Archive for February 2011
This commercial, amongst other things, is lampooning the stereotype of the “gold digger.” A “gold digger” is a young woman – usually blonde, usually large-breasted, and always attractive – who marries a wealthy man whom she doesn’t really love in order to benefit financially. The specific type of “gold digger” featured here is the one who marries a very old, very wealthy man who has a very good chance of dying in a short time – thus making her his financial heir.
Nothing is wrong with lampooning this social phenomenon – it is despicable behavior that deserves to be derided – but observe something interesting: the “actress” (using that word quite loosely) who plays the “gold digger” in this commercial is, by her mere participation in this commercial, communicating to everyone else that she too resents such women. Her message is that while she may, in fact, be exceptionally good looking, unlike the majority of women with her appearance, she is unwilling to use her good looks to acquire what she doesn’t deserve. She would rather work (ie: act) for a living – thus leaving her beauty as a value to be enjoyed privately (ie: not something to be made into an asset and exploited).
Is she unwilling? Contrary to the impression this particular woman wishes to give, the fact remains that she is in this commercial because she is pretty. Now, it is true that the commercial would not work if someone who was playing the part of a beautiful blonde wasn’t actually a beautiful blonde, but then the question becomes: should this commercial actually work? Should she regard this as a legitimate thing for her to help come into existence?
Consider what is being sold: satellite television. The purpose of advertising is, fundamentally, the communication of information – from producers to consumers – so that consumer’s rational needs and wants may be more efficiently satisfied (or discovered, and then satisfied). Specifically, the purpose of satellite television – the purpose of any type of television – is to inform and entertain. In short: to enrich the lives of those to who consume it. Is this commercial respectful of that fact? No, instead what it is doing is exploiting the fact that there are, in fact, a huge number of people who value television completely out of proportion to the value it provides them (ie: it is, for them, an irrational desire). What this commercial is essentially doing is telling those people that it is okay that they hold this irrational value (usually in the form of a subconscious habit, but that is irrelevant). The advertisment’s overarching message is “you don’t have a TV problem. If you had a TV problem, you would be doing clearly insane things like celebrating at the reading of the will of a loved one, or feeling happy about being bequeathed something of little value while you were ignored in regards to the high-value things. You’re not doing that, thus, you don’t have a TV problem.”
To put it another way, DirecTV, with this ad, is attempting to use the exact same sort of psychological manipulation that a “gold digger” type woman uses to get something she doesn’t deserve from her rich, elderly husband. What this company is doing, instead of selling products that are rationally needed or desired – and only products that are rationally needed or desired – is “marrying” (ie: entertaining) it’s own “old man” (ie: it’s irrational customers) in hopes that those customers will “bequeath to them” (ie: become contractually obligated to pay) more money than what they’re giving up is actually worth.
The blond “actress'” participation in this commercial is, ironically, exactly the same sort of behavior she is implying that she despises. The only difference in her case being that instead of the “sugar” coming from “daddy”, it’s coming from a large corporation (and ultimately it’s psychologically-ill clientele). If she really believed what she obviously wants to believe she believes, she would have never participated in such a commercial – no matter how much she might suffer (financially) as a result of the fact that there are not very many places where their looks will be irrelevant and beautiful woman will ever be treated with the equanimity that they deserve. There may not be many, but there are some – and that is where a woman who was truly what this woman fancies herself to be would actually be.
There is a growing uneasiness amongst the population about the two phenomenons these two commercials allude to: the increasing mindless conformity of so many people, as well as the ever greater demands upon a person’s time and energy simply to maintain his current standard of living. These phenomenons are very real, and that uneasiness is legitimate. Despite decades of American (counter) culture where everyone was allegedly “doing his own thing” and “expressing himself”, because such behavior was mindless and ultimately self-defeating, such people were left with nothing to guide them except the crude, non-conceptual influences surrounding them. Hence, their conformity – and on a depressingly superficial level at that. Similarly, despite decades of attempts by the better parts of American culture to use it’s “can do” attitude to “innovate” around whatever immediate economic hardships it faced, those same hardships continue to plague the American people. This is because such hardships are the result of political and, more fundamentally, philosophical trends – and not merely problems of matter; to be solved with science and technology.
These two commercials take that legitimate uneasiness – that delicate, vague awareness that lingers on the edge of the public’s subconscious – and exploits it. What they do is give recognition to it. They please the viewer because by watching these commercials he is relieved of the worry that he is the only one feeling these feeling or thinking these thoughts (however fuzzy and incoherent they may be). It allows him to personally identify with the company who produced the commercial, and thus have an affinity for it regardless of the compatibility of that company’s products or services with the legitimate needs and wants of his life (the communication of such congruences being the actual purpose of advertising).
In the commercial by Motorola what is being directly addressed is that fact that should one find oneself in a “dead” culture and surrounded by defeated, pushed-around souls, the only thing that is going to change that culture (and thus ultimately save one’s life) is ideas. Because the products sold by Motorola help transmit ideas more broadly and efficiently, Motorola – through a slight of hand that would only work on someone who is ironically already a “defeated soul” – is trying to claim that it’s products help create the ideas necessary to change a culture. Obviously, this is not true. Reality speaks eloquently to the fact that even as technology increases, so does conformity and mindlessness. Effectively, what Motorola is suggesting people do is to escape into more of the same in order to prevent more of the same from occurring.
In the commercial by Ace Hardware, what is being alluded to is that fact that should one find oneself in a political-economic system which drains one’s productive ability, and thus makes it necessary for him to work ever harder and longer just to maintain what he had already achieved, the rational thing to do is to confront those who control and benefit from the system (by force a la William Wallace – or George Washington – if necessary). Because many people are too cowardly to do such a thing (or even to believe the nature of the quandary they find themselves in to be fully real), Ace’s commercial helps them forgive themselves for their cowardliness by addressing it for them. It says to them, effectively: “We know, at times, you feel guilt and shame for having let yourself get pushed this far into servitude to the political class, and we admire you for your idealism. In fact, we want to help you break free of that servitude by selling you products that will give you more time to enjoy the life you’re entitled to.” Again, in an ironic slight of hand which would only work on one someone who is already comfortable with being pushed around by the government, what Ace is trying to do is convey the message that how things are currently is how it is supposed to be (so you might as well just adapt to it, and lessen the burden on you personally, by shopping at a hardware store where things are easier to find) – while appearing to sympathize with the public’s growing uneasiness that, in principle, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Now, the question becomes: why are companies willing to twist things like this? How could any short-term gains they might make through pandering to, and exploiting, people’s confused ideas about larger events outweigh the long-term interest they, as highly-capitalized corporations, have in maintaining (or at least encouraging) a rational culture (ie: a culture where the merits of their products will always ultimately take the day, despite being out-advertised by competitors)? The answer lies in the fact that in today’s political-economic climate there is no long-term. The individuals who constitute companies like Motorola and Ace are subject to the same negative consequences that come from a mindless culture and the capricious unpredictability of an oppressive, politically-dictated economic environment as their would-be customers are. They, too, are looking for any sort of short-term “solution” to their problems (ie: the need to present a statement of profitability at the next quarterly board meeting) that their customers are looking for. When the solution to conformity and oppression – which negates so much of your effort that it saps your ability to enjoy what little free time that you preserve – lies in fields of thought and action that most people are terrified to even acknowledge as real (let alone contemplate), it is only a matter of time before such people conform to become exactly the same sort of short-sighted, manipulative, and ultimately predatory manques that caused all the problems to begin with. The willingness of companies to produce commercials like these, and their resonance with the viewing public, is proof that that transformation is already happening.
In the absence of the proper ideas, no amount of snazzy technology, or retail convenience, will be able to stop it.
First of all, “it’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel” is not a proper analogy. It is true that in certain rare circumstances those who “hit rock bottom” become the most dedicated to never doing so again, and that should be applauded, but this does not make them equals with those who never did. The absence of a negative is not equal to the presence of a positive. The growth foregone on the one hand, and embraced on the other, can not be erased. Nevertheless, does Detroit posses any positives? Examine what else this commercial says. What it claims are it’s positives.
Detroit claims to have “hard work” and “conviction”, and “know-how that runs generations deep in every last one of us.” Does it? If it had hard work it wouldn’t be showing paintings of hard-working laborers, it would be showing actual hard-working laborers. Where are they? If it had “conviction” it wouldn’t be using a degenerate “artist” like Eminem to represent their “conviction.” The mere fact that he has become the face of Detroit says it all. He is a man who couldn’t put two auto parts together to save his life, and who has had so much of his success (no, make that all of his success) simply because he’s exceptionally good at whining about life in Detroit that even if he had to do a real job, his first reaction would probably be to look around for someone to pay him to hear him whining about that. Finally, if the people of Detroit had the “know-how” they claim to have, they would realize that simply being the descendants of those who had it doesn’t make them have it. They would realize that if they actually had it, their commercial for their new car (this is, by the way, a commercial for the new Chrysler 200) would be about the car, and not about them (ie: luxury is not about “where it’s from”, or “who it’s for”). It would be an appeal to the self-interest and rationality of the people they want to purchase it (ie: luxury is about about what it is).
Perhaps Detroit does posses positives in spite of what it itself thinks are it’s positive traits. “Detroit”, after all, is not a unified whole – but merely a collection of autonomous individuals (ironically, part of the cause of that city’s problems has always been it’s view of itself as “whole”; and – judging from this commercial – it still does). So perhaps Detroit actually hasn’t “been to hell and back”, or “hit rock bottom.” Perhaps it does still have what it takes (ie: enough correct-thinking individuals) to deserve the luxury of being part of a modern, industrial, capitalist nation (as opposed to the quasi-Third World cess pool it currently is), but if it ever brings those traits to bear, a few things are certainly not going to be present: The mindless refusal to adjust to changing economic conditions (eg: the labor unions, or the dishonest attempt redefine “luxury” by equating it with sentimental patriotism, instead of trying to catch up to it), the conviction that simply because they, as individuals, are living in a particular city that that has anything to do with their own particular virtue and value (eg: the welfare state, and trying to ride on the coat tails of the past), and finally what will be conspiculously absent is the influence of people like Eminem, who are held up to them as models of success, courage, and confidence – when without all of the misery he claims to hate, he would have nothing to say, and would still be living in that trailer park on 8 Mile Road.