Jennifer Government is a novel written by Max Barry. Published in 2003, it is Barry's second novel, following 1999's Syrup. The novel is set in a dystopian alternate reality in which most nations (now controlled by the United States) are dominated by for-profit corporate entities while the government's political power is extremely limited. Some readers[who?] consider it similar in satiric intent to George Orwell's 1984, but of a world with too much corporate power as opposed to too much political power. Many readers see it as a criticism of globalisation, although Barry claims he is not an anti-globalist. He has created a game based on the novel: Jennifer Government: NationStates.
|Genre||Satire, Speculative Fiction|
|21 January 2003|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback) and e-book|
|LC Class||PS3552.A7424 J46 2003|
The novel was titled Logoland for the German and Italian editions. The Brazilian edition was titled EU S/A, translated as Me, Inc., but can be seen as an abbreviation of Estados Unidos Sociedade Anônima, which roughly translates to United States, Inc. in English.
The story takes place over several years (exactly when is never specified). The United States has taken over the entire American continent (except for Cuba), South Africa, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, India, Japan, Oceania, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, and (most recently) Australia and New Zealand. Russia is said to be affiliated with the US, but not fully absorbed; whether or not Russia actually belongs to the United States is not explained. With so much land in a single market, international trade has become unnecessary, and thus the United States cuts itself off from countries that it has not yet taken over. Other countries include the European Union, which is labelled "socialist", though to what extent is debatable. The official language of all United States holdings is now "American", formerly known as American English. British English and its associated accents no longer exist.
In this period taxation has been abolished, which eventually leads to the United States adopting what is referred to as "capitalizm". In this new state, "Government" is privatised, having to work within its budget. This makes the Government unable to write new laws or even to hold elections, leaving its only function as the prevention of crime. Crimes can also be solved, but the Government's budget only covers investigations if the victim or the victim's family pays for it.
Outside of Government there are two other organisations of power—the Police and the NRA. The Police have become privatised, having been reduced to a combination of law enforcement and mercenary agencies. They only get involved when contracted by interested parties. Meanwhile, the NRA has become a complete mercenary-for-hire organisation able to deploy a fully equipped military force.
Most large corporations belong to one of two massive customer loyalty programs, US Alliance and Team Advantage, which fiercely compete with each other. US Alliance members include Nike, IBM, Pepsi, McDonald's, and the NRA. Team Advantage members include the Police, ExxonMobil, Burger King, and Apple.
People take the surnames of the corporations for which they work, and persons with two jobs hyphenate their name, e.g.: Julia Nike-McDonald's. Charity workers can also use their charity's name in a hyphenated surname. Schools are sponsored and controlled by corporations, such as McDonald's and Mattel. Though little is revealed about the current curriculum, it is hinted that many of the lessons are simply corporate propaganda. Children who attend school are given the corporate sponsor's name as a surname, but are parenthesised with their parents' employers in school directories, such as "Kate Mattel (Government)".
Other notable aspects of United States society include pre-payment before emergency services can be dispatched, the abolition of welfare, the complete deregulation of weapons, legalised drugs sold in supermarkets and privately owned roads with toll charges.
Hack, a low-level employee at Nike, is contracted by one of his higher ups, John Nike, Vice President of Guerrilla Marketing, for an ambitious marketing campaign. The company is planning to release the new Nike Mercurys—which sell for thousands of dollars but don't cost a lot of money to manufacture—and in order to drum up interest in the items, John Nike plans to increase "street cred" in the worst way possible—by having Hack kill people who try to buy them. Hack, bound by his contract, but unable to contemplate murder on his own, subcontracts to the Police, now a mercenary organisation, beginning a chain of business transactions that could land Nike in hot water should word of the plot leak.
After several children are murdered at various Nike chain stores on opening day, agent Jennifer Government takes it upon herself to track down the perpetrators, even if she can't get the funding for it. Along the way, readers are also introduced to Billy NRA, an athletic man who gets in over his head, and Buy Mitsui, a former French stockbroker. Also involved is Hack's unemployed girlfriend, Violet, who engineers a dangerous computer virus to sell to the highest bidder.
Billy NRA is caught up in the illegal business of the NRA. He is forced to tag along on NRA operations involving murder and even attempt (and fail) to assassinate the President of the United States. Throughout the novel Billy teeters between helping the NRA and helping the government.
Buy Mitsui starts the novel as a successful stockbroker who just made a big break. Feeling good about it, he gives a girl some money in the mall only to find out that the girl is killed after she uses the money to buy Nike Mercurys. Feeling personally responsible for the girl's death, Buy's life begins to go downhill. He contemplates suicide until he gets help from Jennifer Government, who he then begins dating. He becomes a part of both Jennifer and her daughter's life.
Violet eventually sells her software to ExxonMobil who take her all over the world to exploit the software's power. This sudden disappearance leads Hack to turn to Claire, Violet's sister, which in turn destroys Violet and Hack's relationship. After the company uses Violet's virus, they never pay Violet the sums due. Angered, Violet joins ranks with John Nike who could help her get revenge. John Nike tells her to kidnap Kate, Jennifer Government's daughter to keep the government off his back. She is able to kidnap Kate, but in the end, Jennifer Government and Hack are able to retrieve her and ultimately, bring John Nike to justice.
- Jennifer Government (formerly Jennifer Maher):
- The protagonist Jennifer Government works as a Field Agent for the Government in the Australian Territories. Concerning her job she is very ambitious, which means it is hard for her to fail; she also becomes very aggressive whenever the name of the antagonist (John Nike) is mentioned, but at the end she becomes much calmer, even when it comes to John. A remarkable trait of her character is her way of showing emotions, because she always tries to hide them from the public. The defining characteristic for her look is the barcode tattoo under her left eye, which is connected to her past.
- Nine years ago Jennifer moved from Los Angeles to Melbourne with her eight-year-old daughter Kate, because Kate's father (John Nike) did not want to bear the responsibility for a child. Jennifer is a lovely mother, but because of her job she makes a lot of empty promises to her daughter and eventually neglects her. After her move she could not start relationships with other men until she meets Buy Mitsui who makes a perfect nanny for Kate.
- Hack Nike (later simply Hack):
- Hack Nike works as a merchandising officer for Nike but is not satisfied with his job and wants to improve himself; unfortunately, he is clumsy and naive concerning his career and gets into trouble wherever he goes and by always trying his best, his clumsiness just causes more problems. Because of these traits, he signs a contract for John Nike's new marketing plan without reading it. Afterwards, he finds out that he has to kill ten teenagers which unintentionally leads to a chain reaction of conflicts. Hack is dependent on his girlfriend Violet, who helps him in every situation. Nevertheless, he is very considerate and supports her with money. Following Violet's advice, he goes to the Police where he signs a subcontract which says that they take over Hack's job. He thinks that Violet killed one of the two John Nikes which is why he informs the Government. Feeling pushed around by Violet, Nike, and the Police, his shy, clumsy, helpless character undergoes a change. In the course of the novel, he finds a new girlfriend, who is Violet's sister Claire, a new home and other friends. Furthermore, he loses his job at Nike's. With his self-confidence increased, he founds an anti-corporate terrorist group in order to take revenge on Nike which includes weak attacks against US Alliance.
- John Nike:
- John Nike is the antagonist of Jennifer Government, the novel's main character. He is the Vice-President of marketing for Nike, so he constantly has to wear a suit. It is said that he has a good smile, which might help his abilities of dealing with people and getting out of problematic situations. He is very intelligent but is selfish, has cruel intentions, and behaves very aggressively if somebody or something is acting against his will. Furthermore, he always thinks about what is the best for him and his company, but he also has a penchant for giving into fear easily if something unexpected happens, or if Jennifer Government is involved. Believing that the large corporations should be the only power in the world, he seeks to bring this about by hiring NRA soldier Billy Bechtel to kill the president. Most of other people hate him or do not like him, but they follow his orders nevertheless; meanwhile, some others like him and even see him as a role model. John ends up getting arrested by Jennifer Government and after jail time he is offered a job with PepsiCo for a much lower position.
- Violet (later Violet ExxonMobil):
- Violet is a young woman who produces software that is able to take a company-wide computer network down by embedding the virus in the signature code of a lesser virus (the antivirus beats the lesser virus and stores the signature in its database which is then attacked by the code in the signature). As she has been self-employed for a considerable time, she is somewhat disconnected from the way that real people and the real world work, which conflicts with her ambitious and self-confident personality. She works hard to finish her software in order to become independent by selling it to ExxonMobil. Although they appreciate her software and offer her a job, they take advantage of Violet in order to manipulate computer systems of target enterprises. In fact, they do not intend to pay her. While travelling with Nathaniel ExxonMobil, she neglects her boyfriend Hack Nike. During her absence, Hack and her sister Claire fall in love with each other, and Hack leaves Violet (though he feels Violet left him, and so in his opinion he isn't doing anything wrong), causing Violet to feel mistreated by nearly everyone because she lost her boyfriend as well as the prospect of her money. She contacts Nike Vice President John Nike to help her to get her money. In the end she acts without conscience and is finally one of the losers in the novel.
- Billy Bechtel (later Billy NRA):
- Billy Bechtel is an employee of Bechtel military industries in Abilene, Texas, in the United States. He works as a construction worker and his job is to check steel plates for tanks. One day he gets fired because of cost pressures. Instead of searching a new employment he decides to go skiing; he travels to New Zealand to ski, but he realises that the Southern Hemisphere has backward seasons. Consequently, there is no snow.
- To relax he visits an NRA shooting range and gets hired by the NRA because of his good shooting. He joins a boot camp to get trained in military tactics. During a training he has a conflict with an NRA colleague, runs away, getting mixed up with a professional NRA killer named Bill NRA.
- Bill and some NRA troopers convince Billy to go with them to Australia in order to murder a police officer, named Pearson. Billy does not want to kill a human being, and runs away again but gets caught and arrested by Jennifer Government, who wants him to spy on the NRA. The NRA quickly find out that Billy is a spy.
- To save himself from death or a life in an NRA prison he agrees to work as a sniper for General Li, an NRA General, who gives Billy the order to execute the Government President; he fails and is caught by Jennifer and Calvin Government once again.
- The three travel to L.A. where Billy helps Jennifer and falls in love with a coupon girl working for Burger King. When a chaotic incident splits Billy from the agents for the last time, he and the coupon girl decide to escape to Colorado and go skiing.
- Buy Mitsui:
- Buy Mitsui is one of the more important characters. He is presented as a stockbroker who has doubts about his job and his life. In the past he lived in France, so he is the only European influence in the novel. Buy is very focussed on his job and his mood depends on his success (though success makes him happy at least for a short time), but because he cannot deal with pressure very well, he is depressed and gets overstressed easily. Because of this, he sometimes does morally incorrect things, but does not feel comfortable with it. However, after he makes a big deal he is very high-spirited, which leads him to give $5000 to Hayley McDonald's, a girl he has never met before. But soon he regrets his generosity for he witnesses Hayley being shot and holds her as she dies.
- Buy blames himself for Hayley's death and soon gets caught in a Catch-22; he could never find solace in work because of her, and if he did, his humanity would be compromised. Buy decides to shoot himself, but he is unfamiliar with firearms and so calls Jennifer Government for instructions. Immediately after his call Jennifer visits him and they start an affair. From there on his life changes rapidly. After knowing each other for only two days Jennifer asks him to take care of her daughter Kate because she has to leave the country for government reasons. At first Buy is afraid of this challenge but soon he likes it. Not long after accepting his task, the relationship between Buy and Kate becomes more intimate and he behaves like a father towards her. However, Buy becomes accidentally involved in the conflict between Jennifer Government and John Nike which greatly upsets him.
To help promote the novel, Barry created a spin-off browser-based game, titled Jennifer Government: NationStates, in which players can operate their own countries by making decisions that affect the economy, society and culture of their people. The game is very loosely based on the novel, containing none of the storyline—the player makes choices which are inspired by the setting of the Jennifer Government novel.
In 2001, the film rights were optioned to Section 8, a production company owned by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney. In 2005, Louis Mellis and Dave Scinto, writers of Sexy Beast, were chosen by Clooney and Soderbergh to write the screenplay. Barry has said his primary choice for the title role would be Nicole Kidman.
In 2006, Max Barry reported in his blog that because of the closure of Section 8, the film rights to Jennifer Government had been returned to him, though he remained hopeful that Clooney's next studio project Smoke House Pictures would consider optioning the rights again.
- As all non-charity organisations in the book have been privatised, the government and all former government controlled organisations' names are now capitalised as for-profit corporations' names are.
- "On Capitalism and Corporatism". MaxBarry.com. 20 January 2005.
- Barry, Max. "Jen in Brazil". MaxBarry.com. 7 June 2005.
- Interview with Max Barry at literaturschock.de
In addition, the following version of the novel was used as a reference for this article: