Archive for August 2011
Increasing numbers of young people, and in increasingly sophisticated and enveloping ways, and as a result of the education (read: indoctrination) they receive, the example set by their elders, and the structure of the adult society they will soon enter, are choosing the manipulation of others as their means of survival (as opposed to the manipulation of physical matter). Such a “career choice”, however, does not provide for authentic self-esteem and genuine happiness. No matter how much prestige or “fun” or material wealth they may have already achieved, they remain unhappy. No matter how much more they plan to acquire in their adult lives, they remain aware that they will never be happy.
This commercial is expected to have wide appeal precisely because it allows this sort of young person a respite from that secret unhappiness. It allows him to “get out in front of it” by comparing his actual self and his actual deeds to the person and deeds portrayed in the ad. Because the culture has not degraded quite so much that obvious, crude manipulation of this sort can work (and thus is not attempted), the receptive viewer of this ad is able to conclude: “that is what a manipulator looks like, and that is what a manipulator does.” This, of course, allows him a moment’s relief from his own uneasiness through the unspoken conclusion “I don’t do that, I must not be a manipulator.”
Such a young person may gain sway over his peers, access to opportunities and/or physical wealth precisely because he is skilled at making something as trivial as the direction of one’s shoe laces into a referendum on a person’s soul (and many today do just that) – and he may dream of one day being able to take that knack for exploiting the pretentions and insecurities of his authentically knowledgable and productive betters into the “big time” of politics or the arts or the media – but it’s ironic that the only type of person this ad – which was made by grown-up versions of that type of person – will work on is precisely the type of person who is supposed to see cynically through it.
This is denial by means of hyperbole. America is no longer governed by laws, but by men. Most of the “law” is ever-changing to meet the desires of whatever group is dominant at the moment, and even the unchanging parts of the “law” are only enforced not because they’re the law, but only because to not do so would cause so much chaos that those in power would lose their grip on that power. As such, Americans already do live in a “state of chaos.”
What are they doing about it? Virtually nothing. Most are striking the upper most twigs, some are attacking some of the more substantial branches, and virtually no one is striking the root. Most are content to pretend as if it’s not happening, and to go on living as if the disruptions and burdens placed upon them do not exist so long as some degree of what was possible before those disruptions and burdens are there to distract them.
The appeal of this commercial is that it allows people like this, living in a culture like this, to escape the unshakable knowledge that things are how they actually are, and that their reaction to it is what it actually is. This repressed, inarticulate awareness manifests itself as dull, diffused – but chronic – emotions of fear and shame. State Farm knows this, and is seeking to capitalize upon it.
The message this commercial sends people – particularly compartmentally-rational, economically fastidious men – is the message that their indifferent reaction to the culture is appropriate because it just isn’t “that bad.” “That (the visuals in the commercial) is what it would look like if it were actually bad; and that how I would react if I were actually a desensitized, jaded, cynical, cowardly person. None of those things are what I’m seeing in real life, so these feelings I’m having are unfounded.”
Of course, this commercial won’t actually shake those feelings (only the correction of the real world’s problems will do that – and only a passionate interest in understanding and solving them will to that), but it does provide a moment’s relief from the knowledge that this is tantamount to what is happening to the country; that every day otherwise-decent people are letting it happen. The destruction, obviously, may not be as abrupt and acute as what happens in this commercial – in actuality it is imperceptibly gradual and spread far and wide – but it is happening, and on the whole it is as destructive. The same could be said for the apathy, cowardice, intellectual dishonesty, and willingness to be bribed: it may not be shown in a few large, dramatic events – and it may not be concentrated in a relative few conspicuously disgusting individuals – but it is there in virtually everyone, slowly working it’s way down into the core of everyone’s being, and it’s effects will be the same as if such events did happen and such individuals did exist in the world.
Why are large, respected, relatively-financially-stable companies like State Farm – who sell products which will always be in demand to one degree or another – willing to resort to such tactics in order to get a short-term edge on their competition and make a quick profit? Don’t they realize that further inculcating complacency will only ensure an even more chaotic cultural and political landscape, and thus an even more anti-business environment in the future? Perhaps they, too, need to believe what they imply to their customers.
This commercial isn’t a commercial from some kind of trade group; an association of tequila sellers encouraging tequila consumption in general. It’s a commercial from and for 1800 Tequila.
Why should the consumer pick 1800 Tequila over any other brand of tequila? This commercial doesn’t explain why to any degree (ie: it isn’t “selling” 1800 Tequila – or even tequila in general). What, then, is it “selling”?
The reason why the consumer is supposed to pick tequila over other drinks, and specifically 1800 Tequila over it’s competitors, after watching this commercial is because he is expected to identify emotionally with it’s creators. In other words, he is supposed to subconsciously conclude: “These people are similar to me”, and then make the assumption that because that is true it must also be true that their approach to tequila production is the same as his would be if he were in that line of work. In other words, he is expected to assume that the people who make 1800 Tequila share the same philosophical values as he does.
This isn’t improper in advertising per se. Especially in today’s anti-business culture, there is nothing inherently wrong with reminding the consumer that there are people behind the products and services which he consumes. There is a certain emotional benefit to be gained from the knowledge that one shares the earth with, and trades with, people who hold the same philosophical values he does (specifically, honesty and integrity). It helps to strengthen his own values, and in an indirect way that’s in the company’s interest. However, this should never be the exclusive means of selling one’s product. The reason why is because it isn’t a necessary part of advertising. It is only a secondary, optional benefit and should only be employed if resources allow it (ie: if the primary purpose has been accomplished and there are resources left over). Furthermore, it isn’t necessarily true that the sellers of a product hold the same values as it’s buyers – and, on top of that, even if it isn’t true there are many contexts in which the transaction should take place nevertheless.
1800 Tequila, in this commercial, isn’t selling 1800 Tequila. They’re selling a momentary experience of feeling understood and not quite so alone – and, with the height of irony, they’re doing it in a commercial where they’re specifically criticizing commercials for being unclear about what they’re selling.
First, even if it were true that “sex makes the world go round”, why treat a profound truth with casual, mocking contempt? Surely most Ancient Egyptians, Imperial Japanese, and medieval Europeans thought their lives and struggles to be prosaic and unimportant just as most modern Americans do about their own lives. Does that mean that we, ordinary modern Americans, regard the lives of these historic people that way? No. Obviously not. This commercial specifically exploits the popular, albeit fuzzy, impression that everyone in those eras was dealing with broadly-reaching and dramatic political and cultural events (ie: the common woman of today is being told to compare herself to the common woman of the past – who, as we “all know”, was patently uncommon). This is not necessarily a bad thing. Assuming the “sex-as-motor premise” were true, the fact that American women are being reminded that their own lives truly are just as important (and, in fact, more important – since their lives are morally rigtheous) than the romanticized impressions they have of the past, this commercial would be an exceptional positive. By asking modern women to take themselves – all of themselves – seriously in their own life time, it would be affimation and celebration of the fact that the American spirit is alive and well within young, middle-class, American women; a demographic notoriously lacking in it. It would be telling them, in effect: “you – through your sexuality – are the cause of the greatness that is our modern, scientific, industrialized, politically-stable and morally-just culture. You – the rewarding pleasure you have the capacity to impart – is the (uniquely rational and legitimate) incentive which motivates men to achieve the great things which they do. Honor that, by honoring yourself – by taking care of your body.” It would be giving moral justification to femininity, sexuality, and – by extension – masculinity, modernity, and Western culture’s Aristotelian (eudamonistic) philosophy.
Unfortunately for Summer’s Eve, however, the “sex-makes-the-world-go-round” theory is patently false – and so that interpretation of this commercial is too generous. In truth, all this commercial is actually doing is trying to appeal to what is the actual spirit of today’s women. In other words: this commercial is not asking modern women to take all of themselves seriously. It’s only asking them to take seriously the only aspect which has been taken seriously throughout most of human history. Which brings up the second problem with this commercial.
The reason why this commercial is expected to appeal to contemporary, ordinary American women is because it compliments a method of existence which more and more of them are employing more and more of the time. In past epochs – before America, individual rights, capitalism, and everything else exceptional about the post-Renaissance world – it really was possible for a woman to have increased chances for survival by being born with exceptional beauty. This isn’t to say that this isn’t still true – or even that it’s improper in a tie-breaker between two otherwise identical women – but merely to say that in past eras beauty alone could suffice. In other words: moral character be damned, looks are what count.
Why was that possible? Because of the men of the time. Before America, before individual rights, before capitalism, and before everything else exceptional about the post-Renaissance world, the men who rose to the top were either the most physically dominant or the most morally corrupt, or both. If you were stronger than the man down the road there was nothing in law or in ethics which said that you were wrong to take what he owned and make him your slave. Or, if you were more ruthless than him, again, there was nothing preventing you from declaring yourself his political superior, concocting some vague intellectual (usually religious) “justification” for it, and doing the same thing. In other words: Happiness (ie: Aristotelianism, eudamonism) be damned, raw survival (by any means necessary) is what counts (ie: that’s all that that can be expected of life, and that’s all that was had). Men like this, for centuries and in every corner of the world, ruled the types of men who currently (or at least until very recently) – and justifiably – “dominated” the culture from the American Revolution onward. They set the politics (individual rights), maintained the economics (capitalism), invented the wealth and made life better for everyone. In doing so, these men were able to “dominate” (ie: attract) contemporary women romantically and sexually – precisely because these women understood to whom they owed their existence. In the past, however, it was the morally-corrupt historical archetypes who were in charge. They were the ones who controlled the lives not just of morally-righteous, victimized men, but of women as well. Just as these brutes and degenerates sought to become their betters (the producers of wealth) by seizing the results of their betters, they sought ways to believe themselves to have similar spirits to those of their victims. They did so by acquiring the symbols of such a spirit. One such symbol was the companionship of a beautiful woman – so that’s who they sought.
Despite themselves, they knew that a beautiful woman, kept in a life of luxury, was only possible if enough wealth existed within the culture to support her. In the past, because of the prevailing social dynamics, there wasn’t much wealth – and thus such women weren’t common. If, in the past, a brute or a cheat seized enough wealth from his impoverished victims to be able to have such a woman, he was able to believe that he too was a creator of wealth, a contributor to society, and a man of noble soul. And just as terrified men allowed such men to believe they were productive achievers by choosing not to resist, so long as the brute’s woman, terrified like an animal in fear of her death at his hands, played along, he was able to look at her association with him and believe himself to be something other than what, the rest of the time, he knew that he was.
In a sense, a woman in this situation isn’t to blame – but only if she doesn’t know any better. The women of today should know better. There are mountain ranges of recent historical evidence to suggest that life doesn’t have to be the way it was for so long. They’re surrounded by the residual results of life “under” a different sort of man. It wasn’t until the Enlightenment (ie: it wasn’t until the traditional victims threw off their traditional oppressors) that the existence of such women began to grow; culminating in the archetype of the twentieth century American house wife (who lived a life far superior in terms of material comfort than even her uncommon historical counterparts ever could dream). Yet, most contemporary women couldn’t come close to realizing this fact – let alone caring enough to resist it’s reversal by any and all means available. That is why this commercial is expected to be appealing: despite it being patently primitive, it fits perfectly with the contemporary woman’s pre-Enlightenment, “progressive” world view.
For the most part, a woman can’t help it if she is born beautiful. Just as an ugly woman is to be applauded when she develops a beautiful soul nevertheless, a physically beautiful woman should be encouraged, inspired, and even expected to do the same (and chided if she fails – or worse: choses to intentionally make herself physically or spiritually ugly; as so many are doing today). This dynamic, however, assumes a specific type of broader cultural atmosphere; which itself presupposes a specific set of prevailing (implicit or explicit) philosophic beliefs. Today’s culture – today’s dominant philosophic assumptions – produces a view of life (ie: in politics, in economics, in personal relationships) – in which life is a zero-sum game. This necessarily produces women who believe and feel, down to their cores, not that physical beauty is merely a fortunate accident of nature – irrelevant to the problem of survival per se, but nevertheless an immense and luxurious value to be relished and cherished (in private, and only with a man who has earned it) once that problem has been overcome. Instead, increasingly, modern women necessarily regard physical beauty as nothing more than an uninspiring tool to be cynically used; in the same way that a predator disguises itself as a flower to deceive its prey. Life, to to the spiritually-battered women of today, is nothing more than an animal’s version of passive, hand-to-mouth existence. Emotionally, that nothing more should be expected of life than the private emptiness of believing that what she has isn’t what she deserves – only what she was born with. These are the cynical, wretched emotions being appealed to in this commercial.
Contrary to popular belief – which superfically, yet smugly and self-righteously, insists that personal belief systems have no relation to every day affairs and thus any and all of them must be tolerated and respected no matter what – improper philosophical ideas can and will rob a people of not just their freedom and wealth (as every day’s headlines show to be happening). Additionally, and more importantly, they can quite literally twist the core of your soul beyond recognition.
Art is “a selective recreation of the artist’s metaphysical value judgments.” Which facts of reality the artist finds worth communicating, and which the approving viewer deems worth being communicated, are those which will be featured. What this means is that art exposes what it’s creator (or it’s consumer, if he approves of it) deems as important, as essential, as immutable about the nature of reality. Obviously no one, anywhere, consciously believes that reality is so bizarre that there are soap bubbles with kittens inside them or rainbows made of fire, but what many people do believe is that there are certain aspects of reality which in fact actually are incomprehensible. As much as they’re sometimes loathe to admit it, what this conviction causes to those who hold it to believe is that it stands to reason, then, that such insane contradictions could come into existence.
The most prominent aspect of life in which this view manifests itself is the human condition (namely, the philosophical branches of epistemology and morality). When faced with a scientific problem of the physical world which they do not understand, virtually all Western people would not consciously throw up their hands and declare “who am I to know”, or “such is reality”, or “some things we’ll just never understand.” But if it’s an internal personal problem, or a social issue, they’re dealing with, many times that is exactly what they do: they give up, and act purely according to their own personal emotions, the current social conventions, traditions, et cetera. Of course, they find no clarity as a result, but this doesn’t stop them from holding onto the belief which precluded even the possibility of clarity from ever being achieved in the first place. If they are of the belief that there is nothing about (at least some parts of) life which can give anyone certainty (eg: the human condition), then – necessarily – it creates in them the feeling that there is nothing about reality which precludes blatant, obvious contradictions such as the ones features in these commercials from at least possibly happening.
The appeal of these commercials is that they acknowledge that feeling. They provide insulation from whatever gnawing regret or guilt or anxiety the viewer might have regarding his conviction and/or feeling about the “inherent irrationality of life” through a means of displacement. These ads allow him to reach the comforting conclusion that because he is not so crazy as to believe that obviously irrational things such as gymnasts living in pinatas or chest hair spelling out words may occur at any moment, the diffused anxiety his ignorance or misunderstanding of the human condition actually does give him isn’t a problem (ie: it isn’t a fact of reality which he must exert effort to solve). The appeal of this art is that it tells the consumer “nothing’s the matter, you’re right to feel how you feel. Look, it isn’t this bad. Be happy about it.” What the companies who use this art to sell their products are counting upon is that the relief which that message provides will endear their company to the consumer in a much more fundamental and personal way than any virtue their products (which are generally indistinguishable from their competitor’s products) ever could by themselves. At the very least, Dairy Queen is hoping that whenever the consumer feels these feelings he will more often think of Dairy Queen’s art as the symbolic representation of them, get side-tracked into remembering the details of their advertisements, develop a desire for the products featured in them, travel to one of their stores, and make a purchase.