to accurately tally the public will and find the ideal Lead Citizen”, the news would reiterate ad nauseum for the next full week. Then they would finally wheel out some smiling, sycophantic bastard, and everything would continue on as normal.

The central section of the United Corporate Global Election Center made the periphery look like a respectable affair. The sprawling rectangular expanse was separated into six equal sections. Each one featured a tremendous array of products and propaganda so hedonistic in their severity that the sight of each sufficed to convince a man that no more mad and malicious display could ever be found. Inevitably, turning in any direction would reveal the falsity of this assumption.

There were jugglers and fire eaters, belly dancers and sword swallowers. The Disney section even had an elephant chained in place as spotlights painted screening times for new movies over his worn and wrinkled old hide.

Stepping into line at the Viacom Solicitations Table, I sidled up to an angry looking young punk with half his head shaved. “What do you think of this crazy scene?” I asked. I didn’t mention my affiliation with Citizens United E-Magazine. I’d come to find that people were inherently distrustful of any information source that didn’t bear the seal of approval from one of the Big Six, and avoided them whenever possible.

“It’s pretty amazing,” he answered. He had a heavy Queens accent, and reeked of gin.

“Amazing?” I repeated, taking a half-step up in line.

The boy glanced to each side, and then stole a quick pull from a flask in his pocket, offering it to me with a smile. “Yeah, when else in history have we ever had such clear control over our leadership? The entire world votes today, all at once. You can’t deny that’s pretty incredible.”

I gratefully accepted a quick pull from the flask, hoping it would do its job—dull my frayed nerves until I reached the counter to collect my own drink. “But does the image matter so much? Are you content to control who tells you what is decided, or do you really feel like you’re still affecting policy?” I knew I was testing the limits of responsible journalism with these leading questions, yet I had trouble fathoming the idea that this damn ruffian bought into the bullshit around him.

“Are you kidding me?” He rubbed a hand over the bald half of his head, rolling his eyes. “What about in 2025, when that one group—what’s their name—hacked the elections? We ended up with a masked Lead Citizen all year! If that’s not power to the people, you tell me what is.”

You dumb bastard, I thought, but bit my lip. “That son-of-a-bitch was the one who announced the ‘New United Corporate Global Green Routine’!” I cried; referring to the pitiful effort at urban beautification displayed in the hallway leading in.

“Exactly,” the boy winked at me knowingly, as if revealing his part in some grand earth-shaking conspiracy.

I shuddered. Goddamn punk. The Lead Citizen was meant to be the voice of the people in the United Corporate Global Government, but in my experience, they were little more than a mouthpiece. Through these elections, they were cleverly designed for maximum approval, but functioned only to regurgitate and promote whatever destructive new policies the Big Six decided to market to the ignorant masses.

When I finally got to the head of the line, I was greeted by a lovely young woman in a bright orange Viacom shirt. “Welcome to the Viacom Solicitations Table, where we get all our Reality! How can I improve your experience today?”

Behind her, a woman bounced up and down on an LED stage. She wore what looked like tiny wool mittens over her perky young breasts, and walked the stage with her legs bowed, slapping her crotch and wailing something about how freedom really got her off.

“I’ll have 2 Jameson’s, neat.” I tried to keep my answer curt, hoping to avoid unnecessary entanglements.

“Of course,” she said, smiling as she moved in what I assumed to be a dance along to the ‘music’ behind her. “At Viacom, our goal is to be the world’s leading, branded entertainment company across television, motion pictures, and digital media platforms. We focus on our consumers, enhancing our existing bra—”

“Make those doubles.” I cut her off.

She smiled, tapped a few buttons on the dispenser, and drew a sleek white contraption from her belt. It fired a red laser into the badge on my chest, and gave a confirmatory beep. The dispenser poured my drinks, and the lady slid them over to me. “50 Citizen Spending Credits have been deducted from your Citizen Spending Registration Card. Please enjoy your Free Voting Experience, and remember, at Viacom, our goal is to be the world’s leading, branded entertain—”

I walked away, finishing one drink quickly and tossing the empty plastic cup into a tall cylindrical container labelled ‘Viacom Cares about Our Environment.’

I ran my thumb across the thin laminate draped around my neck. On it was a barcode, my full name and Citizen Number. Everyone in the place had one. They were absolutely essential for access to an affair like this.

Inevitably, all money spent went to one of the Big Six. They were at the end of nearly every product you could legally buy or sell. Each dollar was immediately translated into Citizen Spending Credits and allotted to the relevant umbrella Corporation. They called it ‘Proportional Representation’.

It had always struck me as redundant.

“Jesus, Mary Mother and Joseph!” I remembered loudly complaining to a journalist friend during one drunken night in Puerto Rico, “They already have our money, why even pretend to give us a choice in the matter?”

We’d been promptly removed from the bar by a pair of tree-trunk necked apes for ‘disturbing the consumer spirit’.

Cameras lined every surface incapable of supporting LED advertisements, and even these were entirely plastered with ads and slogans for their respective corporate zone. I looked down again at the vital information displayed on my chest, and noticed tiny red flashes playing across it every few seconds. Scanners, I knew.

I’d come here with a lot of questions—key electoral concerns I felt needed to be addressed if the legitimacy of this so-called election was to be evaluated. Is voting a legal requirement? What are the protections on voter secrecy? How does the general public seem to perceive the election?

Now, every question I could think up seemed as empty as the thin plastic cup in my hand. I frowned.

Well, I thought, that’s another 50 Citizen Spending Credits gone from my account.

I didn’t imagine there were very many Viacom voting options I would have found myself passionate about anyway.

Citizen Spending Credits were acquired throughout the duration of each calendar year, right up until the day before election—a day recently dubbed ‘Black Saturday’, when citizens rushed out to spend as much money as possible on their favourite Corporations, hoping to get a hand up on other citizens and secure whatever shitty little features they hoped to see on the Lead Citizen that year.

It wasn’t the only way to use up Citizen Spending Credits. Certain goods—those agreed on by the Big Six for unilateral control and trade monitoring, could only be purchased through the expenditure of extant Citizen Spending Credits throughout the year. These charges were withdrawn from all six Corporate Credit Pools in equal measure.

Alcohol, Cigarettes, Healthcare, Border Crossings—these had been relegated to the Citizen Spending Credit Pool in order to ensure those accessing these ‘Exclusive Public Privileges’ were high-functioning, contributing members of society.

The result was two-fold. Firstly, it ensured that citizens who for whatever reasons failed to pay into the Corporate Economy would not be able to affect it come Voting Day. A second effect, one seldom discussed in Corporate Media, was that an unverified number of Citizens would simply spend all of their Citizen Spending Credits on these goods—whether due to vice or need—and thus be excluded from the electoral process entirely.

I’d never been convinced that was such a terrible fate. In fact, the notion that you couldn’t be politically active if you didn’t vote always felt tantamount to saying you couldn’t be an atheist without going to church. I’d always done just fine on both fronts, but looking around, it was clear that all too many people were still beleaguered with the tired notion that democratic participation begins and ends with casting a worthless vote in a silly dog and pony show.

It was a sad fucking state of affairs, and contemplating it for any period of time gave me a strong thirst for a powerful drink.

Thankfully, this was not a difficult thing to accomplish at an event like this. All of the Big Six offered an unending supply of drinks at their respective stations, and I allowed myself to wander along listlessly.

To my left, a man was hammering on a Voting Station, screaming inaudibly in the raucous din. “Having a problem there, friend?” I asked.

He only half-turned, his glassy eyes meeting mine for a confused second before resuming his hammering. “Citizen Spending Credits for the Leadership Trait: ‘Well-Travelled’ will be counted as 2-for-1, for the next 27 minutes only.” The machine chirped, and across the screen popped an obtrusive link to said ‘Leadership Trait’.

The man continued pounding on the illuminated surface like some frustrated maniac on the verge of a complete mental breakdown. “I just want a leader who likes anime!” he wailed. By his manner, I was entirely certain he wasn’t talking to me, and continued on my way.

With a quick, practiced motion, I popped open the lid of a tiny yellow container in my pocket, and slid two red pills into my mouth. That should settle me down, I reasoned.

Another 250 Citizen Spending Credits out of the way as well, I reflected. Thanks Disney, you smarmy, psychotic rodent.

This whole distorted scene was getting to be too much, and for a brief moment I considered fleeing; turning tail and running like a whipped cur—too proud to yield, too stupid to fall in line.

I felt a sudden overwhelming urge to do something—anything. Even the smallest mad gesture would suffice to express my extreme disgust for the things I’d seen. For the life of me though, I couldn’t imagine what sort of obscene act I could ever come up with to stand out amidst this horrendous carnival of the complacent.

“Many citizens prefer their jeans 18% more faded. You can get a brand new pair at the News-Corp Solicitations Table.” A tiny painted camera was scanning my jeans with flickering red lights. That was it, I needed a drink.

Elbowing my way through the sedated crowd, I made my way into a drink line, kindly provided by G&E.

What could one man do? All around me, the logos of the Big Six were painted, projected, or proudly worn on shirts, hats, and pendants. In 7 days, there would be some new idiot posing as the popular representative of the people’s will. Inevitably, he would remind us that growth of corporate profit margins was the paramount goal. Environmental issues, education, family structure, freedom of speech—all of these were secondary concerns.

It was the fundamental tenet of a society which had confused Capitalism with the fetishization of wealth, and even this was done at the end of the most dangerous barrel in history; the joint effort of media moguls who could buy and sell the world’s population 3 times over.

What gesture could possibly provoke such an entrenched tyranny?

I couldn’t say, and it depressed me to an immeasurable degree.

Over the last four years, I’d heard countless rumours of opposition—some enlightened pockets of people rising up to turn the tides and take back control. It was this very idea which had given me the courage to set foot in this confounded town in the first place. But I’d touched down late last night, and went straight to sleep. The shuttle to the United Corporate Global Election Center this morning had taken me from the Commuter Station outside my hotel directly into the event without ever tasting fresh air, and I stood here now with no evidence that such people even existed.

I remembered my youth, when the internet felt like a way for the entire world to gather in a public forum, sharing their thoughts and opinions as if they might eventually manage to reach some grand public consensus. Then it would all be over; people would agree on the basic rights of all to freedom and choice, and the liberty to pursue whatever the hell made one man happy without hurting another.

But net neutrality had perished in an omnibus bill 3 years before the Corporate Suffrage Bill had come to the table, and in the blink of an eye 9 billion earnest voices had been reduced to faint echoes, incapable of achieving coherence over the amplified volume of corporate idealism.

Now, a citizen had pitifully few avenues for self-expression. If they wanted to meet even the most basic human needs, they had to rely on at least one of the Big Six. With that came unintelligible user agreements and endless legal caveats.

Dissent amounted to little more than a nervous smile on the streets; a desperate flash of the eyes on a corner before a glance up to the ‘Citizen Safety Cameras’ sent both parties scampering on their way.

“Welcome to the G&E Solicitations Table, where you’ll find good things at work,” said a woman in a blue and white shirt as she smiled mechanically. “How can I improve your experience today?”

“2 Jameson’s, neat if you please.” I answered, as cordially as I could manage.

“Certainly,” she replied, tapping a few buttons on the automated dispenser. LED screens all around her displayed countless electronic devices capable of replicating any and all human functions. “At G&E, our…”

“Make those doubles.” I commanded, turning my back on the ceaseless and unsolicited rhetoric.

The pretty young lady scanned my Citizen Spending Registration Card, pressed a button, and the drinks sprayed into their cups with an eager hiss.

She handed me the first, and I lifted it to my lips, anxious for the temporary relief it would afford me from the nausea-inducing madness all around.

Still my mind raced, frantically searching for any possible means of writing off this whole sorry affair in some grand and inevitably deplorable swoop.

The second drink stopped pouring mid-way through, and a sudden glow of red light illuminated the girl’s pretty features. “I’m sorry sir,” she announced, handing me the glass—half full to only the most ardent optimist. “It seems you’ve reached the limit of your Citizen Spending Credits, goodbye.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but a sudden hand around my neck shut it fast and hard. A pair of muscle bound goons in G&E shirts took me by the arms and began dragging me towards the nearest exit.

“Get off me, you goddamn animals!” I exclaimed.

A camera flash shut off my vision for a moment. When it returned, I saw that a crowd had gathered around me.

“Let me go you sons of bitches!” I struggled against them to no avail. Seldom does the power of one scared and desperate man overcome the certainty of a security force entrenched in its own sense of justice.

The camera flashes continued as I was unceremoniously hauled away, kicking and screaming like a rabid animal the entire way. Some people clapped, and from some direction or another, I heard a song taken up. “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey…”

Fuck those oblivious pricks, I thought, tossing a quick elbow into the jaw of one of my beefy oppressors.

It was answered by two quick shots to my ribs, and my legs gave out beneath me. Dragging them loosely, I flailed my arms, jockeying side to side like an unsecured trailer as I shouted incoherent slander at anyone who would listen.

Just beside me, I saw a man braying loudly, his fat round face nearly split in half by his self-involved grin. In his hand was a deep fried turkey leg wrapped in paper bearing the Nike ‘Swoosh’. His wife stood beside him, tapping the screen of her Personal Communicator Device and wearing a white shirt emblazoned with the Starbucks Logo and a plain text font reading ‘I Voted’.

The brutes dragged me through a set of small metal doors and down a long, empty cement hallway. They didn’t speak a word the entire time. I more than made up for their silence.

I cannot claim that I’m proud of my actions. Indeed, I looked like a raving lunatic, kicking and screaming like a false prophet being hauled through the forum in disgrace until they finally shoved me out through another set of steel doors.

I landed hard on my stomach, the impact of the sidewalk stealing my breath and scraping my arms. Lying still and defeated, I felt the sun burning my neck. The air was cool and clean; a refreshing taste of the real world so rarely achieved in a city of shuttle transports and LED shelters.

“Take my hand,” a voice came from above me. I groaned, forcing myself up onto one elbow and glaring into the blinding rays of the midday sun.

The two security guards had vanished back inside, no doubt happy to be relieved of their distasteful cargo. All around me however, people were gathered en masse. They were pressed tightly together, their ranks stretching off as far as I could see.

Some held placards, others shouted out the wares they had available for free trade. On a billboard to my right was the gleaming white outline of a Mickey Mouse head, its vandalized ears elongated into curving horns, and red coals were painted in place of its eyes.

“C’mon, you’re alright,” the voice came again. I took the outstretched hand and used it to climb to my knees. My arm was bleeding, and I was utterly exhausted. All around me however, signs besought the toppling of the corporate state, and people stood in the dirty streets singing songs of unity.

These brilliant, shining bastards had never bothered to venture inside, I realized. They were smarter than I. They’d been beyond the false idolatry of that elaborate pageant. Quieting my mind for a moment, I was overwhelmed by the poignancy of the signs and depth of the conversations I heard all around me.

Intrinsically, I understood that I’d come here today only to confirm my fears that the world was as entirely lost as I’d expected. Within the first moments, I’d felt this was accomplished, and could have walked out satisfied in my bleak suspicions before ever scanning my Citizen Spending Registration Card. But now, as I rubbed my bleeding arm and rose shakily to my feet, I realized I’d found something far greater. Beyond my wildest expectations, I felt liberated—like a sailor lost upon the waves, who in desperation turns his eyes at last towards the starry sky.

 

#          #          #

 

*This Story is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, and to all those with the clarity of vision to see the truth, and the courage to speak it in times of doubt.

This story and many others are available for free digital download on www.BradOHInc.com