Walter Berglund, one of the principal characters of Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, is a liberal environmental lawyer from Minnesota who’s made a deal with the devil—namely, the Republican CEO of a big oil and gas company—in exchange for funding for his pet cause, an anti-procreation initiative aimed at young people. First, though, the program needs a name—Walter’s colleagues have rejected his own choice, Youth Against Insanity (“a private homage to ‘Youth Against Fascism,’ which he considered . . . one of the finer songs that Sonic Youth ever recorded”).
A textbook case of ill-defined, unmoderated brainstorming ensues.
Lalitha suggested the name The Living First, which hurt Katz’s ears, and which Jessica shot down with withering scorn. And so they brainstormed the morning away, sorely missing, in Katz’s opinion, the input of a professional PR consultant. They went through Lonelier Planet, Fresher Air, Rubbers Unlimited, Coalition of the Already Born, Free Space, Life Quality, Smaller Tent, and Enough Already! . . . They considered Feed the Living, Be Reasonable, Cooler Heads, A Better Way, Strength in Smaller Numbers, Less Is More, Emptier Nests, Joy of None, Kidfree Forever, No Babies on Board, Feed Yourself, Dare Not to Bear, Depopulate!, Two Cheers for People, Maybe None, Less Than Zero, Stomp the Brakes, Smash the Family, Cool Off, Elbow Room, More for Me, Bred Alone, Breather, Morespace, Love What’s Here, Barren by Choice, Childhood’s End, All Children Left Behind, Nucleus of Two, Maybe Never, and What’s the Rush? and rejected all of them. To Katz, the exercise was an illustration of the general impossibility of the enterprise and the specific rancidness of prefabricated coolness, but Walter ran the discussion with an upbeat judiciousness that bespoke long years in the artificial world of NGOs. And, somewhat incredibly, the dollars he planned to spend were real.
“I say we go with Free Space,” he said finally. “I like how it steals the word ‘free’ from the other side, and appropriates the rhetoric of the side-open West. If this thing takes off, it can also be the name of a whole movement, not just our group. The Free Space movement.”
“Am I the only one who’s hearing ‘free parking space’?” Jessica asked.
“That’s not such a bad connotation,” Walter said. “We all know what it’s like to have trouble finding a parking space. Fewer people on the planet, better parking opportunities? It’s actually a very vivid everyday example of why overpopulation’s bad.”
“We need to see if Free Space is trademarked,” Lalitha said.
“Fuck the trademark,” Katz said. “Every phrase known to man is trademarked.”
“We could put an extra space between the words,” Walter said. “Sort of like the opposite of EarthFirst! and without the exclamation point. If we get sued on the trademark, we can build a case on the extra space. That plays, doesn’t it? The Case for Space?”
“Better not to get sued at all, I think,” Lalitha said.