Archive for April 2013
Few admit it, but most know it: America’s political atmosphere is nearing a state just as precarious as the one that lead to it’s founding as an independent nation. More exactly, instead of most knowing it, they feel it. That is what this commercial preys upon.
An unidentified feeling is, by nature, vulnerable. It comes into existence as the result of disparate thoughts about concrete events, and because they are never integrated into a conscious conclusion, they evaporate before they can be. Instead, the subconscious does it – integrating them into a feeling that stands in for the thought. This feeling is vulnerable because it is possible for any semi-plausible explanation to come along and take credit for it – thereby redirecting it towards something which actually undermines it, or extinguishes it altogether.
This commercial’s message is the following: “Look, even Paul Revere was more concerned with having a good time than he was with saving his freedom – so don’t feel so bad about what you’ve been doing. He got it done. You will too. Somehow.”
Most contemporary Americans, correctly, feel concern about the state of their union – and they also, correctly, feel a certain amount of guilt and responsibility for having let it occur. What GEICO is trying to do here is provide them with a moment’s respite from these feelings (from reality) by making the viewer feel as though his feelings of concern and guilt are unnecessary. GEICO doesn’t contest that the feelings are being felt, but simply that their source is not the precarious state of the nation and the habitual apathy of the average American (ie: it tells them, in effect, that the state of the nation isn’t precarious afterall – The Revolutionaries were able to accomplish their goals even while “apathetic” – so how how apathetic were they, really?). GEICO would would be willing to have you believe that if Paul Revere had been able to make a phone call warning about the enemy’s movements, that he would have used the extra time afforded to him not to do something else in service of the cause, but just to play games.
Of course, in response to this criticism, this commercial’s defenders will say that it’s just a joke. That nothing is meant by it. On a certain level that’s true. GEICO is certainly not saying that America, right now, needs a revolution, or that the American people don’t care at all (to the point where GEICO would expect them to play games if their country were in the midst of revolution), but that’s not what this commercial is really about. What makes this commercial pernicious is not that it pokes good-natured fun at a beloved figure from American history, or that it celebrates the life-enhancing achievement which is the cellular telephone (there’s nothing wrong with doing those things in the correct context), but that it attempts to capitalize on a feeling that should be investigated (and in doing so makes investigating it impossible).
The fact is that America is speeding towards disaster. Towards a point where revolution will be necessary. The fact is that Americans are apathetic about it. Desperate to bury their heads in the sand and “just have a good time.” The feelings that are “addressed” in this commercial refer to (because they stem from) facts. Facts which need to be identified (and the first step is identification of the feelings that refer to them) so that corrective action can be taken before more desperate, revolutionary measures are the only option.
This commercial, instead, takes those feelings and redirects them towards the very things which caused them in the first place: evasion, denial, apathy. Instead of dealing with them, GEICO is telling the viewer that he should just laugh about them; and that that – somehow – constitutes dealing with them. GEICO wants the positive feelings brought about by “dealing with” those feelings of dread, worry, and guilt not to spur disaster-averting change (via a renewed self-confidence and motivated vigor in the American people), but to create endearment towards GEICO (for having provided the “balm for a guilty conscience”) so that they can sell more… car insurance(?!).
This type of short-term, pragmatic marketing is not only obviously destructive to the Americans who, affected by it, continue to let their country go down the drain, but also to GEICO itself; because it – being a private, for-profit business – depends upon a free, right-respecting political atmosphere just as much as anyone does for it’s long-term success. Shame on them.
The outlaws of The Old West were criminals. They imposed their will upon people by force; without consent. Modern cell phone companies do no such thing. They offer a service, state their terms for the service, and the customer either consents to them or he doesn’t. Often, one of the terms is that should the customer agree to do business with the company, he cannot change his mind for a period of time (a contract). Again, this is not without his consent. It is simply a term he decides to agree to. Simply because the customer may come to regret his decision does not mean that the company holding him to it represents force being used. If anything, the only force that’s involved in such a situation is the customer forcing the company to do what it shouldn’t have to do: go out of it’s way to remind him that he promised to abide by the terms of the contract.
T-Mobile is a private, for-profit business. The fact that they would equate the actions of Old West criminals with the behavior of their competitors – simply because they know that most of the public is oblivious to the distinction mentioned above, and therefore will find the attack upon “big business” as emotionally satisfying – is reprehensible. It’s pandering to stupidity for the sake of short-term gain – and ironically it is exactly this type of pandering that has made (or at least prolonged) the public’s conceptual impotence; and – because that same impotence allows anti-business political leaders to have power – the economy is in such a precarious state that companies have become so desperate that this sort of pandering seems worthwhile (since the short-term is the only thing they can count on).
If T-Mobile wanted to use it’s public voice for the purpose of distinguishing itself from it’s competitors by pointing out, as a selling point, that it’s able to offer greater or complete contractual flexibility, that would be one thing, but that is not what they are doing. Instead, what they are doing is trying to make something which isn’t all that much better (all things about their service considered) appear much better by making themselves out to be on a political/moral crusade – and inviting the customer to join – so that he will feel better about using T-Mobile than he actually should.
This commercial is a classic package deal.