Paul Greenberg

The American genius for commercialization - of everything - strikes again. How long before Flogos become as common as Muzak in elevators, or Head-On ads shouting at you from your television screen, or some disembodied, uninterruptable voice on your phone trying to sell you something? The mind recoils. So does the spirit.

The news article, by Jay Reeves of the Associated Press, explores the pros and cons of Flogos. Environmentally, there doesn't seem to be a problem since Flogos are nothing but a mass of bubbles - soap, water and air - that soon float away. But the local office of the Federal Aviation Administration might have to be notified when they're launched, lest the sight distract aircraft pilots. (Even so, you know some lawyer somewhere will someday, somehow claim damages.)

Before reading this in-depth analysis of Flogos, I had no idea that the University of Florida had a professor of English and Advertising, a combination that alarms. Like an endowed chair of poetry and propaganda. The professor's name is James Twitchell, and he sees nothing essentially novel about the basic concept of Flogos; he recalls that once upon a misguided time there was a plan afoot to launch an advertisement into space that could be seen every evening at sunset. Happily, the idea remained only theoretical.

I don't want to sound like an alarmist, or like the script of a B sci-fi movie, but the Invasion of the Flogos may be imminent. The danger is clear and soon enough may be all too present. There oughta be a law, or at least a regulation. Quick. Before the need for one becomes as evident as the once clear blue sky.

But no law, no regulation, can prevent this kind of mundane desecration if something within us - some elemental reverence - is not offended by the thought of a sky dotted with soapy Post-It Notes.

It's not so much the absence of a law that allows such schemes to take float, but a failure of the culture. Formal law is a poor substitute for manners, for the old understanding that one does not deface others' property. And the sky belongs to us all. It should be beyond such intrusions. But somewhere along the confused line, we've come to think, or rather assume, that the Universe is there for man to scrawl his graffiti on it.

I doubtless make too much of Flogos, for they are only another small but annoying example of the general intrusion on the private appreciation of public spaces. Other examples abound, from the loud cell-phone user next to you in the airport to the planners who figure the best use of land is to raze every tree on it for parking. It's not Flogos that are the basic problem; they're just one more instance of how valueless we've come to consider the invaluable.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.