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A System for Change Material / Written / A System for Change
[Document about ®TMark Web presence and its reasons, March 1997.]

Sections of this document:


The recent widespread publication of the so-called "Kelly Award" for "best creative subversion" has prompted us at ®TMark to present a public face for the first time in our history.

For nearly five years we have been funding acts of sabotage with activist or aesthetic aims, in a manner that does not lend itself to widespread participation. We have been very successful in our work, generating seventeen very clever acts of "creative subversion" during the time of our operation; but perhaps this is not successful enough.

Because of the apparently growing desire for the type of funding we provide, and the insufficiency of any single large sum (such as the Kelly Award's) to provide it, we have decided to risk misunderstanding and even exposure in order to make our work more accessible and our help more available to the public at large. We have invented a sort of "interface" between our core functions and the public; it is described in Section III. Access to our core technologies (described in Section II) has been discontinued.

Also, in order to demonstrate the scope of our work and make the present proposals more appetizing, we are, for the first time, allowing our previous project participants to reveal themselves if they so wish. We have recently indicated to each of our previous workers that they are free to speak about the source of their funding, their work, etc., though not about the details of our organization; those who provided the funding are also at liberty to discuss it. We will not reveal any names on our own, but only provide confirmation after the workers or donors have revealed themselves.


®TMark is a system of workers, ideas, and money whose function is to encourage the intelligent sabotage of mass-produced items. The projects that the ®TMark system helps fund are aesthetic or activist in their aims, rather than capitalist or strictly political, and tend to be relatively benign--they do not cause physical injury, and they do not fundamentally damage a product or a company’s profits. This is not because product or profits are good, but because ®TMark is more likely to survive in the viciously jealous world of the American market if it is not seen as attempting to damage its hosts.

®TMark is essentially a matchmaker and bank, helping groups or individuals fund sabotage projects. Money provided by donors is held by ®TMark until project completion, and goes to the saboteur at that time; he or she can use it to find a new job or career, pay for lawyers, fund an avocation or a vacation, etc. Should the project not be completed, the funds are returned to the donor.

The four keys to each ®TMark project are the worker, the sponsor, the product, and the idea. ®TMark’s entire purpose is to unite these four keys into projects.

Until recently, the core of the ®TMark system was a database located on an anonymous Internet server and accessed by users in double-blind anonymity. Once the four blanks in a database record were filled--worker, sponsor, product, idea--a project was launched. The order in which the blanks were filled was not important.

Here, for illustration, are descriptions of three of ®TMark 's projects; all parties involved have indicated their willingness to be discussed in this manner. (Again, we can only confirm actual identities after the parties involved have revealed them independently.)

1. A musician in charge of remixing songs for export to Japan proposed altering song titles and lyrics in ways that would highlight the music’s crass nature and alert any anglophone listeners to that crassness. Two individuals put forth funds: one sum was for at least ten major changes, the other an amount for each change. The musician ended up collecting a fairly large sum for his alterations (which did not, furthermore, cost him his job).

2. A group of military veterans opposed to war toys and the like put forth the idea: to switch the voiceboxes of GI Joe and Barbie dolls so that when they were purchased, GI Joes would speak like Barbies and vice-versa. They also offered a sum for the accomplishment of this project. Several company workers showed interest, but the difficulties that coordination would pose were deemed by ®TMark to be too great and the workers’ proposals were rejected. After nearly a year, the group that came to be known as the Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO) put forth a proposal to enter stores where the dolls had already been placed for sale, buy them, and then return them to the shelves with their voiceboxes switched. While the original intention had been to fund internal company workers, the practicality of the BLO’s idea won out and, furthermore, the veterans’ group that had sponsored the idea agreed to pay for the additional expenses. The BLO purchased and altered several hundred Barbies and GI Joes, at which point the project was deemed successful. The veterans’ group also agreed to fund a video discussing the action, which the BLO made and distributed to the media and to universities.

3. A stripper, who played action games and knew that Maxis, Inc. was beginning work on its first such, put forth the idea: that someone add very visible homoerotic content to this new game. Thus the product and idea blanks were filled first. An unemployed programmer liked the idea and declared his availability. Shortly after this a shopowner with activist leanings also fell in with a reward. The first programmer was unable to get himself hired at Maxis, and his name was removed from the worker blank; several other programmers volunteered and one of them, already at Maxis, was chosen based on his higher likelihood of success. At this point the project was launched. The programmer fulfilled the project idea by making swimsuit-clad men appear here and there and express their mutual affection in a very dramatic way; by the time Maxis, Inc. discovered this and fired the programmer, the game had been shipped all over the country. To make the “homoerotic content” more visible, the result was publicized in the media.


In order to make our system more available to the general public, we decided to discontinue the dial-in system and solicit donors, workers, and ideas via e-mail; lately we have moved to the World-Wide Web. We also maintain a list of projects which have sponsors and ideas, making them similar to contest guidelines. In a change from our previous protocol, worker and sometimes product blanks will only be filled upon successful completion.

Because of this difference, several competitors for a prize might all succeed. Unfortunately, for the moment, only the first worker who successfully fulfills a prize's criteria will collect it, unless otherwise noted.

Since we are appealing to a large audience, we think it prudent to state the obvious: you may be caught. If you are caught, you may, of course, lose your job, since almost all projects require egregious violations of company policy. But since prizes that require illegal activities will never be posted, you can rest assured that unless you’ve acted far outside of the stated conditions, you will not end up in jail.

For many, losing a job is not a risk; many people work on relatively short contracts (temps, etc.) and many others are eager for a change of scene. As already stated, this can offer you a way to take that month off, or get training needed for another career, or just leave a job in a manner that does something good in the world.

For those to whom losing a job would represent a serious setback, we might appreciate your courage, but we could assume no responsibility for any such eventuality: this may simply not be for you.


Why are we running what to many might seem like Satan’s temp agency?

Let us invert the metaphor. On the local scale, since ®TMark helps individuals change careers, pay for vacations, etc., it is an ark made of ® and TM. On the global scale, it is an ark for our humanness through the deluge of ® and TM, an attempt to give our thoughts and desires a vehicle to make themselves seen and felt in the often mechanical world around us. It is an attempt to make our environment more palatable, more reflective of us, and generally more human.

We are simply idealists of the most wide-eyed variety: we dare hope that our humble organization might help bridge the present to a future in which power is controlled by the "demos" in democracy, in which the public good isn't determined by the highest bidder, in which "welfare" comes to mean "health" once again. How these things are to happen, we're only starting to consider, and we may not be the best suited for that cognitive task.

But in an age in which "utopia" is a dirty word, it's already something just to dream and hope and resist.

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