Commercial Analysis

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A global force for good?

with 2 comments

This is a complex commercial. It is full of contradictions, but that’s to be expected given today’s non-philosophical – and even anti-philosophical – approach to everything. The most important thing to do then is to untangle the contradictory elements from one another, lay them side by side, and see which type is presented as the most fundamental. What is written below will do just that.

What immediately strikes the viewer about this commercial is that, unlike most other military recruiting commercials which highlight just one appealing aspect of military life, this is clearly an appeal to higher ideals. What is presented, immediately, is a set of striking images, set on a back drop of stirring music. This is meant to intrigue the viewer, and it certainly does. However, more than that, what is most intriguing – what is the major element counted upon to engage the viewer – is the strange way in which the narrarator opens. He begins to describe a subject which the viewer is made aware of, but not immediately informed of, and it creates a strong effect. People simply do not speak like that any more. In addition to the refreshing idealism the viewer is promised to hear, the vague, poetic prose and tone of the speaker allows the viewer to, in effect, spend a few moments inside the mind of a Navy sailor while the sailor himself identifies why it is that he chose to serve. It suggests to the viewer: “should you join the Navy, what you will experience will enable you too to ponder such profound ideas, and with such an acute level of clarity.”

This is all completely legitimate morally (a man should be concerned with the philosophical validity of what he does with his time), and in fact quite powerful and well-done aesthetically. Where the commercial falls short, however, is in what it ends up offering as validation for joining the Navy.

The interesting, unique approach taken by the narrarator deals with the branch of philosophy known as epistemology. It appears to be an attempt to validate the epistemological reasons for an action before it validates the action’s ethical reasons, and since epistemology is more fundamental than ethics on the philosophical hierarchy, this is correct. The error made, however, is that the author’s preconceived ethical notions are not completely discarded before the attempt is made. Instead of trying to establish a valid concept of “action” (of which military service is a type) through a process of rational thought, and then seeing which (if any) ethical ideas are derived from it, the author seeks to validate his ethical ideas (which actions he thinks you should do) by making them appear as if they were derived from a valid concept of action per se (why you should do anything). This is why, from the very beginning, what is being discussed is not “the reason to serve”, but rather “the call to serve.” That is not analysis, it is rhetoric.

The difference between “the reason to serve” and “the call to serve” may seem like an inconsequential semantical issue, but it is not. It is the reason why the commercial ultimately falls short of it’s ostensible goal of being a commercial in line with the Navy’s recruiting traditions (ie: that service in the Navy is an extended expression of an individual’s already existent personal pride – as opposed to Navy service being the cause of his personal pride). Unfortunately, even though it fails in this regard, it’s danger is in that it does a very good (ie: sinister) job of appearing to do so.

The approach to a discussion of military service this commercial utilized had the potential to describe a truly heroic process: the act of forming a valid abstraction from seemingly disparate aspects of one’s daily life (ie: “these things [that which comprises my daily life as a civilian] are not guaranteed, they can be endangered”), identifying the method of maintaining that abstraction (ie: “without military service those aspects would be in danger if not destroyed”), and then, if necessary and feasible, acting to protect those aspects (ie: actually serving in the military). What the commercial actually does, however, is to distort that process by claiming that it’s cause is not the willful, volitional mind of the individual performing it, but as an external force “calling” the individual to passively accept it’s conclusion (ie: “join the Navy”). What is that external force? That is the common theme of the entire commercial, and it is identified immediately: other people. Other people are presented as the cause and the justification for service in the Navy. Despite the unusually explicit reference to self-interested motives near the end of the narraration (ie: “for themselves”, said with emphasis) – which could quite fairly be supposed from afar to be simply an allusion to all of the Navy’s other commercials which more narrowly focus upon the financial, educational, travel, and career benefits of service – it is irrefutable that the commercial’s central theme is that self-sacrifice is the highest form of nobility.

The first evidence for this appears at the very beginning of the narrative, where the “sound” of the “call to serve” is found is “in the whispered retelling of honorable sacrifices made by those who have served before me.” What this means is that the only way to know if service in the Navy is honorable – if it’s a call you should answer – is if you will be allowed to sacrifice. And, if history is any indicator, you will have plenty of opportunity to; thus you should join if you wish to be noble. Next is the “form” of the “call.” This is allegedly found “in the eyes of men and women infinitely more courageous and more driven than most.” Aside from this simply being not true (there are plenty of civilian activities which require just as much if not more courage and perseverance than military service requires), what this “justification” plays into and exploits is the individual’s desire for recognition. Not as a secondary consequence, but as the primary driving force behind joining. It was touched upon in the description of the call’s “sound”, when it was hinted that if he did a good job sacrificing, future generations would talk about him, but now, in the discussion of “form”, it is explicitly pandered to. Finally, the call’s “weight” is discussed. Since, by now, self-sacrifice as the purpose, and other people as the justification, for service has been clearly established, not much effort is put into describing this aspect. There is a rather sloppy bridge between “I have held it in my hands” (what it is) and “I will commit to carry it close to my heart…” (what should be done with it), but that is about it. At this point, the pretext of describing the noble process of the induction of an abstraction, the deductive use of it to identify what must be done, and then carrying out those actions, is dropped. Left with nothing directly percievable which could be misconstrued to justify the ethic of self-sacrifice, and probably not needing any since at this point the viewer is either disgusted or elated by what he’s already heard, the author simply resorts to making bald assertions about the appropriateness of his ethical code.

Besides a rather obligatory nod to the traditional notion that the purpose of the Navy’s existence is the protection of America, he asserts that equally important is using the Navy’s resources to “soothe the anguish of those less-fortunate.” How it is possible to both protect one’s country and simultaneously serve those less-fortunate (eg: citizens who are the victim of a natural disaster) is never explained. Conveniently, to those who hold self-sacrifice as the moral ideal – as something only the most courageous, driven, and legendary can live up to – this is not bothersome. The idea that neither goal can be reached if both are sought is not a question they consider. To them, what is important is not the achievement of any goal, but only it’s intention. To a person with this mindset, so long as the intention was self-sacrificial the results are unimportant. If America is still not safe after years of fighting half-hearted wars, and if many more “less-fortunates” have suffered than would have had they been told in no uncertain terms that they are responsible for protecting themselves from natural disasters and that they had better get to it, these results are acceptable.

The commercial ends with it’s most blatant bald assertion; which also happens to be obscene and chilling: the unveiling of the Navy’s new slogan “A Global Force for Good.” It is honest in it’s intention, no doubt, but it is a complete perversion of the Navy’s true purpose. If one is feeling generous, it could be interpreted as simply a superficial observation of the fact that the Navy, when acting properly, is, incidentally, a global force for good, but given everything preceding it in the commercial, one cannot be generous. This slogan is clearly, unambiguously the capstone of a new, changed military culture which – like contemporary American culture at large – regards self-sacrifice and recognition by others as at least equally, if not more, deserving of fighting and risking death for than self-interest and independently-held personal pride are.


Written by commercialanalysis

December 23, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Military

2 Responses

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  1. I have served in the United States Navy for almost 10 years. The men and women I have served with are some of the most respected and admirable people I have ever had the privilege of coming across. I know you seek to find a deceiving undertone to this commercial. The “I gotcha hahaha” commercial salesman approach. From my personal journey I know that there is a “Call to serve”. I means to make things right in the world someway somehow. This commercial retouched me with why I serve. I know there are lost young men and women out there that need that same gaol in life to fine meaning in their life. I admire the way you analyzed the approach and delivery of this commercial. Just remember…. There are people out there 9 times out of ten that join the Navy that want to if not need to have the feeling of doing something good and right in this world. To have Honor, Courage, Integrity, and Committment. So many sailor’s have confided in me saying “I am prepared to do what is right, fair, and good to protect the innocent no matter what the sacrifice, even if it means my life.” I challenge you and everyone who reads this to seek out something that important to you. God bless the USA and Freedom for all men and women of this World.

    Firecontrolman First Class Stone

    February 4, 2010 at 6:06 am

    • I don’t doubt your sincerity, I disagree with the legitimacy of your sentiment. You can sincerely believe that you are morally obligated, and that it is good and noble, to give up your life and pieces of other people’s livlihoods for the sake of “making things right in the world”, and someone else can sincerely believe that the military exists for him to “find meaning in his life”, but that doesn’t change the fact that those ideas would be wrong. That isn’t the military’s purpose. The military exists because of a contract between it’s personnel and the citizens of the United States. You protect your rights (and incidentally ours) from foreigners, we pay you. All of the emotional bonds that come afterward are nice, but essentially that’s all there is to it.

      What I find disgusting about this commercial is the fact that that’s not enough. Lacking a proper understanding of the role of the military in a free country, the only way to promote it is to shroud it in all kinds of vague, improper, and unAmerican sentiment.


      February 4, 2010 at 6:18 am

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