And so it came to pass that the Kitsch Merchants did rule, and their dominion was as broad as it was shallow.
The sweet milky veneer of the KM covered everything and everyone, obscuring what lay beneath, hidden, possible. In the world of the KM everything was visible and everything was comprehensible and everything was very, very boring.
No more adventure, only adventure holidays.
No more romance, only sentimental genre films.
No more questions, because everyone already knew all the answers.
And no more fun, because people knew that life was a serious affair.
Yes the world of the KM was a serious world, even though the very image of the KM was one of laughter and lightness. Shining forth from the billboards and magazines so many frozen moments of joy, but the construction of these images was a most serious business, involving the uppermost echelons of the KM (or so it was said). In the world of the KM, image was everything.
But life was not hard under the KM. Life was regular, repetitive, predictable, dull, but it wasn't hard. The KM didn't kill people, they didn't come round in the night and take people away - the KM didn't have to.
Indeed no one ever saw the KM, they were semi-legendary figures. Some said they lived in isolation in Tibet, within earshot of the Dalai Lama. Others said that they lived underground in the Nevada desert, collaborating with aliens who had crashed there decades earlier. And there were still others who believed that it was from a secret space station that the KM supervened upon human affairs, maintaining that eternal vigil which (as people were told in those days) is the price of freedom.......a somewhat contradictory conception, such that one might be more easily persuaded of the opposite, ie one might think freedom was free.
Freedom. Yes freedom was the myth of the age, the supreme virtue that all agreed on though few enjoyed. The irony of it all hinging upon one immutable human fact: one cannot free anybody but themselves. It was this simple truth that Cheese eventually came to embody, but at first....well at first it was all rather strange.
The phenomenon of Cheese was unlike anything the KM had encountered. There had been occasional outbursts before but they didn't really trouble the KM, they would assimilate the spirit of unrest, transforming it into another product in Spectacular, the KM annual catalogue. It was even rumoured that the KM used to instigate disquiet as a way to launch some fresh new faces, or a new celebrity 'cause'. A sort of generic rebelliousness was encouraged as it helped create more brands for people to identify with.
For this was the difference of those we now call Cheesy: no one understood them, not even themselves.
There was no ideology they subscribed to.
There were no issues that concerned them.
There was no fashion that announced them.
There was, at first, only their general disorientation – a confused ennui.
Such people would simply stop going to work or school, or turn up and appear not to know where they were. Moreover they would appear quite calm, as if they had woken from a dream.
Were they simply mad then? At first it was thought so. Madness was thought of in those days as an inescapable hazard of normal life. Just as one could catch a cold, so too depression, anxiety and schizophrenia were capable of infecting the vulnerable mind. Consequently there existed a vast and complex system which tended those beset in the spirit of rehabilitation, although there existed already a general presentiment that it was more the conditions in which people were living that were at the root of these mental maladies, and not some congenital fault on the part of those afflicted.
But the KM did not have time to ruminate on the deeper significance of mental illness, or perhaps they did not yet see the need to; in any case their attention was soon completely absorbed with such matters – the new madness was spreading, announced by the word Cheese which was becoming a common sight, spray-painted on the walls.
The KM were forced to act. It was declared that pathological investigations had identified a new highly contagious but non-lethal strain of viral meningitis was behind the spreading dementia. The recommended treatment: quarantine.
Ccommercial and industrial estates were transformed into huge sanitaria. Hundreds, then thousands of 'sick' were housed in these makeshift hostels and told to rest. As time gently passed the inmates began to feel something they had not felt for many years: joy. Free to do as they pleased, they talked and laughed, played games, listened to music, grew flowers, vegetables and herbs. United in their shared ostracism friendships bloomed, eclipsing the monochrome memories of the past.
Two years passed. The sanitaria had by now evolved into highly autonomous communities, which was proof enough to the KM that the epidemic was over. The hostels were closed down and tens of thousands of people were told that they were ready to return to society.
But returning to society was not so easy. The already stumbling economy had been severely affected by the epidemic. There was little work available and the thousands of newly released patients found themselves with slim prospects. Unemployment skyrocketed.
Before the category 'unemployed' had been essentially pejorative, applying to a half-pitied, half-resented segment of the population. This in itself had been enough to encourage most to take whatever job they could, but now the situation was completely different. Now it seemed that the stigma attached to being unemployed had vanished, indeed the whole concept had become inverted. Now being unemployed was the act of turning into reality that idea that was highest of high in the KM pantheon - Freedom. The lowest had become the highest.
The KM were baffled. How could they argue against their own grail? They couldn't denigrate the freedom of Cheese without slandering themselves.
More and more people became entranced with each other....
Life began to open out into innumerable possibilities....
And so as the KM gradually faded into history the world of the image lost its hypnotic hold over mankind. These newly free men and women saw not the surface but what lay beneath, and they discovered love.