Archive for August 2013
Actually, the chocolatey taste of JELLO pudding doesn’t make up for all of those things – and everyone knows that it doesn’t. Why, then, would JELLO claim that it does? To entertain their customers, of course. But that begs the question: why are such claims entertaining? Two reasons.
The first reason is that this commercial commiserates with adults about the process of ageing. Many, if not most adults regard the fact that humans cannot stay youthful forever as some kind of cosmic injustice, so they spend a portion of their lives (often a great portion) resentful and depressed about it. This commercial is intended to comfort such people by making them feel less alone (and therefore somehow justified in that belief).
The second reason – which springs from the first – is that the commercial momentarily alleviates the secret feelings of shame, guilt, and regret these same people frequently feel. Because their belief that ageing is a cosmic injustice is patently wrong, they can’t help but let the evidence (involuntarily gathered from going about daily life) form a rudimentary version of an opposing conclusion. That rudimentary conclusion then produces (deserved) feelings of guilt, shame, and regret as a means of making it’s presence felt (since consciously is isn’t allowed). In spite of their conscious belief that there is nothing they can do, people are nagged by the feeling that the things they chalk up to “ageing” don’t have to occur (at least not to the degree that they do), and so they feel bad about allowing them to happen. This commercial takes those feelings away for a moment by making them feel good about their conscious belief instead. It allows them to think to themselves that they are dealing with the bad things ageing brings by using things like JELLO pudding to make up for them (to the small extent that they “know” they only can be). JELLO knows that it’s pudding will not make up for all of the bad things that “come with ageing”, and it knows that it’s customers know it too, but that’s not the point. The point is to make the customers feel justified in their conscious belief so that, for a moment at least, the customer will feel “like a kid again” (ie: free of shame, guilt, and regret)
JELLO knows that the good sensation it’s product produces is nowhere near as satisfying as what it would be like to feel “like a kid again” consistently and authentically, and fearing that adults might realize, and embrace, the fact that they can (and, not coincidentally, start doing things that would probably preclude eating JELLO pudding regularly), JELLO would rather make adults feel as though they are authentically feeling that way when they do nothing but consume it’s pudding.
This is the new “quid pro quo” of contemporary America’s hamstrung “capitalism.” Education and rationality are no longer the engines of commerce that cause things to happen. Manipulation and irrationality are.
This commercial, obviously, is hyperbole. No one seriously thinks that 5 Hour Energy will make a person able to do these things. What, then, is the point in making the claim that they will? It is to entertain people – but what do people find entertaining about it? Most people know that 5 Hour Energy isn’t a solution to being chronically without energy. They grasp, consciously or subconsciously, that it’s a topical remedy. A means of treating the symptoms of an underlying problem instead of the problem itself. However, even though most people grasp this, they don’t live as if it were true (ie: they do nothing – or at least not enough – to fix the underlying problem, and instead continually use 5 Hour Energy as if it were a real, tenable solution). This causes anxiety and shame, and so this commercial would be appealing because it alleviates those feelings momentarily (ie: it allows people to think to themselves “I don’t expect 5 Hour Energy to do that for me, so what I do seek from it must be legitimate. Just because I consume it habitually – instead of only periodically – doesn’t mean that I expect to receive unrealistic benefits from it (ie: normal, sustained energy levels without the side-effects of taking such a potent product).”
5 Hour Energy’s producers know that their product can’t stand on it’s own merits – it’s too obviously a product with only marginal (at best) value – and so they must result to these sorts of psychological tricks in order to maintain sales. Such is the nature of “capitalism” in today’s over-taxed, over-regulated economy. Truly mutually-beneficial exchanges are a liability, while manipulative, predatory ones are the key to success.
Does second-handedness exist? Yes, absolutely. Is it what this commercial criticizes? Ironically, no. The commercial appears intended to appeal to people who value what they do – have the tastes and standards and preferences that they do – because they understand each thing that they value on it’s own terms (and understand how it integrates without contradiction into everything else in their lives and personalities). There is nothing wrong with complimenting such people (or even that part of people who are only partially that way), but only if that compliment is secondary to the commercial’s primary purpose (ie: informing the viewer about the product and/or reminding him of it’s existence). This commercial compliments that aspect in leiu of that purpose, which can mean only one thing: there is (ironically) nothing particularly special about the product (ie: nothing that separates it from it’s competition), and Infiniti knows it.
What, then, is this commercial really attempting to do? If it were actually targeted at truly independent people, then it would contain information about the product (since that would be the only way to sway such people). It does not, which means that it’s real target is second-handed people who wish to think of themselves as independent. A truly independent person doesn’t care if the automobile he chooses is ubiquitous or rare, popular or unpopular, but only that it fits him. He judges the product on it’s own merits and nothing else. A pretentiously independent person, however, only cares that he’s “going against the flow.” He mistakes (or at least hopes that others do so) correlation for causation (ie: the fact that true progress occurs by people who are not afraid to be unpopular, and therefore that most – but not all – of the truly beneficial scientific, economic, and cultural advancements have occurred this way). He is completely oblivious to the fact that not doing what everyone else is doing, just because they’re not doing it, is just as mindlessly conformist as doing what they’re doing just because they are doing it.
Another flaw in this commercial is this conflation of economic leverage and/or cultural pressure with physical (specifically government) force. Talk of “revolution”, and the attempt by the factory – via robots – to keep the individual from leaving, allude to the all-too-common idea that the individual is beholden to what’s popular simply because it is popular. This unfairly tarnishes popular businesses (and often serves as the rationale for using force against them in the form of government-imposed regulations), as well as helps to perperate actual instances of the use of force (because it makes people insensitive to the difference). Infiniti, by doing this, is simply using populist demagougery in order to tap into the confused, superficial ideas many people (even wealthy liberals) hold so that they can make car-buying feel like a political activism in addition to car-buying, instead of just car-buying (and therefore make the second-handers who believe such things feel important – since, being altruists, they don’t consider how they live their own lives to have any moral significance (except, perhaps, to be evil – since they’re buying a luxury car to make themselves happy)).
Obviously no one seriously believes that pizza is an essential part of economic creativity. Everyone understands that the two just correlate with each other; not that the one literally causes the other. This commercial, therefore, is “tongue in cheek.” What, then, is the point in making it? Why is it expected to sell pizzas to people who create?
The reason is because in a sense, pizza actually is a causative factor in economic production. In today’s heavily taxed and regulated economy, the only way that people can be both economically productive and have the things that they value (free time) is if they sacrifice something else (their long-term physical health). Convenient foods like pizza, therefore, become an essential ingredient to being productive (without having to change one’s lifestyle in the short-term). Of course, it shouldn’t have to be this way. If the taxes and regulations that economically creative people are burdened by didn’t exist, people wouldn’t, for example, have to work as much in order to achieve the same financial goals they currently achieve (giving them more free time to do things like, not coincidentally, prepare healthier, less convenient food that they could then bring to work with them). Or, if for some other reason they did choose to work the same amount, they would have more money, and therefore they would be able to afford to have healthier food brought to them instead of pizza.
None of this is Dominos’ fault. The company is but one actor in a much larger economic and political culture. Because of that, it knows that it cannot do anything (at least in the short-term) to change this predicament that it’s customers face. It knows that, for the time being at least, pizza will remain in demand by those who work hard and for long hours. However, Dominos also knows that people wish they didn’t have to choose between their free time, their current level of economic productivity, and their long-term physical health. That they feel should be able to have all three (and that they know that they would, if not for burdensome taxes and regulations). Knowing that, Dominos realizes that, like their company, their customers’ companies are but small parts of a much wider culture – and therefore, like them, cannot do anything about it. Knowing this, Dominos realizes that many of their customers are beleaguered with a sense of hopelessness about it, and are therefore desperate to pretend that it doesn’t exist. To do so is not only psychologically comforting, but – from a productivity standpoint – necessary.
To know, day to day and moment to moment, that the choices you are making for the sake of your short-term are undermining your long-term, would be paralyzing. Especially paralyzing if you knew that such a predicament were entirely artificial. Not the result of some contradictory quirk built into the fabric of reality as such, but an artificial edifice built upon a social structure that is nothing more than the choices of other people (politicians, regulators, and the people who vote for them). If one were constantly aware of this, it would be all he could think about – and he would devote everything that he had to resolving it.
This, obviously, would not be good for Dominos’ short-term bottom line – so instead, in this commercial, they have devised the perfect message. They have subtly insinuated that there actually is a direct connection between pizza and economic production – giving their customers exactly the excuse needed to continue to ignore the false predicament mentioned above (and, for the short-term at least, go on consuming Dominos’ products). It’s perfect because on the one hand, if the commercial’s message is taken literally (and it will be, for reasons mentioned above), it’s a useful vehicle to go on pretending that (today’s politically distorted) reality is better than it actually is – and on the other hand, if that back fires – if people glimpse the existence of the twisted, artificial predicament they are actually living under (and therefore grasp that an exemplary proof of it is, ironically, Dominos, desperate for short-term profits, is sacrificing it’s long-term interests by twisting it’s customers psychologically) – Dominos can retreat behind the insistence that they didn’t mean it. That the message wasn’t serious, but merely “tongue in cheek” (leaving the consumer with the impression that things must not be so bad, since companies are not so desperate that they would be that sinister). Either way you slice it, the evasion of the true cause of the demand for pizza is successfully evaded.
To remind the consumer that pizza is an option within this unfortunate, (fundamentally) unnecessary predicament is completely acceptable (that’s what advertising is for). What is unacceptable, however, is to attempt to reshape the way people think about the predicament – and that is precisely what this commercial is doing. Not only is it bad for the consumer (both physically and psychologically), but – ironically – in the long run it’s bad for Dominos as well. Dominos is a private, for-profit business – and as such it is burdened by the same taxes and regulations that it’s customers are (which is what made them resort to such desperate, short-term tactics). If they wish to remain in existence, these burdens will need to be dealt with – which means that the general public will have to be able to acknowledge that they exist. If not, then burdens will continue to grow to the point where luxuries such as unhealthy pizza being delivered to one’s door will no longer be viable. This commercial, to the extent that a commercial can, ensures that that will happen.
“Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at. The classic example: you see a very snooty, very well dressed dowager walking down the street, and then she slips on a banana peel . . . . What’s funny about it? It’s the contrast of the woman’s pretensions to reality. She acted very grand, but reality undercut it with a plain banana peel. That’s the denial of the metaphysical validity or importance of the pretensions of that woman. Therefore, humor is a destructive element—which is quite all right, but its value and its morality depend on what it is that you are laughing at. If what you are laughing at is the evil in the world (provided that you take it seriously, but occasionally you permit yourself to laugh at it), that’s fine. [To] laugh at that which is good, at heroes, at values, and above all at yourself [is] monstrous . . . . The worst evil that you can do, psychologically, is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face.” – Leonard Peikoff, The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series, Lecture 11, 1976
This commercial is a parody of the type of commercial that producers of personal hygeine products were known for employing during the 20th Century (especially in the 1970’s and 80’s). What was the element of the human experience that such commercials gave metaphysical importance to? Which element is this new commercial mocking? Succinctly, it’s the connection between what kind of man one is (ie: the choices he makes in every area of his life, including his personal ones) and the work that he does. It’s a recognition of the fact that to be successful at work one has to have the same approach to all things. One has to be integrated. All of his life’s facets must work harmoniously with each other to symbiotically support one another. They must not be in contradiction, and working to undermine one another. To bring the same seriousness, passion, and conscientious judgment to all of one’s choices – big and small – will make all of his life better off. That is the notion that the old commercials celebrated, and what this new commercials mocks.
Given today’s macroeconomic environment, it’s no surprise that such a notion would be expected to be met with contempt. Relative to even the Mid-20th Century (when it was by no means completely direct but certainly more so than today), the direct connection between overall virtue and professional success is almost non-existent today. To be a virtuous person guarantees nothing these days in terms of economic success (if anything it guarantees the opposite). It’s almost impossible to know why a given man is successful and why another is not. While there are still some slivers of the society that allow for – or even demand – personal virtue (and only personal virtue) in order to reach financial goals, the overwhelming majority of them don’t necessarily do. It’s just as easy these days to get rich by being immoral as it is by being moral (or any precarious mixture of the two). A rich man’s riches tell you nothing about his moral stature, just as a poor man’s rags tell you nothing about his.
Everyone knows this. Few acknowledge it (the culture still hides behind the pretense that America is still a meritocracy, just as it’s always been), but everyone knows it – subconsciously. If they didn’t, then this commercial would not have been released. It would not have been expected to succeed – and if by some fluke it had been released anyway, it would have received widespread denunciation. Instead, not only has it been released, but accepted and praised. Why? Because it provides people with an answer to the uncertainty described above. It tells them that those who succeed actually are immoral (and always have been). By linking the type of man who was praised in such commercials decades ago not with professional ability, but with incompetence (“the worst architect in the world”), it gives people a comforting feeling that such men who were once praised are now “getting what they deserve” (contempt) “because they aren’t really good at their jobs anyway.” It allows some people to feel as though the fact that men were better in previous generations was all just a lie – which helps to sever the connection between their overall immorality and their lack of professional competence. It helps them to believe that it’s not a vice to be immoral and/or a financial failure, but a virtue. It’s simply a lack of pretentiousness. A cold, hard, mature look at the way the world really is: hopeless and pointless. Or, if successful, it allows them to feel as though their immorality is actually a okay because, even though they have professional success just as the virtuous man does, he is (and always has been) really just as inept as they are (so what difference does it make that they reached that same status by social climbing, or pandering – instead of hard work as he did?).
Old Spice is attempting to pander to the worst in people – their jealousy, their nihilism, their hatred of the good for being the good – in order to make a short-term profit (at the expense of their long-term self interest, since it’s these same attitudes that gets anti-business politicians elected). It’s disgusting, but understandable – given the fact that in today’s economy no business can afford to thing about anything except the short-term.