THE GREAT SCIENCE FICTION WRITER J. G. BALLARD once predicted that, in the future, annual reports and advertisements will be appreciated as great works of art. At the end of the century, we find Ballard's eccentric speculations unfolding before our eyes. In our age (the future), marketing has replaced production (Nike pays more to market their shoes than to make them), while the brightest of our artists produce the most shallow of images for commercial purposes. Most Ballardian of all is the new class of films that advertise big-name consumer products.

Tie-ins are nothing new to the movie industry, but the alliance has usually been between Hollywood and fast food, and not, as the new trend suggests, with more durable goods. Quick to join the party, Levi Strauss is the latest company to experiment with this marketing strategy. To maximize label visibility, they've created an entire clothing line (jackets, pants, shirts) for the movie The Mod Squad. Sounds like a great idea, a splendid example of corporate synergy. But wait, there's one big snag: The Mod Squad sucks. Levi's is now left in the awkward position of setting into motion a big-bang advertising campaign with a fizzle of a movie.

A small part of this ad campaign (which involves, among other things, TV and radio commercials, and a hip website) included the appearance of Mod Squad star Omar Epps at the downtown Levi's store last Saturday. I went and had a little talk with him before he held court with his fans. As expected, Epps wore Levi's for the occasion.

The issue of advertising was on my mind (much more than the movie), so I asked him his thoughts in this area. He responded: "It's just dealing with the business. It's dealing with persona versus being an actor. Seventy-five percent of Hollywood is just personas, façades; but for me, I'm trying to hold that actor side of things. I'm trying to be an actor first. That's why I don't like to be in the limelight and all of that. It's tedious. But what can I say? It's work. I've got to pay the bills and I understand what needs to be done. Hollywood is based on numbers, so what you usually get kudos for is not what you feel strongest about. You got to accept that and just roll ahead." All this he said with a sober face.

As I looked at him, clad from head to toe in brand-new Levi's, I could not help but think: here is a talented artist reduced to nothing more than a surface-level advertisement, a walking billboard. I watched him with wonder, for this was the figure, the hologram, the symbol of our future.