There is nothing wrong with this commercial. It fulfills it’s primary purpose – informing the consumer about the product – as well as successfully entertains her in a positive way. The humor of the commercial, obviously, is the frustration rational, responsible, self-supporting people feel towards those who are irrational, directionless, and loafing in nature. The irrational person is technically in breech of his agreement to “pull his own weight”, so unilateral action on the part of the rational person is perfectly justified (which would technically make destroying the video game system just, provided it is commensurate with the offense as well as effective). The solution isn’t to destroy another person’s property, obviously – since such an action wouldn’t be commensurate with the offense nor effective – but to laugh about the idea is perfectly acceptable. It is a celebration of rational people’s habituated sense of fair play and justice, as well as their (righteous) scorn towards those who have no meaning or purpose in life.
It is all too rare, these days, to see a commercial that speaks to the best within people, and for that reason alone it is very refreshing.
For the first time in it’s history, American culture has entered an era where new and exciting things are not regularly being invented. People’s lives are not being made significantly better than the lives of the generation that came before. The culture and the economy are stagnating. People are aware of this, and it causes them both anxiety (because they don’t understand why) and depression (because they feel as though they might have something to do with it). This commercial is meant to provide the viewer with a momentary respite from those emotions – and in doing so cause him to develop an affinity to the Ball Park Franks brand.
The way it works is this: people know that the way things are is the result of, at best, their (inexcusable) ignorance of why it happened and how to reverse it, and, at worst, their complicity in it (actually, for most it’s a combination of both). They also know that as with anything, the first step in doing something about it is to acknowledge that things actually are the way that they are. By blatantly declaring that Ballpark Franks’ new “Park’s Finest” line is “America’s greatest invention”, the company is giving people a backhanded way to do just that (because clearly the franks are not America’s greatest invention. Not even close – even though they are representative of what’s being invented today). Doing this, in and of itself, is perfectly fine. Commercials need not be strictly about the product. If they are supplemented with social or political commentary, so much the better. Where the evil in this commercial lies is that even though all (both consumer and producer) agree that a new line of hot dogs is a pathetic excuse for cultural and economic progress, through a bit of psychological manipulation, the viewer is expected to regard it as not pathetic at all. As actually quite literally just as “great” as the cotton gin or electricity.
How do they do this? By expecting people to laugh about what’s going on today. People should not feel anxious and sad about the state of the culture – they should feel angry and/or repentant, and then inspired to do something about it – but neither should they find it humorous. To laugh at it is to belittle it. To declare it to be unimportant. Is the fact that they best America can come up with these days are things like “Park’s Finest” unimportant? Of course not (and the anxiousness and depression that so many not-very-thoughtful nevertheless feel is proof of it). They only way anyone could ever feel undisturbed about today’s culture is if they really did regard the “Park’s Finest” line as on par with the marvels past Americans came up with.
This commercial makes people feel as though they have nothing to worry about by making them think that they’re now in the process of fixing it (since, by watching this commercial, they’ve taken the first step of acknowledging that there’s a problem – as if that is sufficient simply because it is necessary). What Ballpark Franks is doing is taking a positive event – the acknowledgment of reality – and using the positive feelings produced by it to redirect action away from the appropriate steps, and into inappropriate ones (ie: the trivial act of buying hot dogs – as if that was the same as celebrating something like the cotton gin or electricity; let alone actually fixing America’s problems). The reason as to why a company like Ballpark Franks would do something so short-sighted and sinister (as well as how this commercial is horribly unAmerican) can be found here, in an analysis of this commercial’s sister commercial.
A gimmicky little pizza thing is nowhere near as inventive as a “bioduplicator.” No sane person would ever think so. Of course, that’s the humor of this commercial: that the people don’t think so. That they think the Flatizza is more impressive. This is a legitimate object of humor – insane people are metaphysically unimportant within a culture – but is it legitimate in this commercial?
Remember, this commercial is advertising a gimmicky little pizza thing. A product that is only barely an objectively valuable use of one’s money (because it is so essentially identical to one of many competing products), and at worst is actually a net loss for the consumer (in terms of nutritional [dis]value, the value of most people’s time in relation to the “convenience” of ready-made food, etc). This product would almost certainly not sell if it’s existence were merely announced and described (the primary purpose of advertising) – which is precisely why Subway chose to include an element of humor in this commercial. The humor doesn’t exist as a supplement to the conveyance of information, but as replacement for it (objectively valuable information at least).
Subway figures that most people – if they heard a dull, journalistic advertisement for the Flatizza – would be brought into (or left in) a state of mind that would make them more likely to analyze the product’s merits (or lack thereof) rationally. That would be bad for business (because again, the product is almost certainly not worth consuming in the vast majority of circumstances, and completely interchangeable with competing products in the rest) – so Subway has instead attempted to get people to lie to themselves. By presenting people who are unimpressed by a “bioduplicator”, but impressed by a Flatizza, the viewer is expected to think “I’m not crazy for desiring gimmicky foods… that is what a crazy desire for them looks like”, and then to conclude “I don’t behave like that, so therefore I couldn’t be crazy. My desire for a Flatizza, therefore, is a rational one.” It gives them exactly the (momentary) rationalization – the plausible deniability – they need in order to make an irrational choice, without having to acknowledge that that’s what they’re doing.
Philosophically, this only works because far too many people hold a primacy of consciousness metaphysics. It allows them to lie to themselves in such crude, barely believable ways (to the point where not even their emotions are fully invested in what their minds have decided, and therefore they feel “torn” between rational hesitation and irrational desire), because they either implicitly or explicitly accept the premise that that which they decide is untrue, is untrue. That there is not an objective reality.
This commercial is identical in it’s philosophical underpinnings to this commercial, so the following is simply a (customized) restatement of it’s analysis.
Even if this particular Fiat did not have have four doors, and even if these two men, here, knew that it didn’t, it still would not make their reactions appropriate. Their reactions are far too detached from the (overwhelming, albeit unusual) sensory evidence they’re receiving to rationally doubt the legitimacy of the “mirage” they’ve encountered. That level of skeptical detachment would only be appropriate had they perceived the mirage from a great distance, for example. What, then, is the comedic value of having them react as such? What is the object of the humor?
By equating an ignorance of the fact that there actually are four-door cars made by Fiat (as opposed to just two-door models) with a psychological imbalance that produces disproportionately skeptical and detached reactions to stimuli, the commercial is poking fun at a particular type of psycho-epistemology. Specifically, the conceptual type. A person who characteristically conceptualizes (ie: integrates) his experiences into usable (“actionable”) knowledge has a conceptual psycho-epistemology. Why would anyone want to poke fun at that?
The reason is because in today’s cultural atmosphere, there are many, many people who regard integration of any kind – integration as such – as presumptuous and counter-productive. They are who this commercial is targeted at (because, not coincidentally, many of them are urbanites. The type for whom a Fiat would be practical and stylish). Such people observe the fact that knowledge can be limited (ie: contextual – ie: always qualified with the implicit caveat “to the extent of my knowledge”), and conclude that knowledge as such is useless (which, in this particular instance, is highly ironic since it is the skeptical psycho-epistemology that they are seemingly attacking, in an attempt to flatter it). But is knowledge as such useless?
Consider, for example, someone raised in a small, all-white town in rural America. Someone who has never seen a non-white person before, and – if he has ever even heard of the existence of non-white people – been told negative things about them by the people he interacts with. Is this person’s negative reaction to the first non-white person he encounters inappropriate? It may certainly be unjust – the non-white person may very well be a worthwhile individual deserving of good will – but would that be the fault of the person who had the reaction? To his knowledge, such people didn’t exist – so when he encounters one it would actually be reasonable to react with suspicion and guardedness (just as one would react to the sight of a strange insect on one’s front porch). Or, if his knowledge extends to what others have told him about non-white people, and his reaction is outwardly hostile, would that not be reasonable also? The other people in his life have shown themselves to be trustworthy and objective about most other, simpler things (eg: the trash really was taken out, the tractor really does only need an oil change, etc), so would he have any reason to suspect them of dishonesty or poor judgment in this issue? They certainly are guilty of such things, but he doesn’t know that (and to suspect, without evidence, that they are is unreasonable).
Limited knowledge does not imply presumption – and it doesn’t even imply uncertainty. To the extent that someone can be reasonably excused for not knowing a given particular fact about reality (eg: that there are Fiats which have four doors), even if he is wrong, he is “certain.” Not certain in the literal (ie: meaningless) sense, but in the epistemological sense. Certainty does not require omniscience, it simply requires a rational process of thought. Provided that his conclusion is capable of being amended (without contradiction) in the presence of new evidence (as opposed to being arbitrary, and therefore incapable of being affected by evidence – even if the pronouncement happens to be literally true), there’s nothing wrong with living as if what he has concluded is true (because, as far as he knows, it is). Even with it’s vulnerabilities, that is a far, far far more effective way to go through life than operating under the “thoughtful” premise that each and every particular thing is a unique and unprecedented event (which, ironically, is a conceptual integration itself – so the people who do believe this principle are committing the fallacy of self-exclusion).
Many people in contemporary society have only been exposed to the arbitrary passed off as certainty. They have then concluded that certainty is impossible, and sneer at any pronouncements or demonstrations of it. Because this commercial is such a sneer, it provides them with yet another outlet for their contempt (which may have been righteous at one point, but has now morphed into an all-encompassing, cynical skepticism – which is just as destructive as the method of “thinking” that they despise), and in the process (hopefully, from the advertiser’s perspective) endears Fiat the car brand to them in a way that (apparently) the objective merits of the car never could (four doors notwithstanding).* It makes them feel as though the people of Fiat are “their kind of people.”
*Of course, it could be argued that the central message of the commercial is that there is now a Fiat which has four doors (ie: that it’s a presentation of one of the product’s objective merits, and therefore a legitimate advertisement) – but that presupposes that the people who would find that feature appealing don’t already know about it. Of course they already know about it, because by the nature of their psycho-epistemology necessitates that such things are always a possibility (even if the redesign, let alone mass production, of an automobile is a major, long-term industrial undertaking). Such people would never think to themselves “I wish Fiat made a four door car”, and then only consider the possibility of buying one that had four doors after they’ve had the “presumption” that none do corrected. Instead, they would think to themselves “I wish I had a Fiat that had four doors – and even though I’ve never seen one or heard of one, there there well very could be one out there (just as there could be one with one door, or eight doors, of 10,000 doors)”, and then proceed to go – blindly – to find one to purchase; never having seen this commercial. No, all this commercial boils down to is attempt to flatter people for being “honest” about the “limits of human reason”, and thereby seduce them into purchasing the particular four door car produced by Fiat.
This commercial utilizes the same psychological manipulation that this commercial does, and over the same economic phenomenon, but it is even worse in one crucial regard: instead of telling people that they don’t really have the character trait that they chronically feel they might have (because they really do), it tells them that while yes they do have it, it is actually a good thing. That it’s simply built in and “nature’s way.” This allows such people to not only feel okay with it and proud of it, but also to feel good about finally being willing to “see reality” for what it actually is (instead of pretending that things like moral and political principles – such as the sanctity of private property – are relevant to a successful life).
Whatever it takes to make a buck in a mixed economy.
The first commercial is representative of Minwax’ long-standing advertising style. They have, for at least a few years now, produced a number of commercials that are virtually identical to that one. If people think of Minwax commercials, it is commercials like it which they think of. The company knows this, so the second and third commercials are the brand’s most recent productions. These commercials are a (self) mockery of the earlier commercials. These commercials “explain” the pride which is shown in the earlier commercials by “revealing” that it is really a symptom of neurosis. By showing the people to be irrationally proud of their projects (which is what accosting complete strangers, and others who are clearly preoccupied, undoubtedly shows), Minwax is insinuating that there is no such thing as a rational pride in one’s work. By making fun of themselves – by now claiming that pride is something to be ashamed of – they are apologizing for claiming the opposite in their earlier commercials. They are letting everyone know that they’ve “seen the light”, so to speak.
Most of the today’s public is, at best, afraid of showing themselves to be innocent or genuine or proud in even the slightest degree (for fear of being labeled naive or pretentious or arrogant) – and at worst they are the cynical and nihilistic creatures who would make such accusations (creatures who hate the good for being the good). Because of this, Minwax cannot get it’s message to register with a wide enough audience by simply complimenting the innocent, genuine, and proud in people. Instead it must pander to the fearful and/or cynical within them, count on the fact that those emotions will be more frequently excited in today’s culture, hope that the experience of having those emotions touched (by viewing the recent commercials) will be intense enough to associate Minwax with experiencing them (the next time it happens), and in doing so remind the consumer about the product’s existence (should he also just so happen to be in the market for wood coatings).
Why would a brand of something as innocuous as wood coatings resort to such tactics? Why would they court disaster by pandering to the worst within people when, in the long run, it is the best within them that will be necessary to continue to desire to do something as straight-forward and innocent as home improvement projects? It is because in today’s semi-free, semi-controlled mixed economy there isn’t necessarily such a thing as “the long run.” When everyone’s economic interests are as much at the mercy of the whims of a relative few central planners – instead of the timeless, immutable laws of economics – all any company can do is decide to do whatever it can – no matter how dishonorable – to get as much as it can, as quick as it can. Such is the nature of today’s “capitalism.”
One of the most tragic things about living in a mixed economy is that when one observes any given economic event, one can never be sure what one is witnessing. Is the Cree LED light bulb truly a life-improving leap forward, or is it simply the direct or indirect result of government meddling in the economy? Obviously the answer to that question is highly complex (it would require first answering the technical question of which type of bulb is better – which itself is so highly contextual such a label as “better” is virtually meaningless – as well as researching deeply into things like the finances of Cree, Inc. and the backgrounds of it’s personnel), but that is besides the point. The point is that the average consumer, when he witnesses a commercial such as this one, should feel nothing but positive emotions (because, in vacuum, this is a flawless commercial) – and yet he may not (and with very good reason). Questions such as the one posed above, as well as the more general question of whether or not Cree is simply trying to pawn off an inferior product, on uncritical consumers, by taking advantage of the environmentalist movement will inevitably affect his reaction.
While economics, obviously, is not the only factor involved, it is small, seemingly innocuous experiences such as this one – which can occur in any context (economic or otherwise) – that are the reason anxiety and depression are at all time highs in American culture. When one doesn’t “use” one’s dopamine (ie: pushes it to it’s limit and beyond), one “loses it” (ie: it atrophies).