Allora, starting at the end, I’ve written some fiction and at the end of this post you will find said fiction and it will be stimulating, thought-provoking and so worth your mental energy and attention. I promise you this. First, however, a moment of housekeeping because if you don’t do your housekeeping you will succumb entirely to entropy and/or perish under the accumulated weight of all your dust, dirty laundry and the dead dreams you left to rot under your bed.
The Jam-Packed Friday experiment was fun but I’ve called time on the experiment for a number of reasons. (Like: being busy with other stuff; getting bored of reading irrelevant white male geek opinions about everything; interference from obscure nefarious parties; etc.) I’m also taking moments to reconsider how I approach and share my creative output with the wider world and, in general, how I deal with social media and the internet. (And how it deals with and treats me and my data.)
In brief, I have huge concerns – ethical and practical – and I want to make sure that I live my (real and online) life in the best way and that my art is created and appreciated in the optimum fashion. I am thinking on and working on this…
Regardless, what I do know is that I’m always psyched to write stuff – especially fiction – and so is my friend Sandy Salierno. Several months ago she pitched me the following idea: each week one of us suggests a writing prompt and then we both come up with something inspired by that idea and we publish it at the same time.
I like this idea. I’ve done things like this before and it’s always a fruitful writing exercise. I then failed to get my act together for months (Sandy, I’m so sorry) but, finally, I’ve managed to quickly polish off a short story to answer the challenge. The prompt was ‘A Brush with Conspiracy Theories’ and – as a fan of the occult, the clandestine and political intrigue – I was all in. Sandy’s take on the topic (a Flat Earth freakout) can be found here on her blog. As for mine, it’s right here for you consideration and (dis)pleasure…
A Brush with Conspiracy Theories
By James Clayton
Leon Gliss hasn’t washed for over three months.
One hundred days without showering or taking a bath; without cleaning his teeth or flossing; without scrubbing his face or any other part of his body; without shaving or trimming what is becoming a manky shrub of facial hair; without applying deodorant to his sweaty teenage body.
Leon Gliss considers this to be a great achievement. Having hit the three-month milestone, he’s buzzing with the adrenaline of pride. If it wasn’t winter, nearby flies would be buzzing too.
In Leon’s mind, he’s winning. A hundred days is almost a third of a year and he feels like he’s riding momentum on the path that he set before himself. He’s come a long way already and buoyed by the confidence that, yes, he can do this, he’s eyeing a future without limit. This future is one of unbridled, unwashed emancipation. Leon is revolutionary ideals incarnate and the principled resistance actually put into practice. Others will inevitably follow.
On a practical level, Leon sees multiple gains. According to his calculations, over the course of the hundred days he’s saved roughly £178 from not buying toiletries and hygiene products. He also reckons he’s saved two days’ worth of time simply by refraining from washing and, indeed, from shopping for all these products that he no longer needs.
But Leon doesn’t care much about money. At least, he tells them all that he isn’t really interested in money because he wants to project a less materialistic image and push the ideological side of the cause. He knows that you can get people in by showing them ways to save cash. It’s then that you can hook them with your message and get them on board with the mission.
The mission is worthy. No, in fact, it’s essential. And its vitality and fundamental basis is substantiated and validated by the thousands now joining him. Leon Gliss is proud of himself. He’s showing them the way, leading by example, and he came up with it all himself. He’s the genius who worked it all out and now he’s become something of a leader, a prophet, a guru, a rebel speaking truth to power.
It’s true that he got inspiration from elsewhere. It’s just that no one else had seen the bigger picture and joined the dots. Controversies over microbeads, animal testing, fluoride in toothpaste, Bollywood skin whitening and talcum powder causing cancer raised flags. He noted the reports on the futility of flossing and the detrimental effect of antibacterial handwash on the body’s viral resistance. He absorbed the documentaries about nappturality and the African Natural Hair Movement. He read up on Rastafari resistance to conventional grooming standards and researched scientific studies into personal hygiene.
Further fuel was found in the lyrics and social media posts of the band Scratchpaxx. (He particularly admired the track ‘Feminine Bits’ even if he couldn’t quite empathise with the situations described.) He thought about figures from history and how they’d been perfectly fine as they forged civilisation, crossed continents, conquered the globe and invented the modern age without apparently paying much attention to cleanliness.
When female celebrities started foreswearing makeup, Leon found his sensibilities chiming with the elite and he got a sense that maybe his ideas might be closer to mainstream consciousness than first thought. However, it was when he delved deeper and started to follow the money that everything came together.
Half a year ago, while surfing around on the web, he stumbled upon the fact that Mentadex provide dental hygiene products to the armed forces of roughly half the World’s nations. Considering the number of lucrative contracts – and the fact that the company was taking money from both sides of numerous conflicts – Leon decided that he’d have to conduct further investigations.
He hit search engines hard and within a few hours he’d amassed an atrocity of open tabs and an incredibly bleak outlook of corporate power. Mentadex were, indeed, a subsidiary of the Webb-Fullis Corporation. Webb-Fullis Corp also owned the pharmaceuticals and consumer goods giant Sterber Co., which itself was the parent of a number of subsidiaries including Gleamex (domestic cleaning goods), Platinum Line (personal hygiene artefacts), Goldilock (hair products) and Bear Guard (sexual healthcare products) amongst other things.
Leon soon discovered that all of these brands had contracts with a number of armies, including the American army. The Bear Guard website even featured a proud banner in the ‘Testimonies’ section that boasted they were ‘Protecting the heroes winning the War on Terror’. Elsewhere he found images of Mentadex representatives smiling with members of the French navy, a Gleamax ambassador shaking hands with Turkish generals and images of Greek servicemen showcasing a variety of Plantium Line products in what appeared to be publicity shots for a PR showcase.
The research went deeper and deeper, the links becoming clearer, figures and connections between entities unfurling before Leon’s eyes. He soon came to find that Kincaid Webb III, CEO of Webb-Fullis Corp. was also a board member of the Fortbank financial services group. It was, thus, little surprise to find that Fortbank had invested heavily in the multitude of subsidiaries that fell under the Webb-Fullis umbrella. Leon also learnt of Fortbank’s links with Black Star Sambuk Oil. It turned out that BSS Oil was used in the manufacture of plastic packaging for many Webb-Fullis brands and that refined chemicals could be found in many pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and hygiene products.
It was also true that Kincaid Webb III had married, divorced and subsequently remarried the entrepreneur and fashion icon, Erika Song. Renowned as one of the most influential personalities on a number of social media platforms, Song very publicly endorsed several Plantinum Line, Mentadex and Goldilock products. She was also the face of Divinus cosmetics, and Divinus was unsurprisingly owned by Sterber Co. and, therefore, owned by Webb-Fullis.
To top it off, Leon found that Fortbank had invested in universities that had performed research into human hygiene and tested grooming products. No surprise that consumers are advised to brush twice daily, to buy anti-bacterial goods and assault their body with chemicals, he thought. But thinking wasn’t enough for Leon Gliss. He was moved to action and he took action.
It took a while to get attention and to make the wider world take notice but people started to cotton on. As he gradually unrolled his research onto the web and set out his arguments backed up by evidence of the great conspiracy, he started to get hits. And then he committed never to wash again and dedicated himself to very public defiance.
The internet went crazy. People had looked to him with fascination or admiration, and three months on they were still there and growing in numbers. It didn’t matter that few had gone as far as he was going. The first part of the fight was revealing the truth – the truth that the masses were the fearful captives of a vast corporate conspiracy that wanted to keep them afraid, subservient and dependent on products manufactured by a monopolistic power block that was poisoning the World and the humans who dwelt in it.
They’re catching on and seeing that it is the truth. Leon senses that the World is turning and he’s the one who’s given it a push. He can smell success. That, and his armpits.