While editing my story for Recognize Fascism, "That Time I Got Demon Doxxed While Smuggling Contraband to the Red States," the subject of brand names came up. Editors typically don't like to include brands for various reasons: It can date the story, give companies free advertising, and potentially attract irritated trademark lawyers.
I used brands in this story on purpose, for several reasons. Mainly, because corporations play a major role not only in our lives, but also in how fascism plays out. Like it or not, corporations are a large part of our journey through life.
When I type a brand name into a story, whether real or a fictitious mocking of a real brand, I feel a sense of rebelliousness. Brands like to keep a firm control of image, first and foremost. When I mention those forbidden words in a story, the corporation is no longer in control, even if just for a moment. Regardless of what I do with that corporate image, positive or negative, it is outside their power for the duration of the story. I feel as though I have briefly taken back a precious cultural artifact, for myself, and for the people.
Brands have become such a huge part of our culture. Most of our basic needs are supplied by brands, denoted by trademarked words we toss around in casual conversation, but for some reason are never allowed to say in "official" spaces. I don't like that this is part of our reality, but it is: Brands shape our minds. When we hide those aspects of our culture from reflections of our reality in art and stories, we are obliterating a major aspect of this time we live in. It is a kind of erasure of the lived experience of all of us. It feels inauthentic to avoid the use of a brand name when it otherwise feels appropriate to the characters and the story.
Brands play a big role in my story as well as in our present reality, where fascism parades about, openly taking ownership of our democratic power structures right in front of us… and in plain view of these corporations who have the power to stop it.
My story asks, "What happens to commerce when the internet backbone is blockaded by force?" Trade blockades in olden times were geographical, but in the near future, they may be split more along corporate lines, especially as corporations increasingly become more like governments. As I write this, the future of TikTok and WeChat in the United States is uncertain, with the promise of them being banned, while at the same time, Facebook threatens to withdraw from Europe over proposed regulations there. People have based their lives and even businesses around these services.
The same for Amazon, where we take for granted that we can easily order anything from anywhere, and truly, it is difficult to order most necessities online that are not from Amazon or some other problematic company.
But what if we suddenly couldn't? What if that lack of access to these basic services were based on a geographical civil war that springs up around fascism?
It wouldn't be the same on a visceral level to replace the word "Amazon" with something generic that people don't relate to. My use of brands is itself a political statement. Amazon plays a role in fascism — Comcast does, too — though these players are often seen as "neutral" parties. But they promote the status quo, they promote the tearing down of the civic institutions that keep their own power in check. The fact that in this story, companies continue to company (but around the new borders), is one of the thoughts I was hoping to provoke. Is Amazon in the blue region because they're politically aligned with antifascists? Or because they just happen to be geographically based in Seattle? Are they the good guys, the bad guys, or neither? Is their neutrality itself a problem?
The main character in my story, West, doesn't care too much about these nuances. She feels like she is out for herself, so she's going to smuggle goods to and from wherever brings her the most profit. In a civil war situation (as now), we would have to make unsavory decisions about where to buy things. The world just "is," whether that's good or bad. West herself isn't necessarily thinking about these things — she is just trying to survive a harsh reality. So one more question: How do corporate stances contrast with West's self-perceived neutrality?
The companies mentioned in my story are problematic, and that is likely not just a reflection of the realities of what brands we're forced to use, but also West's not caring about those particular principles over profit. Like Han Solo (who did business with the likes of Jabba), this aspect of her character is necessary for the role she plays in the resistance.
Most of the readers of this provocative title, "Recognize Fascism," will have the same feelings about Amazon that I do, and I'm hoping they will bring those feeling to the story. How do you feel about West doing business with the likes of Amazon? There's a contrast there that hopefully calls to mind some of these issues, not just in West's decisions, but in the decisions we all make (often unwillingly) every day while living under corporate fascism.
After reading the story, what are your thoughts on the use of real brand names in fiction? Feel free to answer in the comments.