Bait and Switch
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.