You Are It!
Greg was standing in front of a shopping mall with his head perked and mouth gapping.
He was staring at an impressive – maybe four by eight metres – billboard, which was prettifying one of the building’s walls. It was depicting a sprinter taking off from starting blocks. The sportsman had a decisive, chiselled face, although the rear contour of his body was smudged (the effect of skilful usage of the Photoshop motion blur filter). A string of similarly smeared, bold italic letters was whizzing above the aggressive runner. The zooming caption read: “You Are It!”
Confused, Greg was attempting to translate the phrase into Polish, but any combination sounded ridiculous in his native language. He could not be “it”, as “it” was something and Greg was a person – a human being was surely unable to morph into an object. Maybe the slogan belonged to one of the millions of idioms?
English people adored complicating matters. He once came across another jingle, which went: “First Things First!” Initially he read “First Think Fast”, as that combination made more sense, however matters were not as easy. “First things” were things that had been already defined by adjective “first”, so why on Earth somebody would add the same adjective again? It sounded like “slow swimmers slow”, “tall men tall”, “exaggerated problems exaggerated” etc.
An eloquent gentleman explained later that the line served as a reminder to treat the most important stuff with priority. For some inexplicable reason, instead of expressing simple instruction straightforwardly, Anglo-Saxons decided to baffle foreigners by repeating “first” twice.
“Daddy, please tell me a story!”, asked Jane, getting ready to bed.
“Okay, honey! How about Little Red Riding Hood Little?”
“You meant ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, daddy!”
“No, ‘ Little Red Riding Hood Little’, my sweetie pie.”
“Huh?! Why are there two ‘littles’?”
“To underline how tiny the Red Riding Hood really was. Apart from that, the hood was so bright that we should have, technically, said ‘Little Red Riding Hood Red Little’. Mind you, the cloak she was wearing belonged to exclusively equestrian attire, thus the best would be to describe it all by using the most accurate title – ‘Little Red Riding Hood Riding Red Little’. Nevertheless, we abridge that somehow lengthy – while very correct – narrative to the less truthful ‘Little Red Riding Hood Little’.”
After hearing the above clarification, Jane thought, “I must quickly leave this mad house mad quickly I must.”
“You Are It!” could subsequently stand for anything, like “Trust your gut feelings!”, or “Never hesitate to hit back!”, or “Love your mother with your whole heart!”
Putting aside linguistic worries, Greg continued to admire the perfectly toned sprinter, but could not figure out what was the product for sale. Shoes? Running tracks? Deodorant? Hamburgers? Whatever it was, he wanted to obtain it immediately in order to possess similarly athletic body and determined spirit.
How did they call it? Marketing? Branding? He remembered posters from the fifties and sixties, when communism was rife in Poland. They portrayed healthy-looking, strong-minded, occasionally even smiling individuals, who were encouraging masses to find higher purpose in life. Models usually held massive tools in their sturdy hands – hammers, drills, wrenches, trowels and so on. Images of masked welders immersed in the sea of sparks had gained particular popularity, by giving impression of boldness spiced with a tinge of mystery. Women were also eager to pose while performing totally unfeminine jobs – carrying bags with potatoes, balancing on scaffoldings, driving tractors (alternatively combines), sometimes operating cranes. Group pictures presented satisfied crowds either waving national flags or marching energetically in random directions.
Those enthusiastic placards carried equally enthusiastic maxims: “You are the future!”, “Whole nation is building the motherland!”, “Forward to better prospects!”, “Peace and Friendship!” Beautiful, deep messages, which were tapping on subconscious human need to progress, share, contribute, help and tolerate.
See for yourself (click on any image to open the slide show):
Greg thought that nothing actually had changed: girls racing agricultural machines had been swapped with girls on motorbikes or in bathtubs; boys wielding factory utensils had been eliminated by boys playing with electronic devices; patriotic badges had given way to imprinted logos. The colours had been definitely adjusted, though, as red was not as cool as before. The same, mottos had become ambiguous, for instance “You Are It!” was replacing “You are the future!”
Many lefist posters carried striking resemblance to the dashing lad from the capitalist “You Are It!” advert:
With the fall of the Iron Curtain, common Eastern European aspirations started to alter. Instead of displaying faithfulness to the socialist directives, citizens took a taste in finding their identity elsewhere, for example in western garments decorated with the manufacturers’ (or other companies’) insignias. Greg could not afford such a chic uniform, available only on the black market for a fortune, or in “Pewex” (formerly, a chain in Poland selling merchandise in exchange for American dollars). Even if he managed to acquire hard currency, he would not dare to visit “Pewex” because his father was a communist party member. Possession of imperialistic notes by a comrade or his family posed a risk of career loss, potentially long prison term, maybe death by firing squad (or so Greg was educated by his terrified papa).
It was not immediately apparent why anybody would purchase a piece of clothing, coughing up a great deal of money in the process, to subsequently parade around as a complimentary advertisement for a given corporation. Those were philosophical dilemmas for morons, not for entities who craved to demonstrate profound sophistication. Greg did not want to be left behind in the herd of plainly dressed civilians either – he wanted to be “it” badly. In desperation, to compensate for poor financial condition, he bought the cheapest “it” available – a few plastic ad bags (distributed overseas for free, although sold in Poland for equivalent of Greg’s monthly allowance each). Bags with Marlboro man were the favoured ones, frequently used as supplements to smart evening outfits.
He yearned for more though, dreaming about joining the top echelons of “it” devotees. Stripped of cash, yet full of zeal, he then designed a perfect plan of mutation into “it”. Namely, he decided to utilise his grandma to fulfil ambitious goals. She was, after all, a master embroiderer with an arsenal of appropriate appliances.
Greg sneaked into her room, found a sheet of parchment paper and got down to business. Using letter stencil ruler as a template, sticking his tongue out in extreme concentration, he carefully drew the envisioned pattern. Content with the final result, grabbing a new white t-shirt in passing, he scurried to convince grandma to transfer the sketch onto fabric.
Grandma was ecstatic! She proposed to enhance the somehow ordinary prototype by adding a handful of flowers, birds, flourishes and, perhaps, some other elements to make the ornament truly Kashubian. She also suggested an attractive shading technique – in her humble opinion, some gradient could benefit the finished product.
Greg protested vehemently, insisting on adherence to the original matrix. He spelled out differences between modern trends and ancestral customs, emphasising the basic requirements of a stylish “it”: solid colour, equal heights of – as well as distances between – letters (to the millimetre), zero pimping up attempts, precise positioning of the emblem (five centimetres above left nipple). There were no compromises with “it”! Unfortunately grandma refused to be involved in an undertaking which would profane the art and ridicule her in the eyes of cultured public.
Negotiations turned into nightmare. Greg was at the grandma’s mercy since he could not embroider even a single dot. He tearfully invoked the grandparents’ duty to love their grandchildren. The descendant’s societal status was at stake, whereas she just cared for some doubtful reputation in a microscopic circle of folklore maniacs! God was observing her stubbornness, bottling up his wrath!
Emotionally plus religiously blackmailed, weeping quietly and lamenting shallow penchants of contemporary idiots, old woman surrendered and completed the task as ordered. Her exhausted – but delighted – grandson fell asleep like a stone.
Next morning, ignoring low autumn temperatures, Greg donned his modified t-shirt. Already in the elevator he was glancing with contempt at other greyish creatures, wrapped in standard, boring rags. With head high he walked the streets, carried by fierce currents of avant-garde flair, equipped in fresh self given by three magical letters: JVC.
He was somebody! He was powerful! He was “it”!