In the midst of a recent Cher concert at a packed arena in Washington, D.C., massive TV screens flashed a clip of the star declaring that if she wanted to take a certain pair of body parts from her chest and implant them in her back it would be nobody's business but her own.
Cher's anatomy, of course, sports no such anomalies.
Quite the contrary: The star on stage that night had everything in the right place. If anything, she resembled one of those cookie-cutter female characters in a contemporary Disney animation. Slap a red wig and fish tail on this Cher, and she could play Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Make it a black wig and veil, and she's Princess Jasmine in Aladdin.
Once upon a time, Cher was distinctive. No one could have mistaken her and Sonny for Steve and Eydie.
But at D.C.'s MCI Center, Cher's transformation was demonstrated by videos of her old self, displayed on the screens above, contrasting with her new self, cavorting on the stage below.
The original Sonny and Cher didn't fit anybody's preconception of a pop culture phenomenon. Whatever the secret to their appeal, it was unique and real -- real not only in the sense that the market bought what they were selling, but also in the sense that what they were selling was authentic.
At the MCI Center, Cher's performance might as well have been pre-recorded. Too many tunes, old and new, were remolded into the same formulaic sound.
So what homogenized Cher? Some might argue the market did.
The D.C. concert was the 189th in Cher's farewell tour, which reportedly has grossed almost $100 million. Clearly, she has attracted large numbers of paying customers.
But is this the true triumph of capitalism? Does it come only after dumbing-down products -- whether it's Big Macs or pop singers in fishnet stockings?
A recent story in BusinessWeek suggests this is so.
On its Oct. 6 cover, BusinessWeek asked: "Is Wal-Mart Too Powerful?" The story reported that Wal-Mart is now the "world's largest company," and got that way by offering excellent deals to its customers.