“The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve “the common good.” It is true that capitalism does — if that catch-phrase has any meaning — but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.” -Ayn Rand
Although this commercial will be interpreted by most to be a glorification of altruism (even though what’s on display is actually benevolence, it is nevertheless a beautiful dramatization of the value of capitalism. Walmart’s message is that it (a capitalist, for-profit organization) plays not just an optional, but an essential role in “altruistic” (read: benevolent) acts. In other words: without selfishness preceding it, there is no “common good” of the type on display here. It’s sad (and worrying) that capitalist organizations have to appeal to the popular reverence for self-sacrifice in order to be (begrudgingly) accepted, but it’s heartening to see that they’re at not yet completely ashamed of the fact that they deserve just as much credit (if not more) than the “altruists” who use their products in order to do their good deeds.
The purpose of sports heroes – the value that they trade in exchange for the fortunes they earn – is to provide the public with inspiration. Their feats are supposed to be a supplement to the average person’s every day life. A way of helping the average person live his own life more heroically. The problem, however, is that in recent decades (due to the stagnating economy and disintegrating culture), the inspiration of sports heroes has transformed from a supplement to a substitute source of inspiration and pride. People are more and more quite literally living vicariously through famous athletes – and instead of the past time of paying attention to them being a net gain, it is often now a net loss (ie: a way to evade one’s problems, instead of an inspiration to face them and solve them). That is what this commercial exploits.
Usain Bolt, by illegally enjoying himself in what turns out to be someone else’s hot tub, is symbolically (albeit likely unknowingly) communicating his status in the culture, and the source of his (relatively greater) wealth (as compared to previous eras). His presence there is an acknowledgement of the fact that he doesn’t have what a man of similar accomplishments, decades ago, failed to have simply because he is better than that predecessor, but precisely because people are willing to now give a man like him more than they were before.
Of course, this is a dramatic, absurdly unrealistic expression of these facts – and that is precisely why it is expected to work to sell Puma brand merchandise.
The commercial provides the viewer with a means of rationalizing away his (subconscious) awareness of his inappropriately high interest in the sporting activity of other people. He is able to tell himself that if he were really giving the likes of Bolt more attention than they deserve, then that (ie: the use of his hot tub, and the affections of the women in his life) is what would be taken from him. He isn’t allowing that much to be intruded upon, so therefore he must not be over-valuing the athletic achievements of others.
The rationalization provides a moment’s reprieve from the anxiety which comes from having a disorganized or arbitrary value structure. The memory of that reprieve remains in the viewer’s mind, ready to prompt a recitation of the rationalization whenever the anxiety returns or becomes too much to bear (which it will, since the only thing which can ensure that it doesn’t return and grow is actually reducing one’s interest in sports figures to rational levels). That reoccurred rationalization, Puma hopes, will be closely associated (in the viewer’s mind) with Puma the brand, and then – hopefully – if the person happens to be in the market for sports apparel, he will consider taking a closer look at their products, and perhaps making a purchase.
This is the kind of manipulative, destructive, fundamentally non-capitalist behavior that capitalist organizations have to engage in when they’re mired in the unpredictable flux of a mixed economy, where only the short-term is certain.
The commercial works as follows: America’s moral – and thus financial – integrity, stability, and potential are at all-time lows, Americans (inexorably) are constantly aware of it, but only emotionally. They’re plagued by fear (because they can’t understand why, nor how to fix it), as well as by guilt (because they vaguely grasp that they’re partially responsible for it). They don’t like this feeling, so anything which (temporarily) alleviates it will be valued more than it otherwise would be. This commercial allows for the following rationalization: “Things are not that bad, so therefore my fears are – somehow – unfounded. That is the kind of thing I would see going on around me if things were truly as bad as I constantly feel like they are.” Taco Bell knows that because this is only a rationalization – that things are tantamount to as bad as this – that such precious heirlooms are being compromised, albeit not with such willful blatancy) – people will inevitably have their fear and their guilt return. When they do, Taco Bell hopes that such people will remember the feeling produced when first seeing this commercial (in order to make the uncomfortable feelings go away yet again), remember that they’re hungry, or need to pick food up for the family, or whatever and then decide to visit Taco Bell.
If Taco Bell – a company that is quite literally a luxury of an economy with a strong capitalist foundation – suffers or even disappears as a result of the very things they’re trying to get people to evade (so that they can capitalize in the short-term), they will have deserved their fate.
Why would Gordon Ramsay make fun of himself? Isn’t he proud of his famously “terrifying” personality? Isn’t that the source of his success? The factor which separates him from all other chefs? The reason why – incidentally – he was able to land a tv show (a popular one, no less)? Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at, so are we to believe instead that he isn’t proud, and that it’s not the reason? That he is successful in spite of his temper, not because of it?
He can’t have it both ways, so if by appearing in this commercial he is actually saying that he could have become who he is in the food world, as well as in popular culture, without his temper, then why spend literally years acting unnecessarily mean? Why make yourself into someone you’re not – to the point where you’re notable to most because of something that’s not real, and not what you want to be known for (ie: your temper, instead of something particular about your food)? The reason he has acted this way over the years (at least to the degree that he has) is because in truth he actually is not worth watching (or, more precisely, not to the degree that he actually is), and that the only reason why his show is so popular is simply because America’s mixed economy gives the government the power (mostly through foreign policy and fiat currency) to paper over the disintegration of America’s real power which is currently taking place. Things are just bad enough that the public wishes to turn to garish television shows (even if they masquerade as educational) such as his to evade the truth, but not quite so bad that they can no longer afford to.
The way this commercial is expected to work is by helping the viewer evade all of that (ie: the true reason for their interest in television shows such as Ramsay’s). By backhandedly acknowledging that Ramsay’s (culinary) success is only partially – if at all – dependent upon his willingness to get exceptionally angry in order to uphold his standards (ie: that it’s actually partially – if not completely – an act meant to entertain his television viewers), it allows the television-watching public to feel as though they aren’t really watching such shows in order to avoid their problems. People are aware of the fact that if someone truly has a problem, he can’t even acknowledge that he does. They are counting on this awareness in order to lie to themselves. To tell themselves “I must be watching this show for some other reason than simply to avoid reality with my problems – because if I were, then I couldn’t even handle a comical commercial which suggests that I am. It must really be that I’m learning about the culinary world, and that this show really does consistently teach me about it (as opposed to that just being a pretext for displaying interpersonal drama).”
AT&T is hoping that the emotional tranquility which comes from “knowing” this becomes associated with this commercial in particular so that when it is disrupted – which it will be, since it’s based on a lie – people will think of it in order to reestablish said tranquility (and in doing so remember that it was an AT&T commercial, remember how they’re in the market for phone service, and look more closely at AT&T’s plans).
Such psychological manipulation is exactly what’s necessary for companies who operate in the very same mixed economy which, ironically, produces caricatures such as Ramsay.
What does the phrase “It’s a German luxury sedan, but it’s still an Audi” mean? What does owning a German luxury sedan imply? How does owning one that’s an Audi make that implication not applicable? The first part of the phrase, “It’s a German luxury sedan…”, is an expression of the notion that, normatively, in order to acquire wealth, one has to forego morality. The second part, “…but it’s still an Audi”, is a way of claiming that even though one has acted immorally (and is therefore able to afford a German luxury sedan), one’s soul is still salvageable (ie: One is still able to atone for one’s guilt, through intentionally selfless acts, and the fact that one prefers an Audi is somehow proof of having retained this capacity. That one has at least not become selfish in spirit).
Why would such an absurd claim – that a preference for Audis or a preference for other German luxury brands indicates the state of a person’s soul – be expected by this commercial’s writers to work? It has to do with the fact that most people believe in the moral-practical dichotomy, and therefore allow themselves to engage in a degree of (at least what they believe to be is) immoral behavior. Because most people believe that moral imperfection is unavoidable, the question they ask themselves is not if one should be immoral, but simply by how much. How is one to determine how much? In such a cynical view of morality, where nature is held to necessarily lead man into contradiction, there is no objective standard to appeal to, so the only way to answer it is… arbitrarily. Randomly. Completely by whim. Why not, then, decide that a preference for Audi’s luxury sedans – rather than for Mercedes’ or BMW’s – indicates that one is still morally salvageable? It’s as good a measuring stick as anything else. The claim that the cut-off point for irredeemable evil is not merely the evil of having come to be able to afford a German luxury sedan, but rather to desire to own one that isn’t an Audi, is clearly capricious – but according to the cynical view of morality held by most people, that isn’t a problem.
This commercial conflates altruism with benevolence. The purpose of that conflation is to ameliorate whatever moral guilt a person who can afford a German luxury sedan likely feels as a result of his wealth. Subconsciously, such a person feels no guilt – which is why he has a personality that is able to consistently act towards the selfish goal of becoming wealthy – and therefore whatever “altruistic tendencies” he might have are actually just benevolence; but consciously (ie: upon reflection) he feels plenty.
The attitude featured in this commercial is not selflessness. Instead, it is the positive, open, benevolent attitude which – contrary to the doctrine of altruism – is actually only possible to the truly selfish person. Nothing that the man in this commercial does is necessarily self-sacrificial. Each action could be – and actually often is – in a man’s rational self-interest. Simply because the actions seem blatantly selfless (and certainly can be) – and therefore flatter an altruist’s conscious convictions – doesn’t necessarily make them so. Even the subconsciously (ie: spiritually)-selfish, but consciously-selfless upholder of altruism senses this – and that’s precisely what bothers him. He worries that he may be selfish in spirit. Audi, with this commercial, is attempting to exploit that worry.
Because, in practice, benevolent acts are so often identical to altruistic acts, it is impossible for someone who consciously holds altruism as the moral ideal to know which motivation is causing his actions. There simply is no distinguishing factor. This commercial says that there is. What is it? It isn’t one’s motivation, but rather simply which brand of German luxury sedan one prefers. If one prefers another brand, then one is selfish in spirit (and therefore he will be completely unable to curtail his predatory tendencies – as dramatized by the BWM-driving person* who doesn’t just decline to pay a stranger’s toll, or stop to give directions, or yield the right of way, but who also fails to slow down for a puddle, and in doing so actively harms others by getting them wet). If one prefers an Audi, however, then one automatically knows that one is selfless in spirit. That preference tells one what one’s true motivation for doing such things is (ie: self-sacrifice, not benevolence). This absurd claim – that a preference for a particular brand of luxury sedan indicates motivation (let alone contradicts evidence to the contrary) – is only meant to appear to be absurd. In truth, precisely because it is so absurd, it is expected to work. Because “some explanation is better than no explanation” [a common, if unspoken, sentiment], it will finally give people who want to be altruistic – but who know they are merely benevolent – “proof” that their behavior has been altruistic all along. A sense of moral uprightness is a fundamental human need, and is therefore profoundly gratifying when experienced. Audi, with this commercial, hopes that by providing the viewer with it, the company will endear itself to the viewer.
The “champions” in this commercial are men who are pretending to be something they’re not. By carrying around their “trophy”, people believe that they’re members of an athletic team who are in Las Vegas to celebrate their victory – or something like that. This isn’t true, of course – their “trophy” is just a plant holder they found in the hallway of their hotel – but it’s okay to get all kinds of rewards one wouldn’t otherwise be able to get because, after all, “what happens here, stays here.” That’s the joke, at least.
The effectiveness of this commercial comes from the fact that while many people who visit Las Vegas actually do engage in behavior that they wouldn’t engage in elsewhere, they don’t engage in behavior that is that extreme while they’re in Vegas. This recognition helps people to rationalize the behavior which they do engage in. It helps them to tell themselves: “I don’t do that, so therefore what I actually do isn’t so harmful that it needs to ‘stay in Vegas’ (ie: be kept secret or unacknowledged).”
This begs a question, however: if what people do while in Vegas isn’t so bad that it needs to “stay in Vegas”, then why does such an idea even need to be joked about? Why does such behavior need to be rationalized away via commercials like these? Why can’t it just be openly, explicitly talked about and celebrated? The answer: because what people do in Las Vegas actually is bad. Because it actually is harmful their values and virtues and interests – and therefore the only way they are able to go through with engaging in it (ie: visiting Vegas) is if they lie to themselves via evasion through hyperbole.
It isn’t surprising that a place like Las Vegas – which owes it’s existence to a widespread and perverse view of money – would employ an advertising technique such as this one, but it is disturbing that it is able to do so so openly and on such a large scale. What does that say about the true health of the culture and economy?
If one saw, in real life, a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips, the blemish would mean nothing but a minor affliction, and one would ignore it. But a painting of such a woman would be a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values — and one would experience a feeling of immense disgust and indignation at the artist. (There are also those who would feel something like approval and who would belong to the same moral category as the artist.) -Ayn Rand
The apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head, true or not, is (or is at least believed to be) the defining moment in his life (and indeed, because it dealt with such an important physical truth, one of the defining moments in the history of Western Civilization itself). Obviously, because such profound epiphanies do not actually occur (or at least are not caused by being literally hit in the head), the actual historical incident (if true) is of little consequence. In other words, if Isaac Newton actually was hit in the head by a falling apple, and if instead of it inspiring him to formulate his theory of gravity it made him desire an apple-flavored ale, it would be of no importance. The fact that Isaac Newton, just like everyone else, drank alcohol doesn’t in any way detract from his status as a giant of history. Of course he drank ale! He was, after all, a man.
However, if Newton wasn’t actually hit by an apple (or at least if it’s unverifiable), and therefore the legend (as it actually is) is simply a subliminal way to communicate the integrated nature of mind and matter (ie: that “fortune favors the prepared mind”), and therefore it’s purpose is to inspire people to be rational and to study sciences (so that they too may be able to “accidentally” make a profound discovery) – then to artistically emphasize the fact that Newton, when hit on the head, may have just as likely been inspired to have a particular flavor of ale is “a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on [intelligence], on all values.”
The purpose of this commercial is to inculcate and/or exploit whatever nihilism it’s viewers might possess. Because Western culture is no longer predominantly rational, enough hopelessness has seeped it’s way into people that this commercial will not be offensive, but comforting. It’s subliminal message is the following: “Even Isaac Newton was a man – and therefore he was also idiot, so it’s okay for you to be one too. Yes, he did happen to discover a fundamental physical truth which has shaped, does shape, and will continue to shape human existence no matter what, but he could have just as easily been provoked (by a falling fruit) to desire an apple-flavored beer. He was just lucky a lucky idiot – and you’re not one, so lighten up, stop aspiring to greatness, and make the best of how life really is (ie: enjoy a cheap little indulgence, such as a beer, since that’s the closest to happiness that you – a member of a pathetic little class of creature known as ‘humans’ – are going to get).”
Western culture is at a point where the consistent, conscientious rationality which was the true cause of Newton’s achievement (and all others like it) is needed the most. It was the only cause of it’s existence, and it is it’s only hope for survival – but because of the mixed economy, capitalist enterprises (organizations which are ironically derivative of, and completely dependent upon, the existence of a rationality-revering culture) would rather take whatever emotional impulses (ie: anxiety and guilt) which could provoke people to think about what they’re subconsciously aware of, and manipulatively redirect them not into saving the culture, but into the same sort of nihilistic irrationality which is destroying it (ie: which makes such pragmatic business tactics appear necessary in the first place). This commercial is a particularly glaring example of that.