By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in The New York Times Syndicate/Guardian of London on 1 April 1999

I think I finally understand the method behind the madness of a hysterically funny but surprisingly effective Website named RTMark (www.rtmark.com) . Pronounced “ArtMark,” the name is a loose acronym for \\\registered trademark’’ and a fitting title for this tongueincheek social action investment scheme.

Ostensibly a clearinghouse for the organisation and funding of media pranks, RTMark is an archive, network, and subsidiser of late 20th century agitprop at its best. But in its ultimate execution, this artfully clever Website may be something of a media prank in itself.

RTMark’s named target is corporate America - those giant companies who, thanks to laws passed in Abraham Lincoln’s day, enjoy the privileges of citizenship without any of the responsibilities.

In the United States, corporations have all the rights of people; but when they do something wrong or very wrong, no human being is held accountable. This is why, according to RTMark, corporations continue polluting our waters and murdering thousands through negligent industrial practices. Even when they are caught, the offending corporation only needs to pay a fine in order to continue business as usual. No one goes to jail. Meanwhile, with more money at their disposal than most countries, these multinational corporations can donate to elections and pay for lobbyists who give them more access to and influence on public policy than any group of \\\private citizens’’.

In order to promote the pranks and protests that will call attention to corporate greed and the resulting atrocities, RTMark’s founders came up with a unique idea: exploit the same corporate veil that the big boys use. RTMark is a fully registered corporation dedicated to matching the resources of anonymous donors with the pranksters who hope to topple the corporate hegemony.

Through RTMark’s Website, Internet users can scroll through dozens of proposals for media terrorism, select a prank they wish to fund, and then offer financial assistance with the click of a mouse.

The corporation guarantees the donor freedom from liability, using the same laws that protect a corporation’s officers from blame when they make a mess. TMark’s most successful \\\grant recipient’’ to date is probably The Barbie Liberation Organisation, an anonymous collective of media activists who made world headlines by successfully switching the recorded voices of hundreds of Barbie dolls with those of military action figure GI Joe.

Unsuspecting consumers in 43 States were horrified when their children’s dolls spoke in the voices, and sexist dialogue, of their supposed gender counterparts.

The site offers dozens of such opportunities to put one’s money to work. The only rule is that its pranks are limited to the media space, and cause no physical harm to anyone.

RTMark also features \\\mutual funds’’, through which donors can support a variety of actions researched and approved by the fund’s manager. The \\\media fund’’, overseen by writer and filmmaker Andrei Codrescu, is now dedicated to a variety of Y2Khype bashing efforts.

One project Codrescu has chosen for his fund hopes to \\\make and distribute a videotape with packaging that claims it will \`scan any VCR for Y2K compliance’. When played, the video should reveal that Y2K bug hysteria is a smoke screen, the function of which is in part to obscure continued consolidation and dominance of corporate power in everyday life and government’’.

Ironically, RTMark has come under greater criticism from fellow activists than from its corporate targets.
And then there’s also the question of whether or not RTMark actually makes any real money available to the groups it claims to sponsor.

Several activist groups listed on RTMark’s Website as successful funding efforts told me they were yet to receive any money from the organisation. The Electronic Disturbance Theatre’s FloodNet program, for example, is an TMark \\\sponsored’’ effort that attacks Websites run by the US Pentagon and Mexican Government, mostly on behalf of the Zapatista movement. The simple Internet hack works to overload and incapacitate the offending Websites with millions of hits.

FloodNet’s spokesman, Ricardo Dominguez, says that although he appreciates RTMark’s public support, some cash would have been nice, too. Still, RTMark did buy Floodnet’s programmers a few bottles of beer, and the muchpublicised sponsorship did account for what Dominguez says was \\\a great propaganda spasm, and more than enough payment for us’’.

And maybe, in the end, that’s what the Internet does best.