Archive for August 2010
Baseball, more than any other sport, integrates mind and body – and taxes each significantly. This is the primary reason why baseball has declined in popularity – to only be one sport amongst many – and lost the position that it enjoyed in the past as America’s premier sport. This decline coincides with the increasing disintegration of the American character, and thus the polarization of American culture.
The “jocks” in this commercial, fifty or seventy-five years ago, would have been considered normal young men. Today, “jocks” are practically expected to be uninterested in using their minds (beyond what is absolutely necessary) – just as today’s “nerds” are not expected to be interested in using their bodies. In that earlier epoch, “nerds” and “jocks” didn’t exist in the numbers they exist in today. Instead, “people” existed.
The phenomenon of mind-body disintegration presents itself in politics as well. Today, there are basically two political personalities one can assume: either the short-ranged, unprincipled, pragmatic brute – who believes that “doing something” is always the solution – or the pretentious, “principled” idealist – who’s ideas need not reflect reality and be beneficial in every day life since he is insulated from the consequences in places like academia and the intelligensia.
It is not a coincidence that in America’s heyday – in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – at a time when America was populated by men who were closer to the Ancient Greek ideal of men – that a sport like baseball was their chosen past time. They were more put off and less attracted to sports such as football and soccer, which more closely resembled the collectivism and pressure-group warfare of today’s cultural landscape. It seemed alien to them because, while things like cooperation and physical strength were important to them, intellectual competence, individual achievement, and specialized skills combined with those things were seen as the defining characteristics of the American man. Baseball, more than any other sport, is the reflection of that.
What is beautiful about this commercial is the conflation and integration of recreation and work. It is an artistic recognition of the fact that the same spiritual traits which make enjoying a summer day at the beach or in the back yard possible are those which make automobiles possible. While one may involve almost exclusively an emotional component, and not require much conscious attention – and the other almost exclusively the opposite – unless both are present within an individual (or the individuals who comprise a car company), neither is possible. It would be easy to claim, as an altruist would, that owning a car is what makes a day at the beach possible – and that what Mercedes Benz is doing here is trying to say that that’s why it does what it does – but the correct answer is that work has a spiritual component in just the same way as recreation has an intellectual one.
Here, the people of Mercedes Benz are not telling you what they can do for you, they are telling you what they are, and what they believe you are, and expecting you to respect them – just as you respect yourself. They know that with genunine respect, from genuinely respectable people, come sales of their products.
UPDATE: Here is another, even more eloquent, example of the point Mercedes Benz artfully, skillfully, elegantly, and compellingly makes in the other commercial:
Sean Blankenship sincerely believes that he’s “making the electric car more accessible.” He is truly unable to integrate all of the facts surrounding why he’s in the position he’s in. He is aware of them, but he can not make sense of them. More importantly, he doesn’t want to be able to make sense of them – and altruism provides him the opportunity to avoid having to do so.
In the commercial, the “negative externalities” (as they’re called in the jargon of post-modern economics) of pollution and congestion are blamed upon selfishness. If people cared less about their own narrow concerns and more about the bigger picture, the story goes, these things would not exist. Here are two historical examples of people caring more about the bigger picture than about themselves: the welfare state and labor activism. The result of the former was the institutionalized pardoning and encouragement of indecent behavior, irresponsible home ownership, and crime. The result of the later was wide-spread belief that low-level, unskilled or partially-skilled labor was more valuable than it actually is. The popular reaction to both was the creation of suburban sprawl – and the resultant pollution and congestion. The first contributed by giving relatively decent people nowhere to go except out to the hinterlands t create the suburbs, and the second encouraged these people to realize the delusion that they deserved the same kind of relaxing, country club lifestyle that their “fat cat” bosses enjoyed. The major facilitator of both of these phenomenons? Government. The excuse the politicians gave to be given these powers? Fighting against the “excesses” of selfishness for the sake of something “bigger”, “nobler”, whatever. Irony. Tragic, tragic irony.
If the principles of a free society had been adhered to from the beginning, suburban sprawl, pollution, and traffic congestion would never have happened. The worst in the society would have either died of starvation or existed on the periphery of civilization – in small towns and on farms. They certainly wouldn’t have been subsidized to destroy historic, solidly-built, well organized neighborhoods right in the center of American cities. Similarly, if freedom had been respected, the cries by industrial labor unions to be given the political power to force more from industry management would have been ignored. The value of labor would have been seen for what it actually is: a marginally valuable activity deserving of a comfortable, yet modest, urban existence. The phenomenon of poorly-built, pretentiously-decorated homes on cheap land far from cultural values, and accessible only by equally poorly-built, pretentiously-decorated automobiles, would have never come into existence. There wouldn’t have been a demand for any of it.
Unfortunately, this is not what happened. The culture destroying, pollution causing, and traffic generating phenomenon of suburbanization continued unabated. Whenever the anxiety of betrayal and appeasement became too much, and they felt they should feel happy about it, they praised it in superficially capitalist terms such as “progress”, “privacy”, and “comfort” – and whenever they felt bad about it, they criticized it as “indulgent”, “wasteful”, and “selfish.” This commercial is doing both: pretending like what they are show casing is capitalism (not corporatism), as well as claiming that the moral basis of capitalism can be altruism (not egoism).
The fact that electric cars, hybrid cars, ethanol, and all the rest of the “green” solutions to transportation are some of the most heavily subsidized and government-encouraged activities in the country is not one that is difficult to discover. The people who work on these projects are no different than their labor union predecessors. People like Sean Blankenship are being paid far more than they’re worth, to provide a technological “solution” to a problem that is actually moral/political. Whenever his self-delusion that he’s an entrepreneur, equal to people who create things without government help or encouragement, wears thin – just like the union thieves who resorted to accusations of “selfishness” whenever their pretensions about “justice” became too obviously bogus – Sean Blankenship will do and say whatever he can to fall back on the excuse that he’s not a political parasite, but a high-minded, altruistic, non-money-grubbing idealist; so that makes it okay.
The phrase “Madden to the people” is obviously an allusion to the phrase “Power to the people.” That phrase – while it does express an idea that is valid if properly understood – is unfortunately almost exclusively used by those who regard political and socio-economic inequality as identical. When such people say “Power to the people”, they don’t simply mean that each person – regardless of social or economic influence – should have equal power to affect the actions of government. Instead what they mean by it is that the rich and the powerful must have their “excess” wealth and power taken from them and given to those who lack it (ie: “the people”). For such people to do so voluntarily, because of some moral motivation, would be even better.
The football players in this commercial are presented as literal activists for the moral concept of egalitarianism. They are seen whole-heartedly endorsing the notion that what separates them from ordinary people – what gives them exceptional wealth and influence – is not their exceptional talent (and dare anyone say exceptional character necessary to acquire such talent?), but some unidentified factor which could be defeated if only they choose to do so. And that is exactly what they choose to do here. By giving away copies of the video game, as well as agreeing to play the video game instead of being insulted by it (as if actually becoming a football player and playing a football video game are the same thing), the statement they are making is that there’s nothing special about them.
Of course, in one sense (in the sense EA Sports is counting on hiding behind if challenged), this is true. Football players are “of the people.” Unlike kings and aristocrats whose behavior spawned the original, valid sense of the phrase “power to the people”, the lifestyles professional athletes enjoy were earned, and it is a testament to the power of certain political ideas (individual liberty) that such lifestyles can be enjoyed even by people with very specified, and otherwise worthless, skill sets. That if they have what it takes, and work hard, that anyone can become great. It is also true that in a society governed by such political ideas, many accomplished people would feel compelled – not by an onerous duty-based morality, but by a genuine benevolence – to engage with and thereby inspire every day people. But is encouraging “the people” to give up pursuing their own goals (athletic or otherwise), and to instead spend time evading reality and pretending to have accomplished the goals of football players, actually accomplishing this?
Of course it is not, because it cannot, and the irony of this commercial is that while the football players are intended to be portrayed as men of the people, they actually come off as generous, if bothered aristocrats; graciously holding their noses to mix with their subjects and bestow upon them the “gifts” which were actually the property of the people in the first place (this is a commercial after all; EA Sports is trying to get people to give them money for copies of Madden, not create a clamor to give them away). That image completes the circle and the commercial arrives back at the disgusting egalitarian premise that exceptional talent, character, wealth, and social influence is not created in symbiosis with the people, but taken from them (and must be repaid by denigrating it). EA and the football players are saying, basically: “we would like to give our property and our talents away – we regard it as moral – but unfortunately the laws of economics on the one hand and the law of identity on the other, make it impossible. So while we were able to defeat reality momentarily, regretfully we the video game makers are going to have to ask you for money in order to play our game, and we the football players are going to have to return to our lives of unfair talent, privilege, and wealth. Sorry about that.”