I changed my mind. I am finding it difficult to be brief and present 6 interesting story sparks each Tuesday as the Grist for the Muse feature. I’m finding that even one of the news stories or articles I find manages to generate many story ideas and interesting questions to explore, and these articles are getting quite long. So I’m going to keep this as a regular feature, but post 1 or 2 ideas several times a week on the blog, as well as provide links to my favorite idea gathering sites, in the Blogroll. I guess I’m too opinionated and wordy for my own good, but I hope you enjoy and are inspired by these gems. Thank you for your continued patience and understanding of my creative process.

1984 CoverPropaganda Posters  — This is an ad for museum-quality posters with popular phrases developed by and for large companies to keep their employees focused.These types of propaganda makes me think of the omnipresent shadow of Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984 or, better yet the sinister media manipulating aliens in John Carpenter’s low-budget, sci-fi 1988 film, They Live  about a race of aliens who have hidden their true nature and appearance through manipulating media messages to obey and conform. The aliens skull-like appearance and the messages to conform and obey hidden in advertising and television everywhere can only be seen while wearing a special pair of sunglasses.


These types of posters, first mass-produced by the company Sucessories in the 1990’s, infested every conference room, office hallway and break area with idyllic photos of mountain scenes, sunrises and and carefully Photoshopped figures and buildings, along with motivational statements and quotes about success, teamwork, or excellence. These posters always bring out the snarky side of me, trying to hide the complexities of modern business and living behind clever quotations and carefully controlled photos. I loved the company, Despair Inc. who produce parodies of these posters with the same beautiful photos paired with the same look and feel as Successories, but with a sarcastic twist, such as a crisp stock photo of a bag of french fries captioned with: “Potential:  Not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up.”


While these posters are less nauseating, they still display unnerving messages.  Move Fast and Break Things. Innovate or Die, or Steve Jobs’ quote: Don’t Compromise.  How does the message of one of these posters change if used by a company exploiting child labor, or dumping toxic chemicals into the environment? How would the meaning change if they were used by a brothel or by Walter White’s meth empire in Breaking Bad? What about a repressive government? How does a message on one of these posters change if you change one word on it?

Exercise the Muse

  • Take some time and explore media messaging and how it is manipulated to influence your behavior.They Live Cover
  • Write a story told through posters and billboards that you see during your next commute, drive around town or weekend getaway.
  • Write about a character who is easily influenced by these messages and how they impact him.
  • Use one of the Startup Vitamins posters in this packet, or one you find, and use it in a story or essay.



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