Deliverance, We Has It
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.