The New Frankensteins

Sometimes I ask myself: are you really writing about t-shirts? Or are you writing about currents and eddies in the collective subconscious of a civilization? Which only express themselves as t-shirts?

A case in point:

An advertisement for young Doctor Frankensteins of genetic engineering? A marketing “gimme” shirt from a supplier to the bioscience research industry?

How about “both?”

Bioscience services giant Thermo Fisher sells anything you need to clone, sequence, or splice the basic coding of life into new forms. For the greater good.

While spectral hands in a dire, red sky pull the strings that make the chromosomes dance to the whim of you, the Master of Cloning. Or is it the MASTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, BWAHAHAHAHA.

Okay, I’ve seen all the Frankenstein movies, and Dr. Cyclops as well; forgive me. Still, didn’t seem like a sound marketing strategy.

Boy, was I wrong.

Not long after I put “Master of Cloning” up on my blog, a desperate email arrived from a biology student studying genetics at a university that I dislike. She wanted that t-shirt bad. Really, really bad; like bad enough to joke about offering a limb in exchange. Especially since she was a Metallica fan.

Metallica? A thrash metal band out of the ‘80s? What. does that have to do with cloning?

Then I found the album cover.

Master of Puppets was Metallica’s break-through album: it sold millions. The critics shouted praise. Its theme was control, hidden corruption of our thoughts and actions by unseen forces.

These forces could be drugs, religion, the military. Whichever. They all let us think we’re in control; but they pull our strings. The images of hands pulling the strings are hard to see in the graphic above, but they’re there.

Here’s where I loop back to t-shirts and the collective subconscious. The marketing guys at Thermo Fisher decided to do a rock-themed sales promotion. They thought about this famous metal album that screamed hatred at our hidden puppeteers and thought, “That album cover would make cool marketing swag for genetic engineers! They’re like, master manipulators, right?”

Right. A couple of years ago the “Master of Cloning” tee was a hot item among genetics students who got them off Thermo Fisher sales reps at bioscience vendor expos. They posted of their good luck on social media. They all wanted “Master of Cloning” on their chest. And sinister hands pulling strings in a blood-red sky.

The sales promotion finished. No more “Master of Cloning” shirts can be had. And my email correspondent had missed out. No, I didn’t sell her the shirt. She’ll become a master of cloning on her own, or not. A t-shirt won’t make the difference.

In the meantime, humanity’s doing what it always does: dancing to the beat without listening to the words. So the cover graphic for an album about the horror of control is adapted for a t-shirt celebrating absolute control over life itself by proud young technologists.

The t-shirt looks as menacing as the original. No matter: it is worn proudly by the gene stylists of tomorrow thanks to bioscience marketers who, after all, just want to make a buck.

Those Master of Cloning may well do powerful things — in the service of corporations who also, you know, just want to make a buck. What could possibly go wrong?

Somewhere in a cemetery in England, Mary Shelley’s bones shift slightly in their grave.

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