The Beat Kit ‘Remover Installer’ appeared on shelves in 1984. It was a fake product created by Sean Wolfe as a nose-thumb to the then solidifying cult of consumerism. The product itself was a luridly-coloured plastic baby-rattle-come-machine-part-like object that had absolutely no practical function or use. It came replete with commercial packaging, and a vibrant brand identity which included ads, posters, POS displays, bumper stickers, basically the full compliment of marketing collateral you could have expected in the mid-1980’s. “Panic Now’ was the brand mantra and call to action. Slicing away the subtle soft-soaping, romanticising or any other distractingly persuasive marketing spiel we expect from the average FMCG brand messengers, the naked truth is presented: ‘stop what you are doing right now, you want this in your life, no, you need it in your life, go and buy it’.
Beat Kit, a subsidiary anti-brand of Gross National Products, had other satirical-fakery to peddle too, including some indeterminate mothers-little-helper-style tablets. All in all, a detailed, comprehensive, and very nicely executed series of high-concept culture jamming, and a socially-conscious assault on the public’s passive acceptance of the ‘new world odor‘ defined by what stuff we can accumulate.
I’ve said this before, I’m as much of a hypocrite as the next guy. I love stuff too, but I do try. I try to focus on essentialism; this doesn’t mean I became completely ascetic and stopped spending money on anything, it just means being more controlled in acquiring what I actually need. It also doesn’t mean I can’t have ‘nice’ stuff, just not stockpiling umpteen versions of said stuff, and in particular, not being seduced too much by slick messaging!
I have worked on a number of projects with a ‘social’ bent. I rate Mr Wolfe’s work as a benchmark for anti-branding. The characteristics and tone of counter-cultural creative expression, street art for an obvious example, have been widely adopted for some time now in mainstream commercial comms. There is obviously a rich vein to be tapped; if we are thinking cynically about it, in terms of drawing on the same powers of wit, irreverence, and persuasion on a level that connects directly with certain audiences. Especially in this day and age, well beyond the postmodern and the taste for ironic, self-deprecating trends in modern messaging, where, whether it be a commercial project or something more left field, the humour and simple directness of Beat Kit offers a lot of guidance. Sean Wolfe’s spirit of creative dissent is alive and well, Banksy is an obvious (if massively more successful) contemporary standard-barer.
A third of a century on from its inception, it is as relevant and thought-provoking as it was then. I do wonder how much more successfully disseminated its message would have been with all the comms channels available now?… I certainly rate it as highly, if not more so, than Shepherd Fairey’s Obey anti-brand for example; mainly because Obey eventually morphed from something counter-cultural, into a mainstream commercial product line (this obviously proves the point of the traction and power in the anti-brand positioning). But generally for being more vibrant, and just more fun. I suppose it came down to how dedicated he was to keeping it going, compared to how relentless and ubiquitous the Obey paste-up narrative became. *I know Obey was not trying to say the same thing, but they do share an aesthetic, tone, era, and medium.
While on the subject of leveraging counter-cultural street cred for capital gains, check out the Blackspot Unswoosher. A footwear product from Adbusters Magazine, which, while touting the ‘most ethical'(sic), organic, recycled, union made, right-on sneaker on the planet as an antidote to the life-sucking mega-corp sinners (Nike, most pointedly), they are in fact maintaining the same commodity fetishism and cycle of conspicuous consumption that they purport to be against! A meta-oxymoron, assuming they are self-aware, at all. I mean, surely you can’t on the one hand be pushing International Buy Nothing Day, and then be creating a cult of cool around a fashion product, no matter how right-on its provenance? That is just a personal criticism of what I believe to be a glitch in the Adbusters agenda, I am more focused here on how it represents successfully positioning and messaging their product by leveraging a counter-cultural aesthetic….and certainly, no argument, if we can be honest and admit we are going to still want stuff, holding up right-on-ness as a core aesthetic would be fantastic. I suppose these things serve to highlight the pickle we are in, caught between our desires and our conscience, but certainly, this is precisely the psychological space in which creative communication thrives.
Anyway, perhaps a cheeky wee reboot, a Beat Kit 2.0 model shouldn’t be out of the question? Here’s hoping. I for one fell under the spell of this must-have item – the Remover Installer was actually produced and sold in limited numbers, in case anyone is reading this and wondering. I’m sure he gets all warm and fuzzy knowing that he successfully got people (me) fetishising his non-product. Bravo that man.