A rich celebrity makes a public service announcement in support of his government.
| “Right this way, sir. They’re holding a chair for you in make-up.”
“Wonderful, sweetheart. How long before I’m live?”
Consulting her watch, she replied, “Um, you’re on in ten minutes. That should be plenty of time to take the shine off your nose.”
“Well, all right,” he said with just enough of a laugh in his voice to put her at ease. “Lead on, MacDuff.”
The production assistant smiled at his paraphrase, showing perfect white teeth. She recognizes Shakespeare. Impressive, for a sweet young thing these days. Probably went to private school. The Good Old Boys had all but wrecked the public schools by now, as per the Plan.
She turned and led him down a stark, white corridor, past numerous dressing rooms, toward the studio make-up salon. She was young, blonde and pretty; her hips swayed invitingly beneath the skirt of her inexpensive-but-good-quality business suit. He felt a stirring in the slacks of his own more expensive one. Maybe I’ll do her after the show.
He had expected the make-up salon to be busy. This was a major national network, after all. The place was as silent as the tomb, though, and a single artist waited. She was indeed holding a chair for him. He sat, and she swept a bib over him, fastening it at the nape of his neck. As she applied base, rouge and powder, the PA prattled about sound, lights and teleprompters. He listened with half an ear, nodding at the appropriate points, but nothing she had to say held the least interest for him. He was already going over in his mind what he was going to say, and reveling in the genius of it.
He had come a very long way, that was certain. A few years ago, he was a relatively nondescript real estate tycoon, working behind the scenes to create the atmosphere most conducive to his plans. He had made a big pile of money in various scams based in hard-to-trace backwaters outside the U.S., then used it to woo the right politicians, undermine the wrong ones, and finally to create the perfect public persona for himself. Now, he was, if not a beloved face in the living rooms of the average multitude, at least a familiar and comfortable one. The comedy “surreality” news show he had created for Fox, Afterlife Tonight, and its two anchors, Holly Jeez and Chris DiAntichrist, had captured the minds and hearts of that multitude, disarming their fears with humor and tickling their libidos with flesh and innuendo.
His friends in high places, in whom he had seen such promise — enough that he’d used his “out of town” connections to get them elected — had unfortunately turned out to be incredibly inept, and had screwed things up royally. The wage slaves were becoming restless. At this point, when things were finally moving more quickly in the direction he wanted, replacing the idiots would cause more delay than he was willing to permit. His only option was to do some damage control.
Luckily, he had engineered his character so skillfully, exercised reverse-reverse psychology with sufficient subtlety, that it had gained far more popularity than that of his boring, goody-goody co-anchor. His voice was heard, not with the fear and suspicion one might expect, but with a laugh and an open ear. So, with his ratings through the roof, he had taken his character on the road, using his celebrity to spread his message as widely as possible.
And it was working.
His nose no longer shiny, he followed the PA’s perky posterior down another corridor and through a pair of soundproof doors, into Studio Six Sixty Six.
This place, at least, was bustling with activity. Techs were adjusting lights, camera operators were moving their units around, while grips were making last-minute adjustments to the set, under the watchful eyes of the production designer and the director, both of whom were yelling instructions to all and sundry. Today’s set dressing, this time a matched pair of redheads, primped into compact mirrors.
He took his place in the swivel chair behind the cheap desk with an extruded plastic facade that looked — incredibly — like mahogany on screen, and the two girls took their places behind him, immediately getting into character — stroking his shoulders and neck, nuzzling his ears.
“Watch the hair, girls,” he said, sotto voce. “Mess it up, and you’ll be turning on a spit by morning.” He flashed them the quirky grin that had become his trademark, and they laughed, disarmed.
The make-up artist, who had followed them from the salon, took a lint brush to some imaginary speck on his jacket, while the sound tech clipped a wireless microphone to his lapel. He slipped the power pack into his pocket. The stage manager shouted for quiet, and counted down, three, two, then silently held up one finger, and pointed to the announcer, who stood at a podium out of shot.
The announcer’s distinctive voice filled the studio. “And now, a message in the Public Interest, from the star of Afterlife Tonight, Chris DiAntichrist.”
The camera’s light glowed red, and the stage manager cued him.
“Evening, folks, DiAntichrist here. I won’t take up much of your time; I just wanted to reach out for a moment to all the desperate, angry men and women out there. You know who you are — struggling to make ends meet and raise your kids in a world that seems to be set up to deny you satisfaction. You work a dead-end job, day after agonizingly monotonous day, and come home to kids who disrespect and disregard you. And, no matter how hard you try, you’ll never look as good as those people on TV.
“It comes in small doses, the frustration, but its effect is cumulative. And the harder you struggle, the more frustrating it gets, until you’re fairly foaming at the mouth, and ready to commit mayhem on a large scale. Some of you have already gotten yourselves all worked up over little things.” With a shake of his head, he put on his fatherly don’t-you-feel-silly face.
“Now, as satisfying as a good rampage can be — and believe me, folks, I know — a rampage is likely to get you hurt, imprisoned, or even killed. Rampaging is, for a civilized being, pretty much out of the question, if you want to go on living, as indeed I encourage you to do.
“I know I’ve garnered something of a reputation; it’s inevitable, with a calling like mine. I’ve gotten some bad press. People are under the mistaken impression that I want to ignite some kind of fiery Armageddon. Well... I like a good explosion as much as the next incarnation of evil. But, I’m a humanist at heart, my friends. In that vein, let me offer you this piece of advice:
“Don’t sweat the small stuff, like immigration and healthcare reform. Who cares if there was collusion with some foreign country in the last election? What does it matter, really?
“Relax. Stop worrying. Everything is under control. The President knows what he’s doing. He’ll lead, just like you wanted him to; your duty is to follow. Just go to work, do your job, and think of last night’s episode of your favorite TV program,” he slipped in his trademark grin, “maybe even talk about it with your coworkers. Then, turn your thoughts to anticipation of tonight’s episode of your favorite TV program.” Another grin.
“Then, just rinse and repeat daily. Before you know it, you’ll be 85, and ready to retire, to enjoy the many... the several... whatever... fruits of your labor. And, if your kids get killed in the war, so what? They never loved you, anyway.
“So, let me leave you with this: Don’t fight. Just narrow your focus, and let yourself drift with the flow of events. As they used to say back in the sixties, ‘Peace, man.’ The world doesn’t have to end in a ball of fire; we can make it last until we’ve drained it to a shriveled husk.”
He sat back, grinning his trademark grin, until the camera’s red light went black. The stage manager cued the announcer once more.
“This has been a message in the Public Interest, from Chris DiAntichrist and Afterlife Tonight. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of this station.” The stage manager’s fingers counted down from three. When he gestured with a clenched fist, DiAntichrist unclipped the mic from his jacket and dropped it on the desk as he rose and headed for the door, acknowledging the applause of the studio crew with a wave.
The cute little production assistant fell into step beside him. She gave him an appraising look as she held the studio door for him.
“That was pretty good stuff. Funny. Do you think it’ll help defuse some of the tension?”
“Maybe. People are like cattle; they’ll stampede if you scare ‘em. But if you keep them entertained, it’d take a nuclear war to get ’em off of their butts.” He stopped and turned to her, grinning. “Of course, by then it’ll be too late.” He slipped his hand around to stroke her behind. “So... what are your plans for the evening?”