Archive for April 2012
This commercial is a work of subtle deception. It appears to be a celebration of one thing, while it is actually a celebration of the exact opposite. Most Americans, if asked directly, would still agree with the idea that riches, fame, and influence should come not from blood lines, or political power, but from talent and virtue. They still retain some inarticulate grasp of the connection between this being the nation’s governing social principle and it’s meteoric rise from a colony on a wilderness continent to the most industrialized, technologically-advanced, wealthiest, and peaceful nation in history. However, because this isn’t America’s governing social principle anymore (precisely because it has always been left unarticulated as just a feeling or a tradition or the will of a god), those same Americans, if asked, would also agree with (or at least fear to disagree with) today’s prevailing idea: that riches, fame, and influence should be shared equally amongst “everyone.”
This commercial is poking fun at talent competition shows such as American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance?, and The X Factor. It is implying that such shows are not actually tests of talent and virtue, but rather arbitrary displays of power by those who judge them (as if the “power” that a private entity has to not associate with someone is at all the same as the power a government – such as a monarchy – has to compel that same person to do something).
Accomplished entertainer Elton John plays the role of a judge slash monarch, who “unfairly” withholds rewards from the untalented and only begrudgingly gives them to the talented. The insinuation, of course, is that if you lack the virtue and talent to remain in contests such as talent searches, you should be just as entitled to the rewards of such competitions as those who do not lack. The X Factor winner Melanie Amaro addresses this “injustice” by “setting things straight.” She “virtuously” devalues her own accomplishments by making the rewards of such accomplishments available to “all.” The insinuation of this is that at some point in their past, accomplished people like John and Amaro must have just been “lucky” (ie: that they did not earn their values, but were rather just the beneficiaries of an ultimately arbitrary, monarch-like “rule” of the entertainment industry by other accomplished people). In other words: Amaro “gets it” – self-sacrifice to the weaker is the hallmark of virtue – while John does not (ie: he doesn’t realize that the rewards he so begrudgingly gives to the talented are not his to give, since the very act of possessing them – despite having earned them – makes him immoral).
What this commercial does is present itself as a condemnation of the truly immoral state of affairs whereby truly untalented and non-virtuous people decide the fates of everyone else simply because their blood lines or ruthlessness empowers them to, but what it actually does is celebrate such an arrangement by implying that talent and virtue should be irrelevant to one’s fate, and all that should matter is that one exist (ie: that you were born). In other words: even if you don’t have what it takes to deserve increased wealth, fame, or influence, the fact that you are a member of “the country” entitles you take from those who do have it. How, in practice, is this any different than the tactics of some parasite who calls himself a king? Furthermore, how, in principle, is a state of affairs where what’s yours isn’t yours, but “the community’s” to dispose of as it sees fit, any different than being preyed upon by a king?
Pepsi is attempting to cast it’s net as widely as possible with this commercial. They wish to offend as few people as possible. Whoever still agrees with the original American social principle, unless they think about it too closely, will perceive it to be a celebration of that – while at the same time whoever disagrees with that principle and embraces the one which dominates contemporary culture will subconsciously sense that it is praising that and thus find it appealing. It is a cynical, pragmatic move by a large, highly-leveraged company stuck in a precarious, unpredictable political-economic environment where their only interest can be the short-term, and where their immediate survival depends upon a willingness to do whatever it takes – no matter how twisted and perverse – to survive the moment.
Why is it laughably contemptable when Justin Verlander (fictitiously) attempts to be rewarded for something he hasn’t done, but perfectly acceptable when some person playing a video game attempts to (not really) do something only the likes of Justin Verlander can do? Even if you “pitch” a perfect game in video game, and even if you win $1,000,000 and the hand of a pretty girl because of it, you aren’t Justin Verlander. Your accomplishment is nowhere near his accomplishments; the fact that he hasn’t (yet) pitched a real perfect game notwithstanding. Why is it okay in this day and age to openly degrade the truly heroic just so that the truly non-heroic can feel better?
Justin Verlander, like virtually everyone else who sees this ad, fails to see the wider philosophical implications of it and thinks it’s just a harmless joke (hence his participation in it), but that doesn’t change the fact that this ad is bad for everyone involved. Verlander deserves the accolades and admiration he has. He’s earned it. If the trend he is attempting to exploit for the sake of some short-term gain continues over the long-term, eventually all he will receive from people – people who have been made to believe that faking an accomplishment is just as good as actually doing it – is at best indifference, and at worst outright hostility (he would be a reproach). Similarly, those who allow themselves to believe that it’s okay to seek rewards for achievements they haven’t earned will eventually lose whatever motivation they had to cultivate or maintain whatever skills or potential they might have had to reach real goals. They will be forever searching for the easy path to success – even if their ambition never compels them to, they will – as mentioned – grow to hate the likes of Justin Verlander because he reminds them that this is all they deem themselves worthy of. Finally, of course, there is the effect that the method of thinking which this ad exploits will have upon the very people who made it: 2K Sports. Their purpose is to make a product, trade it, and therefore profit and live. In the short-term, this type of manipulative behavior will work. In the long-term, however, all it will do is to ensure their financial ruin. The reason for this is that luxuries such as video games can only exist if there is enough wealth (and resultant free time) in the society to allow for it. If people are encouraged to never achieve real goals – if they are told over and over again that fake goals work just as well – eventually they will take it to heart. As a result, they will not achieve and produce, and their standard of living will drop. When this happens, the first things to go from their lives will be their luxuries (ie: things like their video games).
Justin Verlander doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a baseball player. He can’t be disliked because of his inability to grasp the vicious evil – the antipode of everything he and his life implicitly endorse – which he is helping perpetuate. Similarly, 2K Sports is just one single business in a much larger macroeconomic environment. An extremely unpredictable, unstable, politically-twisted macroeconomic environment. One where the “long-term” doesn’t exist. One where all that any given person or company can reasonably do is focus on the short-term exclusively, and do whatever they must to meet their particular goals. Nevertheless, despite these facts, if exceptional achievers like Verlander and the producers of technological marvels such as modern videos games become rarer and rarer or even cease to exist, they will have no right to claim that they don’t understand why it has happened (although they will probably try).
“When you live in a rational society, where men are free [to think and] to trade, you receive an incalculable bonus: the material value of your work is determined not only by your effort, but by the effort of the best productive minds who exist in the world around you.
When you work in a modern factory, you are paid, not only for your labor, but for all the productive genius which has made that factory possible: for the work of the industrialist who built it, for the work of the investor who saved the money to risk on the untried and the new, for the work of the engineer who designed the machines of which you are pushing the levers, for the work of the inventor who created the product which you spend your time on making, for the work of the scientist who discovered the laws that went into the making of that product, for the work of the philosopher who taught men how to think and whom you spend your time denouncing.
The machine, the frozen form of a living intelligence, is the power that expands the potential of your life by raising the productivity of your time. If you worked as a blacksmith in the mystics’ Middle Ages, the whole of your earning capacity would consist of an iron bar produced by your hands in days and days of effort. How many tons of rail do you produce per day if you work for [a thinker]? Would you dare to claim that the size of your pay check was created solely by your physical labor and that those rails were the product of your muscles? The standard of living of that blacksmith is all that your muscles are worth; the rest is a gift from [those who choose not to sweat, but to think]. – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
No one – not even in this day and age – would openly, explicitly make such a claim; but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the belief that most people implicitly hold. Gillette knows this, and so for the sake of it’s short-term interests (and ironically, directly at the expense of it’s long-term), it has chosen to pander to this sentiment. In other words: Gillette has chosen not to think about the consequences of further inculcating a Marxist belief amongst the general (voting) public. When that belief leads to even more oppression of business and trade – under the premise that the thinking that goes into it is superfluous and thus can easily be done instead by a relative few central-planners – the people of the Gillette Corporation will have no moral right to complain about the fact that all of the sweat in the world (ie: trying to remain in business despite these impediments) is not allowing them to be profitable.
Effectively, there is no difference between doing the right thing simply because someone is looking – and you’re afraid of the consequences of not doing it – and doing the right thing just so that you can later on tell people about it – even though they haven’t asked. Both are still distinct from doing the right thing just because it’s what you know to be right and it’s what you want to do. What Chrysler is doing here, in this ad, is attempting to dispel it’s still-present (and still-deserved) reputation as being an unprincipled, politically-connected company without having to come right out and say that that’s what they’re doing (since to do so would make give it no hope of being convincing).
If Chrysler really were composed of people who found it impossible to bring themselves to do things besides produce a valuable and superior product in order to make a profit, they wouldn’t have to say it (and especially not by means of saying that they’re not saying it while they’re saying it). Instead, they would just let the intelligence of the consumer take it’s natural course. They would be patient and wait, confident in the knowledge that because their product is better than it’s competitors, it will eventually be recognized as such and embraced.
This commercial – while somewhat informative – is ultimately a crass attempt to manipulate the consumer into returning to Chrysler an undeserved esteem simply because they know that – given their behavior in the past – they don’t deserve the business of the demographic this ad is trying to reach (the morally conscientious); despite the fact that their product might actually be superior.
When the Cubs finally do win the World Series everyone who saw this commercial and enjoyed it will have a strange and terrible feeling: the feeling that somehow they are not enjoying the experience as much as they feel like they should be. Few of them will realize that the reason for this is because they already experienced that sensation – in vivid detail – when they saw this commercial. This isn’t to say that the commercial will be as intense as the real thing, but only that the commercial is intense enough that (as opposed to just imagining what it will be like) it will have a detractive effect.
Given the cultural magnitude of the Cubs winning the World Series, for a company to compromise that – even just slightly – for the sake of it’s short-term economic gain is beyond obscene. It is vile, repulsive, unequivocally evil. The lengths to which businesses (ie: associations of regular, every day, otherwise-decent people with families and mortgages) are willing to go to these days in order to acquire revenue speaks volumes as to the precarious, unpredictable nature of America’s macroeconomic situation. In order for despicable acts such as the creation of this commercial to happen less regularly, companies must be sure that they can sacrifice their short-term financial interests for their long-term interests. To “take the high road”, so to speak, in the expectation that they will eventually come out on top. This can only happen if there actually is a long-term. A company like Sony isn’t a political organization – they aren’t necessarily obligated to use their cultural influence to preserve or improve the culture if it means their own personal destruction at the hands of a culture not receptive to their message – but simply because that is true, it doesn’t absolve them of all responsibility for the consequences of their actions.
People vote for tyrants and destroy their way of life as a last act of hopelessness. What better way to ensure that that hopelessness materializes than to undermine (and thereby destroy) the incentive to believe that there is anything left unmolested in our culture by it’s evil, destructive, pragmatic and unprincipled elements? If the American people destroy themselves, and if Sony suffers economically as a result, they will all have received exactly what they deserved.
The target demographic for this commercial, obviously, is young people with low incomes and liberal world views. While the commercial does inform the consumer about the product – which is good – in addition to that it attempts to endear Allstate to him emotionally by complimenting him on his method of dealing with life in general. Part of the liberal world view is that anyone who doesn’t share the liberal world view – especially if he is old and wealthy – is presumptuous. Of course, it’s the height of presumptuousness to believe that the older or wealthier you are, the less of a liberal world-view you have – let alone to assume that anyone who is non-liberal is a presumptuous person – but Allstate knows that such people will not realize this contradiction.
The pernicious thing about this commercial is that is helps those who have the liberal world view to believe that the supposed presumptuousness which dominates the world (as if liberalism doesn’t actually dominate it) extends far beyond how non-liberals deal with broader, less-personal issues such as public policy. It helps them to believe that what is wrong with non-liberals is not just that they hold bad ideas, but that they are bad, cynical, nasty, mean-spirited people (ie: that this is how they would treat someone on the street). Of course, by implication, this allows liberals to tell themselves that they are necessarily good people simply by virtue of being liberals; which means that they are encouraged to go on believing their ideas are true and good – in spite of evidence showing that they are neither – simply because they believe them (ie: they are allowed to think “why would a good person like me believe ideas that achieve bad results?”).
That is the pernicious thing about this commercial (to say nothing about how liberals actually behave in public), but the way that it works in it’s perniciousness is – in a more vital respect – even more so. What this commercial is essentially is not even a condemnation of presumptuousness – but rather a celebration of the rejection of the notion of certainty across the board. As bad and twisted as it is, there is an element of truth to the liberal’s claim that non-liberals are presumptuous. It is true that some types of non-liberals are presumptuous about some aspects of life – and so to look at, for example, a group of elderly white men going into a small rural church in the Deep South, it would not be presumptuous on the part of the liberal to conclude that those men would be presumptuous about a black woman suddenly joining them. However, in this commercial, it isn’t the person’s age or his skin color that the elderly white man reacts to, but rather the young man’s personal appearance and individual demeanor (eg: saying “my bad” instead of “my mistake”). Just like it is not an invalid assumption to expect the white men in the church to treat the black woman with suspicion, it isn’t invalid for the elderly white man in this commercial to assume that someone who dresses like he’s poor and who uses pop-culture slang to have cut-rate insurance. Liberals wish to escape responsibility for who they are, and so they attack all acts of thinking as “presumptuousness”, but because all acts of thinking are not presumptuous, they can’t believe that idea for any extended period of time. Not unless they are periodically reminded of it in subtle ways.
Allstate’s goal with this commercial is very specific and delineated: sell a particular type of car insurance to a particular demographic. The fact that it’s specific and delineated isn’t a problem (in fact, the informative elements of the commercial are it’s only redeeming characteristic). The problem is that Allstate has pragmatically determined that the demographic they’re targeting isn’t rational enough to make a personal economic decision based up on the facts alone (they probably aren’t). Allstate has concluded that if they want their business, they must manipulate them emotionally as well. In doing so, what Allstate has actually done is, ironically, further inculcated or perpetuated a world view – and a method of thinking (militant, dogmatic, certain skepticism) – that is the polar opposite of everything a company like Allstate implicitly rests upon. Put into action, the liberal world view and the “principled skepticism” which necessarily accompanies it are Allstate’s greatest threat to profitability and it’s continued existence. It turns out that, eventually, the “practical” thing will prove to be the most impractical thing it could ever do.
The message of these commercials is that television doesn’t have as much of an effect on your life as you think it does. They contend that if there actually were a causal connection between watching TV and negative life changes, these are what they would look like – and since none of these are happening (because, clearly, none of these things are actually causally connected), there is no causal connection between your life falling apart and watching TV. Ergo, continue watching TV.
Strictly speaking, DirecTv is correct: excessive TV watching isn’t the cause of a person’s life turning sour, it’s just a symptom (and if it wasn’t TV they were using to escape the root of their problems it would be something else). But so what? How does this make watching TV excessively acceptable? The first step in getting to the root of a problem is picking up the shovel and going out into the yard (which, by the way, means turning off the TV). A person may not ever solve the problems plaguing his life, but he certainly will not if he never makes lifestyle changes which give him a chance.
What these commercials do is allow whatever delusions and evasions a person has to flourish. They encourage him to tell himself, in effect, “this is what my life would look like if my problems were as bad as I suspect that they are. My life doesn’t look like that, so I guess my problems aren’t as bad as I think.” The irony, of course, is that even if they actually aren’t that bad now, they are guaranteed to become that bad if they remain unaddressed (and a perfect way to fail to address them is to spend one’s time lost in TV).
An even larger irony is that if DirecTv expects to remain in business over the long-term, they had better hope that the general public doesn’t take the advice they’re insinuating, because if they do, the standard of living will fall to a point where people will simply not be able to afford peripheral luxuries like satellite television. Perhaps DirecTv doesn’t expect to remain in business over the long-term. Given the way business is batted around like it’s society’s plaything (as opposed to the lives, liberties, and properties of free individuals), can you hardly blame them?