Friday, December 2, 2005

What next, the Boeing Pentagon and Tylenol Capitol?

When commercial advertisers tired of paying celebrities handsomely to mouth endorsements on television for products that most of them never use, companies turned to buying inert and animated space for their brand names.

Athletes wore brand logos. Sports arenas sold naming rights—as in Invesco Field, which replaced the cherished Mile High Stadium in Denver. Of course, uncertainties can develop: Phoenix's America West Arena is changing to U.S. Airways Arena because the airlines merged.

And enterprising young people sold painted commercial messages on their bellies and bald heads.

So it should be no shock or surprise to learn the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service are abandoning long-honored regulations and encouraging the sale of advertising rights on public lands to corporate sponsors.

The rationale is to help pay for badly needed repairs and lagging maintenance in the nation's most scenic venues because successive congresses have shortchanged the care of America's greatest symbols.

Skiers at several Western resorts will be the first to notice a change in the anti-ad policy of the Forest Service. An Aspen, Colo., firm is installing a ski trail map and commercial message on ski lift retaining bars.

It'll take more time for the Park and Forest services to land really big money for commercial names on trail signs and concessionaires' buildings.

Had there been a shred of shame left in Washington, the conscience of lawmakers and the White House would've put a stop to this sellout of public property to commercial interests.

What relatively trifling revenues the guardians of federal lands will garner will be offset by the vastly more devastating confirmation that most everything in America is for sale (including, it seems, votes of some congressmen now caught in a spreading bribery scandal).

The imagination runs wild with visions of where this new attitude might go.

Televised congressional debates, for example, might open and close with voice-over announcements, such as, "This session of the Senate has been brought to you by Dr. Cody's hemorrhoid cream."

In time, U.S. combat troops could wear logos for Halliburton, the big defense contractor, as they storm a terrorist stronghold. Air Force One could pay for its huge fuel bills by allowing a large Exxon logo on the tail.

The Washington Monument's towering alabaster stone would be perfect for a blinking neon sign advertising any bank with the name Washington (as in Washington First National).

Provided, of course, the price is right.

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