Musings inspired by the crappiest of films — Demolition Man.

By Paul Michael on 4 November 2008 (Updated 18 September 2009) 30 comments

I saw that film about 15 years ago, and I remember liking it at the time. I also liked stone-washed jeans and neon t-shirts, but I have since come to my senses. However, one nugget stuck with me from the movie; one possible insight into the future that, at the time, I thought was totally impossible. But now, I’m not so sure.

If you haven’t seen the film, I applaud you. All you need to know is that Stallone is a cop from the past (i.e. the violent 90’s) who gets frozen for a crime he didn’t commit, and is unfrozen in the future to fight a bad guy (that’s the whole film right there). Austin Powers ripped off the idea a few years later, but this time it was intentionally funny.

In this non-violent utopian future, known as San Angeles, everything has become homogenized and bland. The songs playing on the radio are old TV jingles, swearing is outlawed and sex is done in virtual reality…no touching allowed. At one point in the movie, the geeks from the future get very excited when they’re told they will be dining at Taco Bell that night. Stallone’s archaic cop is confused until he is told that Taco Bell won the franchise war, and now all restaurants are Taco Bell.

old Taco Bell logo

That struck a chord with me, and to this day has resonated with me whenever I see another announcement of a business being bought out or bankrupted. Although it probably won’t be as extreme as the example in Demolition Man, there are signs everywhere that our choices on the high street are becoming limited. I was surprised to see how many food chains were owned by the same company. For instance, Yum! Brands owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Wing Street, KFC, A&W and Long John Silver’s. And if I’m not mistaken, PepsiCo is heavily involved in that little equation.

Consider consumer electronics: Circuit City is about to go under, closing 155 of its stores. Sharper Image is dead. CompUSA is barely alive after being bought by Tiger Direct. That leaves Best Buy, Ultimate Electronics, Radio Shack and, ummm, let me think. How long before Best Buy is your only high street option?

This isn’t limited to electronics and food chains by the way. Banks are swallowing up other banks; car manufacturers are constantly merging (I wonder if we’ll all be driving a Honda one day); movie studios are “joining forces; and of course, there’s the media – Google Rupert Murdoch and you’ll see what I mean. It can’t be good to have one company running so many news outlets can it?

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

This is clearly an issue for anyone concerned about choice, fairness and competitive pricing (yes Ticketmaster, I’m looking right at you). And as I pointed out in a previous post on real America, this has been happening for a long time. However, now our choices aren’t just limited to bigger retailers…they’re becoming limited, period.

Will the Internet follow suit? I can certainly see larger companies out-pricing (and out-advertising) the smaller competitors, swallowing them up or putting them out of business. Buy.com and Shop.com probably won’t last much longer under the giant shadow of Amazon.com. And is there really an auction site to rival eBay?

Is there anything we can do about it? Well, I’ve always been told to vote with my dollars. I rarely give my business to Best Buy. I try and avoid fast food chains. And I will go out of my way to avoid using Ticketmaster; I’m amazed they aren’t violating the monopoly laws. After all, when you want to buy tickets online, where do you go? Where else CAN you go?

exxon owns it all

It may be a long way off, but I can see a future where we all shop, eat, live, drive, bank and fly using the same company; probably Exxon if they keep posting the profits they did this quarter. Depressing? Yep. Possible? Maybe. But on this important election day, the word hope springs to mind. And I hope the future is filled with choices, not restrictions.

Oh, and a final thought, getting back to the movie that started all of this. If you buy a new copy of Demolition Man, Taco Bell has clearly been replaced by Pizza Hut (with some questionable dubbing, too). Why? Because Yum! Brands figured Pizza Hut would be better for product placement globally. Do you see where this is going?

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Guest's picture
lloyd alter

awww, I loved that movie, it was so prescient. the minitunes!

Guest's picture

Just another reason to spend some of your money on local, independent businesses.

Also, Stallone's own Over the Top was a much crappier movie.

Guest's picture
Alex H.

Reminds me of Blue Sun Corporation from the series Firefly. Described by the creators as a supercorporation as if Coke, Wal-Mart, and Microsoft all merged.

Paul Michael's picture

I tried to get into it, I just couldn't. But yep, that's the idea.

Guest's picture
Guest

Pepsico doesn't own Yum. It used to own Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC but spun them off a decade ago into Tricon, which was purchased by Yum Foods.

I think Pepsi is 100% divested - it doesn't have even partial ownership any more.

It makes sense too - it's hard to sell soda and chips to a fast food chain like McDonald's when you own a direct competitor.

Guest's picture
Guest

Note that the "Taco Bell" reference only occurs in the American release of the movie. If you watch the European release, they're using "Pizza Hut" instead, so it's safe to assume both are clever product placement.

The movie also has one other future prediction worth remembering: The question of a live phone operator if a caller would prefer talking to a machine instead...

Guest's picture
Guest

Not to get uber-political, but the hope guy is in favor of reducing healthcare choices, even if we end up getting more fast food choices. Personally, I'd rather lose fast food choices.

Guest's picture
vilkri

Another thoughtful comment. I enjoy reading your posts. - I agree with you that competition is one of the best things in our economic system even though most companies try to be the best and dominate all other competitors. We always have to make sure that there is healthy competition out there.

Guest's picture
Diana

I highly recommend "Idiocracy" for another example of bigger fish eating the little ones, etc.
Quality entertainment...

From IMDB:
From the creative mind of Mike Judge ("Beavis & Butthead", "King of the Hill", "Office Space") comes a film about the future that it's so utopic.

Private Joe Bauers, the definition of "average American", is selected by the Pentagon to be the guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation program. Forgotten, he awakes 500 years in the future. He discovers a society so incredibly dumbed-down that he's easily the most intelligent person alive.

Guest's picture
~Dawn

This was an entertaining movie as well... along the same lines... a bit dumber.. but passed the time for me.

Guest's picture
Catana

Different strokes and all that. I just don't know what to say to someone who thinks Austin Powers is funny, but missed the humour in Demolition Man.

But, to the point. As long as we depend on large corporations, we'll be subject to their whims and their consolidations. There are areas where we may not be able to avoid that -- banking, for one. But there are also many areas where we are free to do for ourselves rather than moaning about the big, bad corportions.

Paul Michael's picture

Different strokes indeed. I didn't miss the humour (English?), I just didn't find it all that funny. But the action scenes, well, they were laughable in places.

Guest's picture
Scott

Redeemed himself with Rocky Balboa in 2006.

Andrea Karim's picture

You know, I still think Alexander was the worst movie of all times.

Paul Michael's picture

Jaws 4 - The Revenge. Spielberg would be turning in his grave if he were dead. I thought Rocky Balboa was OK, but Cop Land was a first rate performance by Sly.

Guest's picture
MLRebecca

This post does make me a bit nostalgic. Admittedly, I love pop culture, and I really appreciated your comparisons between business and Stallone in this post. You may be right in wondering whether or not this brand takeover will further expand into the Internet. In a way, it already has. Thank you for posting this, and for giving me something to ponder today.

Guest's picture
Zathras

I'm just glad you didn't suggest switching from tp to three sea shells.

Guest's picture
shrewgirl2020

"Consider consumer electronics: Circuit City is about to go under, closing 155 of its stores. Sharper Image is dead. CompUSA is barely alive after being bought by Tiger Direct. That leaves Best Buy, Ultimate Electronics, Radio Shack and, ummm, let me think. How long before Best Buy is your only high street option? " YOu forget about the #1 online internet retailer of electronics: Crutchfield.

Paul Michael's picture

As I said, "How long before Best Buy is your only high street option?" High street, as in a bricks and mortar store. I did talk about online retailers separately, and I can imagine Crutchfield will be one of those big guys that swallows up the small fries.

Guest's picture
RoSco

Wait till you see Wall-E.

Guest's picture
Guest

I so expected an article about how Schwarzenegger could become President of the U.S. someday...

Guest's picture
wildgift

A second for Idiocracy.

"Welcome to Costco. I love you."

Guest's picture
harmzie

The first thing I thought of (well, after the "three shells" thing - I hate to admit it, but I'm almost certain the fear of that might be where you were going kept me reading until the end) was the "Dogbert Index". A few years back the Dilbert website had three stock indices that they tracked.

I'm going from (bad) memory, since I didn't see them after a (very) brief search: the Dilbert index was 10 (or so?) companies upon which he (Adams) regularly got his material; the Pointy-Haired Boss index was companies who allegedly blocked access to the Dilbert Zone; and the Dogbert index was the 10 companies left standing after all mergers & acquisitions had taken place. In the "10 left", were Co's like Coke, Wal Mart, MicroSoft. It was kind of disturbingly amusing (I guess like much of the Dibert Franchise - oops! Did I just say the "F" word?)

Guest's picture
C. Sykes

Actually, the "Hope" guy will expand choices by making health care more affordable. And our current health care system, dominated by a few large companies and a lot of "give us your money but don't count on us paying your bills" fly by nights, is one of the most monetarily inefficient in the world.

Guest's picture
Jet

There's a novel by Max Barry called Jennifer Government that deals with the major corporations buying everything else out and controlling everything. Not the best book in the world, but worth a quick read.

http://maxbarry.com/jennifergovernment/

I don't think we're very far away from something similar.

Guest's picture
FrugalNYC

Oh well, someone beat me to Wall-E. I think you'll think differently about society if you watched Wall-E. Talk about product placement and making other products extinct! ;)

Guest's picture
Stephen

One way to protest, if you will, all the corporate crap is to go out of your way to avoid patronizing companies that play the world's oldest profession. I do my best to avoid any and all companies that pay to name college bowl games and stadiums (or fields or arenas or domes or whereever a game is played). Same for entertainment locations. For example, no more Heinz stuff for me. No visiting Outback. I know it's impossible to avoid them all, but I do what I can.
Here in NYC, the venerable Road Runners club sold out and let a bank pay for the naming rights to the NYC Marathon. Like I'm going to bank there now just because they named the Marathon. No way.
Of course the bank I do business with paid for the naming rights to the new ballpark for the ny mets. Most people (including some employees) I talk to pronounce the name as Shitty Field.
As for Buy.com, I have always had a great experience with them, so I get what I can from them whenever I can. And if you want some good reasons to not go to BestBuy, visit consumerist.com and search for the stories on them. You'll understand then why someone might say to you afterwards, well, son, your first mistake was buying it at Best Buy.
And ticketmaster is the devil on earth and I would suspect that even atheists would agree on that one (I'm guessing if atheists don't believe in God, then they don't believe in the devil either; please correct me if I'm wrong).
And if you want to rant and rave about other things that bug you, go to www.daworst.com and pick a discussion topic and rant away.
Just my opinions, I could be wrong.

Guest's picture

personally, I think all restaurants should be Dominos pizza but that's just me [can't beat their 5-5-5 deal!]; anyway, I cannot believe you're downing Demolition Man. This is one of my all-time FAVORITE cheesy movies !!:-)
lol!
and here is my favorite spiel (i mean, speech) from the movie (thanks to imdb):
"Edgar Friendly: You see, according to Cocteau's plan I'm the enemy, 'cause I like to think; I like to read. I'm into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I'm the kind of guy likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder - "Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecued ribs with the side order of gravy fries?" I WANT high cholesterol. I wanna eat bacon and butter and BUCKETS of cheese, okay? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section. I want to run through the streets naked with green Jell-o all over my body reading Playboy magazine. Why? Because I suddenly might feel the need to, okay, pal? I've SEEN the future. Do you know what it is? It's a 47-year-old virgin sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, singing "I'm an Oscar Meyer Wiener". "

Guest's picture
tracee

It is one of my favorite cheesy movies ever.

The line about the Schwarzenegger Presidential Library used to be a lot funnier before Ahh-nuld became the govenator.

But I do wish they would explain the 3 seashells

Paul Michael's picture

"OK, this may be bordering on the grotesque, but the way it was explained to me by the writer is you hold two seashells like chopsticks, pull gently and scrape what’s left with the third. You asked for it…. Be careful what you ask for, sorry."

However, other explanations revolve around the shells being buttons of some kind:

Shell 1 activates a perfect vacuum seal between customer and "deposit box", and also activates the oh so gentle vacuum "coaxer" as I like to call it.

Shell 2 , upon completion of the evacuation cycle, dispenses, at a medium high, but not uncomfortable pressure, a finely perfumed shampoo/conditioner, to clean the area, and treat the hair involved, followed by a warm( 3 degrees above the sensed body temperature), gentle rinse.

Shell 3 then activates a gentle and again, slightly warm, dryer, not blowing directly at the orifice in question, but rather, creating a gentle swirling breeze you may associate with the old Candlestick Park in San Francisco, completing the dump cycle, and leaving the patron fresh and ready to face any defrosted cryogenic villian that may cross paths with said patron.