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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


29. [Plate 29]
Death in Venice

All the world knows the story of how Gustave Aschenbach, the distinguished German scholar and historian, came to Venice in a time of plague and died. Everybody is familiar with how this repressed and celibate old man, in the autumn of his life, succumbed to an essentially pagan worship of a beautiful young boy. Which obsession drove him to barber shops and beauty parlors to have his hair dyed and permed, and his withered cheeks powdered and painted, in a deluded effort to make himself sexually attractive to his unattainable amour.

Thomas Mann's version of this tale is best, of course. But there have been excellent renditions by Burroughs, Faulkner, and Byatt. If nothing else, you've surely read the comic book or seen the Japanese anime. Everyone's heard the story. Everyone knows its name.

And that's money in the bank.

A small minority of stake-holders have expressed doubts about naming a perfume for men after an incident involving an aging homosexual and unrealized pederasty. For the "homosexual" aspect, we need only refer to virtually all perfume advertising of the past five decades. The pederasty, we emphasize, is "unrealized." It speaks to the aspirational hunger for that which we cannot have. Which is, let's face it, what branding is all about.

Studies show, as detailed above, that consumer familiarity with the brand name is at full saturation. Focus group interviews repeatedly came up with "beauty," "youth," and "pampering" as associational terms, with "pagan," "regret," and "obsession" not far behind.

These concepts are a shot to the heart of our target cluster, which we call Men With Money. These are the achievers, the CEOs, the men who have made this country what it is and are feeling a little guilty about it. They are corporate reaganistas who traded their youth for wealth, and have been left feeling somehow cheated out of something important.

Brand-metaphor analysis of DiV identified mingled hints of beauty, lust, obsession, sexual perversity, criminal guilt, and physical degeneration. Compared to this, Calvin Klein for Men is just a perfume.

The campaign, which launches in the fall, is simplicity itself:

Death in Venice. Because you deserve it.


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This is the 29th of 80 stories by Michael Swanwick written to accompany Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos. For a listing of the most recently available stories, go to The Sleep of Reason.

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