Archive for July 2010
Mass-produced Mexican beers have a taste that is distinctive from mass-produced American beers, and from all other mass-produce beers for that matter. As do mass-produced German beers, and mass-produced British beers, and mass-produced Chinese beers. None of these are particularly better in terms of quality and craftsmanship. They stand apart from one another simply because they incorporate unique – but for their cultures, commmonplace – ingredients and techniques. Why, then, are American consumers being asked to consume a mass-produced Mexican beer? Why not simply consume it’s American equivalent?
The answer is that the value a foreign beer can provide that a domestic beer cannot is what consuming it says, to himself and to others, about the consumer. The mere act of “preferring” a foreign beer suggests, to the uncritical, that he is wise, experienced, and refined. In other words: he is exploiting the mystique that a foreign object necessarily comes with in leiu of developing substance that would actually give him those qualities. He is counting upon ignorance of the actual, unrefined nature of the foreign beer in order to give the appearance of being high-brow and discriminating when he really isn’t.
These commercials mock exactly this type of person. The type of man who is not actually virtuous, but because he is preoccupied with appearing virtuous, actually exposes his lack of it by taking it too far and appearing ridiculous. It’s a worthwhile thing to do (to mock such people), and the way these commercials do it is actually quite entertaining, but how is “the most interesting man in the world” any different in principle than the type of man who thinks that choosing a mass-produced foreign beer means he is sophisticated? It is ironic that Dos Equis is lampooning exactly the sentiment that it’s US sales rely upon. They’re doing so because they’re desperate. People have finally seen through the charade that because it’s foreign, it’s necessarily better, and so the only way they can keep people interested in their product is by making them believe that if they really were trying to make others believe there was more to them than there is, these are the types of claims they’d be making; and since they’re not that ridiculously pretentious, they’re somehow not pretentious at all.
These commercials are clever, creative, and entertaining, but they would be better suited to sell Budweiser.
Obviously, this is a caricature of the “new Russian capitalist.” After the collapse of communism in that country, and it’s embrace of “capitalism”, many figures such as this one have emerged. While they themselves believe that there has been a fundamental change in their country, and thus nothing is wrong with them, Westerners sense that things still are done in Russia in essentially the same way as they have always been done. Just as Westerners correctly dismissed the Soviet Union’s claim that it was the only truly scientifically-planned society, governed by reason, and capable of providing equality and freedom to it’s citizens, they dismiss the new Russian “capitalist’s” claim that he is a self-made man, who owns what he owns only because of the values he has produced.
Unlike these Russians, Western men – free, individual Western men – at one time actually were such self-made men. At one time they actually did make the scientific discoveries, work within the social systems, and produce the material wealth that made such “opulence” a real possibility. However, in doing so, they also acquired certain characteristic traits – and certain half-formed philosophical ideas – that made it undesirable and unpopular to behave as the nouveau-riche Russians are behaving today. It is what is left of these traits and ideas in the Western man’s character that Directv is attempting to speak to – and exploit – in this commercial.
While the Western man’s understanding of the nature of capitalism has never been complete, it was, and still slightly is, deeper than the Russian’s. Westerners still hold – simply as a cultural relic – the notion that economic activity need not necessarily be a zero-sum game. Russians have never once questioned this assumption in all of their history. Thus when Westerners see Russian “businessmen” who outperform their competitors not because of superior service or products, but because their political connections give them an unfair advantage, they sense that something is amiss. Russians, on the other hand, naively regard such a situation as what capitalism actually, fundamentally is.
Why do Russians regard a “mixed economy” – that is: an economy which is a mixture of free enterprise and central planning, of private property and public services – as capitalism? Because the allegedly capitalist nations of the West have always had, to one degree or another, and increasingly in recent decades, mixed economies also. These economies were the examples the short-sighted ex-Soviets looked to for guidance. In other words: what Westerners see in the flamboyant behavior of the new Russian “capitalists” is a reflection of their own behavior, but because it is done so flagrantly, they are able to believe that a reflection is not what they see.
Observe the willingness of this commercial to concede that while the featured Russian “businessman” is in fact a ruthless thug – no better than a Soviet commissar, and with the sort of borrowed personal tastes known in the West only through the behavior of organized criminals – he must not be all bad. After all, he’s prudent enough be unhappy about the cost of his TV subscription. Of course, that is the comedic element in the commercial. It makes absolutely no sense that someone who spends money on gold-plated television remotes and busts of himself would care about the relatively minor cost differences between cable and satellite, so why show that he does?
The answer is that by taking the bad elements of the character of a successful participant in a mixed-economy, and blowing them up to absurd proportions, it allows such a person a reprieve from the guilt that he feels for being successful. If the typical Western man is concerned with the cost differences between cable and satellite, if he does not regard them as trivial, then it follows that things such as premium television packages are to him not “opulence”, but simply the unpretentious just desserts of job well done. In other words: Because does not employ burly men to stand guard while dogs play poker, or keep a harem of beautiful women, he can tell himself that he has not sold out his Western heritage, his defining character traits, or his philosophical ideals when he poses as a capitalist, but works in a mixed economy, and does nothing to make it unmixed, all for the sake of being able to afford something as trivial as a subscription to satellite.
Westerners can laugh about it now if they want to, but unless they do what is necessary to understand fully the philosophical roots of the last vague emotions and bromides separating them from the Russians – which includes rejecting other Westerners who have already lost theirs – the literal impossibility of things such as pygmy giraffes notwithstanding, it is this caricature’s view of the world which they will come to embrace.
The facts, as they are presented: There is Coca-Cola and there is Pepsi Cola. They have distinct tastes, but taste more similar to each other than either does to it’s zero-calorie counterpart. Nevertheless, Pepsi Max tastes more like Pepsi than Coke Zero tastes like Coke. In making that claim, Pepsi is conceding that Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola are very similar, so the reason to choose Pepsi Max over Coke Zero is not because it tastes better than Coke Zero per se, but simply because it tastes more like “cola” in general. In other words – by choosing to deliver this message through the dramatization of what would happen if a strict Coca-Cola product drinker (a Coke employee) drank a Pepsi Max – Pepsi is claiming that it’s product even tastes more like Coca-Cola than Coke Zero does. The message to the consumer? Brand loyalty is irrational. A product should be judged on it’s merits.
If that were all that is involved, there would be nothing wrong with this commercial. However – and probably because, in fact, neither zero-calorie product tastes enough like their full-calorie counterparts to get the consumer to accept one or the other on a merit analysis – Pepsi has decided to reinforce that message by pandering to popular social and political beliefs.
The Coke employee, innocently and appropriately, decides to sample Pepsi Max in order to see if it tastes like a full-calorie cola. Upon finding that it does, he cannot help but drink more than necessary. Presumably this is because Coke Zero – his exclusive drink – doesn’t taste enough like full-calorie cola and the desperation that has created within him makes the opportunity to extinguish his craving too inviting to resist. His need to taste real cola taste is so strong that he will risk his job and his reputation in order to satisfy it.
Why would someone do such a thing? Is it because, the fair-minded capitalist that he is, he admires his competitor’s superior achievement and is willing, even eager, to concede defeat? Pepsi paid quick homage to that traditional notion (the hand shake), and could have continued with it, but instead the explanation they provided is it’s modern opposite. Coca-Cola does not believe in fair play. Their success with Coke Zero – as the zero-calorie, yet full-calorie flavored cola – is not because it is such a thing, but only because, being a big corporation, they have used their magical power – that only big corporations have – to condition the consuming public to accept – against it’s will – their attempt at “zero-calories-full-flavor” as all that is possible. The dour, cynical personality expressed by the Coke employee is the dramatization of the widely-held Chompskan notion that consent is “manufactured.”
Or, did the Coke employee drink more Pepsi Max than he intended to because the quality of the product was so surprisingly, overwhelmingly satisfying that for a moment it didn’t matter who he worked for, he – as a person – was going to show that he liked what he liked; the consequences be damned? Pepsi also began to say that, and again could have continued with it, but provided an alternative explanation. People who work for Coca-Cola do not care about their personal integrity. They are the kinds of people who will readily subordinate their personal virtues – and even lie to you and attack you – for the sake of financial rewards. Thus, the success of Coke Zero has not been because it is, to date at least, the best, most honest attempt to achieve “zero-calories-full-flavor”, but simply because of their suppression of Pepsi. The attempt to destroy the evidence of the rottenness of this man’s soul, captured on the Pepsi employee’s cell phone, is the dramatization of the widely-held Keynesian notion that success is a zero-sum game.
Beyond all of this, however, the larger question to ask is why major corporations, who in fact are very capitalist in almost every aspect of their operations besides their public relations, resort to such tactics? The answer lies in the nature of a mixed, semi-free, semi-controlled economy. When everything from profit-margins to employee wages to the costs of raw materials are subject to political pull – and thus ultimately the mood of the culture – a company’s directors, who are only responsible for short-term results, are going to approve whatever they can in order to make sure that their company, and not their competitor’s, are the moment’s preferred organization. In short, this is pragmatism, and once it works it’s way down deep into the psyche of people at every level of society (as, judging from the nature of today’s commercials, it has), the long-term effects on a nation’s economy – that is, for every company, regardless of who is on top at the moment – can be nothing but negative.
Why do politicians – who are literally working every day to ruin our lives – receive no serious opposition when they say one thing to one constituency and say a contradictory thing to another? Everyone – for, against, and undecided – knows that they do it, yet they don’t make the obvious point that this proves that the candidate lacks the character necessary to sit in a position of power. Why isn’t that said, when that fact alone would be far more devestating to their schemes than any direct opposition to the schemes themselves ever could be?
The reason is that because as much as people like to believe that the people are of one breed and politicans another, most every day people have more in common with politicans than they have distinguishing them. That this ad campaign is able to be produced, and that the company is confident that they will be able to get away with it, is a case in point. Honda employed this same tactic with these ads some months ago. Evidently more and more companies are coming to believe that because they’re selling a product, as opposed to garnering votes, that what they’re doing when they prostitute their souls is somehow not the same thing.
Producing a product is an act of moral integrity. In order to do it one must decide what is right. What works to achieve it, whether it is worth achieving, and if one is worthy of achieving it. Success implies firm answers to those questions, and a committment to those answers. Why spit on that integrity simply to increase one’s market share?
This is all that needs to be said about these particular ads:
So a cap which doubles as a shot glass isn’t a perfect example of “velvet ropes and posturing”? Of course it is, but the people who think so won’t remember the second commercial. They’ll only remember the first one – where 1800 Tequila is straight forward and simple. Similarly, the people who regard honesty and a lack of pretentiousness as a threat to their own pretentiousness won’t remember the first one, and only respond to the fact that the bottle cap doubling as a shot glass would be a good way to make themselves seem more interesting than they actually are. Or, worse, if either type of person ever actually realizes what’s going on, their momentary sense of feeling insulted will most likely be replaced by a secret admiration for the advertisers “getting the job done” and making the viewer like them momentarily. This is how subhuman politicans are elected and, evidently, it is how liquor is sold.
To Americans of an earlier era, the space program stood as the symbol of American life. It was the most eloquent example of the great things man could achieve if he were able to experience the freedom and encouragement to use his mind and pursue his happiness that only America's political structure and cultural atmosphere could provide. Today, because that structure and atmosphere has changed, America's "priorities have changed." The space program still serves it's symbolic function – as a barometer of the cultural and political climate it exists within – but unlike in the past when it's health was quick proof of the country's well being, today it's decay is quick proof of the country's decline.
Most Americans today are oblivious to the fact that anything has occurred. Only a portion still retain enough of an emotional connection to the cultural atmosphere of the past to be able to sense that the cultural atmosphere of the present is something entirely different. This is the portion who is bothered by the decay of the space program. This is the portion susceptible to this commercial, and this is who it is targeted at.
At first glance this commercial appears to be a celebration of the American cultural atmosphere, and that is exactly what it is intended to appear as. Using a shameful intellectual distortion, Chevrolet is deliberately inflaming the fear and consternation felt by it’s target audience in order to be able to offer the Corvette as a way to relieve it. The continued production of the car is offered as proof that there is nothing to worry about. "Your feeling that something has changed is unfounded. America is doing just fine" is the implicit message.
Make no mistake: The Corvette most certainly is an achievement, but it is by no means a space rocket. To claim that it is is absurd on it’s face. Why does Chevrolet think it can profit from making such a ridiculous claim? Because unlike a solid philosophical conviction, feelings are impotent to stand up to ideas which threaten them. The portion of the population which will find this commercial appealing (or, more accurately, reassuring) are understandably sensitive to criticism of the things that they value. But, because the things that they value are valued only emotionally, and not also consciously, that sensitivity has been able to grow out of proportion. Thus, any perceived defense of those values will be automatically embraced while any perceived attack on that defense will be automatically ignored. This is why the relatively straight-forward facts that the Corvette is incomparable to a space rocket, and that to try to say that it is means to agree to lower one’s expectations and effectively give up the fight for America’s future, will be regarded as dour and dismissed without thought.
The cause of the space program’s decay – just like America’s political and cultural decay – is philosophical. Feeling very strongly that something is wrong, and embracing or attacking in a knee-jerk fashion anything that seems to defend or threaten those feelings, is not sufficient to stop or reverse that decay. Buying a Corvette is certainly not necessary, either, but Chevrolet doesn’t seem to care about that. The largest automobile company in the nation is, in one fourty-seven second advertisement, not only demonstrating it’s fealty to those forces which are causing the political structure, cultural atmosphere, and space program to decay (after all, such forces do control the company now), but also surreptitiously encouraging literally millions of Americans to ignore reality, question the nature of logic, and make a substantial financial investment in the continued decay of their sanity.
Yes, the idea that America still build rockets does feel nice, but it’s not true. Is it really worth the personal cost of a Corvette – as well as the societal cost of sustaining a company that is complicit in the destruction of this country – for the sake of maintaining that feeling? If there is anything that an American who is truly concerned about the future of his country should worry about first, it is not the forces destroying it, but that the forces who are allegedly preserving it are not only proudly surrendering, but are trying to get him to join them.
The idea is that most people are wasting their lives expending their energy and getting nowhere. Following the crowd and looking mundane because of it. The type of car a person drives is supposed to be an indicator of the type of person he is. The Kia Soul, allegedly, is for the type of person that isn’t stuck in a rut. The type of person who thinks for himself. In other words, it’s a tool for him to continue to move forward and an expression of his soul.
That’s the message, but there’s a contradiction. Observe who it’s addressed to: the people who are stuck in a rut. The people who are mundane. This car’s slogan is that it’s “a new way to roll.” In other words, the Kia Soul won’t compliment your soul, it will change it for you. Which is it?
The irony is that it’s the very practice of buying things to fill holes in one’s soul that puts one on the “treadmill of life” – and condemns a person to driving something mundane – in the first place. Kia is trying to capitalize upon the inability of America’s youth to identify cause and effect.
Although the American Revolutionary War in particular was fought largely using the conventional tactics of the time, it was the purpose of the conflict which was unconventional and, ultimately, was the cause of the Americans’ victory. Unlike all of the wars of the past, fought between various kleptocracies for control over one another, the American Revolution was conducted for the express purpose of establishing a nation which would be nothing else but a haven for the individual’s free exercise of his rights. The tactics of previous wars reflected their purpose: if the ebb and flow of power and wealth betweeen various nations is regarded as the natural, unavoidable state of human affairs then it makes perfect sense that wars should have clearly delimited boundaries and “honorable” customs. If both sides agree that enslavement and plunder is proper, then there’s no reason to do more damage to life and limb than is necessary to see who should be ruled and who should be ruler. War was thought of more as a function of the state, rather than as a threat to it’s very existence.
It wasn’t until that assumption was questioned by the American Revolutionaries that less conventional, more ruthless tactics became the convention. They became the norm because the stakes over which nations fought wars became much higher – or were at least finally being recognized as being high all along for the every day citizen and soldier. No longer were wars simply a means of redistributing power and wealth. Now they were recognized as contests meant to decide the very existence, or at least the nature of the existence, of entire nations of people. This recognition allowed governments which were created for the benefit of their people to embrace military tactics that best ensured victory, and the nations who’s governments considered their citizens as means to the ends of their political elite carried on with their outmoded methods of warfare – much to their peril.
This commercial is a vivid demonstration of this fact. By involving aspects of their peace-time lives – their automobiles – in their fight for independence, the Americans are demonstrating their committment to their ideas. Their desire to establish a country meant solely to protect individual rights is not regarded as merely a noble dream that they don’t really mean. That was a trait of the British. Neither is their goal going to be the result of a mindless act of their bodies – throwing themselves into conventional-style battles without any thought as to how to actually win. Instead, what the American military tradition has become – with it’s volunteer armies of citizen soldiers and it’s willingness to annihilate entire enemy cities if necessary – is an implicit understanding of the fact that there can be no breech between one’s highest ideas and one’s every day life. That just as one must risk his resources and intelligence to create the values he enjoys in times of peace, so he must be willing to risk them in war. In short, that if America wishes to remain a free nation, it’s people must permit no distinction between how they think they should live and how they really do live. The desire for, and expectation of, quality in government requires the desire for, and expectation of, quality in every day life.