Archive for April 2014
Is there anything actually objectively better about Taco Bell’s new breakfast products, compared with McDonald’s old products? Anything of any significance, at least? No. It’s the same sort of cheap, low-quality, processed food at both restaurants. Why, then, should anyone choose one over the other? There’s pretty much no reason (except for maybe the trivial differences in taste – but even that that wouldn’t be enough to make it a complete, irreversible shift. Rather just a short-term desire – which could easily be replaced by it’s opposite the next time).
Yet, despite all of this, this commercial claims that there’s a reason to change. What is the reason? The fact that eating McDonald’s breakfast products “proves” that your thinking is stale (and not just about fast food breakfasts, but about virtually everything. That you’re a stale person). What this commercial does, essentially, is one of two things: either it exploits a person’s legitimate concern about being a stale person (by making him feel as though changing this one thing constitutes changing everything which needs to be changed, and therefore does him a disservice by undermining his motivation to change) – or it preys upon his illegitimate concerns about being stale (by making him continue to feel – and probably even more intensely – as though simply because he’s “not with the times”, he is therefore somehow wrong to have the tastes and preferences that he does).
Advertising is supposed to speak to the rationality within people. It is supposed to convey information which helps them discover and/or meet their legitimate, rational, objective needs and desires. It is not supposed to pander to their pretentiousness (about “changing” when they’re really not, in this case), or exacerbate their irrationality and confused emotions. Even though this commercial may cause a (superficial) quid pro quo transaction to occur, taken as a whole, the psychological damage done to the viewer constitutes a net loss on his part (the acquisition of some kind of breakfast item notwithstanding).
Why do modern American businesses engage in such destructive forms of commerce? Because today’s economy is a mixed economy, and therefore success must only be measured in quarters; not years or decades. The macroeconomic situation is subject not to timeless economic laws or major scientific and technological advancements, but rather the whims of politicians – and therefore the short-term is the only thing that can be considered fully real. With that in mind, it is prudent for a business to do whatever it can – no matter how nefarious – to make as much as it can, as quickly as it can.
“When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, “Who is destroying the world?” You are.” – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
This is a jab at political correctness. It’s become so bad in modern Western culture that you could almost expect someone to tell you you’re prejudiced and bigoted if you thought it was weird that someone had wires like a marionette (as if that weren’t objectively “weird.” ie: highly abnormal, and therefore understandably shocking). This commercial both informs (an ad’s primary purpose) and entertains (and more importantly does so by complimenting an objectively virtuous trait within the viewer’s character: his ability to judge things objectively, and to not doubt his conclusions simply because they are straight-forward).
Update: the following, sister ad to the one above is an attack on existentialism. The boy clearly has an objectively negative personal feature (his “wires”) – and the commercial even demonstrates this by having him get caught in the ceiling fan – but nevertheless, the father tells him that his wires are simply “what makes him, him.” Why would a loving, well-meaning, rational parent ever do this? First of all, if such a man’s child is born with some debilitating physical feature, he would do whatever is medically and financially possible to eliminate it so that the child can have the best life he can (and to not do so would be obscene; bordering on child abuse). If nothing can be done, however, certainly he wouldn’t say or do anything to make the child feel unworthy of love or completely hopeless about life, but he would also not tell him – at a stage where he’s well into his development as an individual – that he’s not disabled, but merely “different.” That merely compounds his disability by impeding his ability to think about things (especially himself) objectively. He becomes not only physically disabled, but mentally disabled as well (hence the reason why the boy in this commercial thinks getting caught in the fan is “awesome.” Just think what other kinds of reckless and self-destructive things he might do with that attitude). Yet that sort of dishonest stifling is precisely what Existentialism counsels. Existentialism, in a nutshell, is epistemological (even if not metaphysical) subjectivism – which necessarily leads to ethical and aesthetic subjectivism. It short-circuits genuine self-esteem by giving people philosophical permission to treat anything and everything as good and acceptable simply because they desire it. It’s pure emotionalism.
This commerical is positive because, like the one above, it lampoons the existentialist attitude. The contemporary culture is so thoroughly saturated in existentialism that one could almost expect someone to tell you you’re a bad parent if you told your (appropriately aged) child that he was disabled because he had wires like a marionette (as if that were not objectively debilitating). Obviously no child has the disability of being “wired”, but that’s precisely the point: Existentialism demands “acceptance” for the sake of acceptance – so in principle there could never be anything (no matter how obviously bad) that anyone could evaluate as bad. This commercial – like it’s sister commercial – both informs (an ad’s primary purpose) and entertains (and more importantly does so by complimenting an objectively virtuous trait within the viewer’s character: his ability to judge things objectively, and to not doubt his conclusions simply because they are “insensitive”).
There is nothing wrong with this commercial. It fulfills it’s primary purpose – informing the consumer about the product – as well as successfully entertains her in a positive way. The humor of the commercial, obviously, is the frustration rational, responsible, self-supporting people feel towards those who are irrational, directionless, and loafing in nature. The irrational person is technically in breech of his agreement to “pull his own weight”, so unilateral action on the part of the rational person is perfectly justified (which would technically make destroying the video game system just, provided it is commensurate with the offense as well as effective). The solution isn’t to destroy another person’s property, obviously – since such an action wouldn’t be commensurate with the offense nor effective – but to laugh about the idea is perfectly acceptable. It is a celebration of rational people’s habituated sense of fair play and justice, as well as their (righteous) scorn towards those who have no meaning or purpose in life.
It is all too rare, these days, to see a commercial that speaks to the best within people, and for that reason alone it is very refreshing.
“The socialists used to claim that when their system took over, everyone would have shoes. When they learned the truth, they declared that it was preferable to go barefoot.” -Ayn Rand
For the first time in it’s history, American culture has entered an era where new and exciting (or at least genuinely beneficial) things are not regularly being invented. People’s lives are not being made significantly better than the lives of the generation that came before. The culture and the economy are stagnating. People are aware of this, and it causes them both anxiety (because they don’t understand why) and depression (because they feel as though they might have something to do with it). This commercial is meant to provide the viewer with a momentary respite from those emotions – and in doing so cause him to develop an affinity to the Ball Park Franks brand.
The way it works is this: people know that the way things are is the result of, at best, their (inexcusable) ignorance of why it happened and how to reverse it, and, at worst, their complicity in it (actually, for most it’s a combination of both). They also know that as with anything, the first step in doing something about it is to acknowledge that things actually are the way that they are. By blatantly declaring that Ballpark Franks’ new “Park’s Finest” line is “America’s greatest invention”, the company is giving people a backhanded way to do just that (because clearly the franks are not America’s greatest invention. Not even close – even though they are representative of what’s being invented today). Doing this, in and of itself, is perfectly fine. Commercials need not be strictly about the product. If they are supplemented with social or political commentary, so much the better. Where the evil in this commercial lies is that even though all (both consumer and producer) agree that a new line of hot dogs is a pathetic excuse for cultural and economic progress, through a bit of psychological manipulation, the viewer is expected to regard it as not pathetic at all. As actually quite literally just as “great” as the cotton gin or electricity.
How do they do this? By expecting people to laugh about what’s going on today. People should not feel anxious and sad about the state of the culture – they should feel angry and/or repentant, and then inspired to do something about it – but neither should they find it humorous. To laugh at it is to belittle it. To declare it to be unimportant. Acceptable. Is the fact that they best America can come up with these days are things like “Park’s Finest” unimportant or acceptable? Of course not (and the anxiousness and depression that so many not-very-thoughtful people nevertheless feel is proof of it). They only way anyone could ever feel undisturbed about today’s culture is if they really did regard the “Park’s Finest” line as on par with the marvels past Americans came up with.
This commercial makes people feel as though they have nothing to worry about by making them think that they’re now in the process of fixing it (since, by watching this commercial, they’ve taken the first step of acknowledging that there’s a problem – as if that is sufficient simply because it is necessary). What Ballpark Franks is doing is taking a positive event – the acknowledgment of reality – and using the positive feelings produced by it to redirect action away from the appropriate steps, and into inappropriate ones (ie: the trivial act of buying hot dogs – as if that was the same as celebrating something like the cotton gin or electricity; let alone actually fixing America’s problems). The reason as to why a company like Ballpark Franks would do something so short-sighted and sinister (as well as how this commercial is horribly unAmerican) can be found here, in an analysis of this commercial’s sister commercial.
A gimmicky little pizza thing is nowhere near as inventive as a “bioduplicator.” No sane person would ever think so. Of course, that’s the humor of this commercial: that the people don’t think so. That they think the Flatizza is more impressive. This is a legitimate object of humor – insane people are metaphysically unimportant within a culture – but is it legitimate in this commercial?
Remember, this commercial is advertising a gimmicky little pizza thing. A product that is only barely an objectively valuable use of one’s money (because it is so essentially identical to one of many competing products), and at worst is actually a net loss for the consumer (in terms of nutritional [dis]value, the value of most people’s time in relation to the “convenience” of ready-made food, etc). This product would almost certainly not sell if it’s existence were merely announced and described (the primary purpose of advertising) – which is precisely why Subway chose to include an element of humor in this commercial. The humor doesn’t exist as a supplement to the conveyance of information, but as replacement for it (objectively valuable information at least).
Subway figures that most people – if they heard a dull, journalistic advertisement for the Flatizza – would be brought into (or left in) a state of mind that would make them more likely to analyze the product’s merits (or lack thereof) rationally. That would be bad for business (because again, the product is almost certainly not worth consuming in the vast majority of circumstances, and completely interchangeable with competing products in the rest) – so Subway has instead attempted to get people to lie to themselves. By presenting people who are unimpressed by a “bioduplicator”, but impressed by a Flatizza, the viewer is expected to think “I’m not crazy for desiring gimmicky foods… that is what a crazy desire for them looks like”, and then to conclude “I don’t behave like that, so therefore I couldn’t be crazy. My desire for a Flatizza, therefore, is a rational one.” It gives them exactly the (momentary) rationalization – the plausible deniability – they need in order to make an irrational choice, without having to acknowledge that that’s what they’re doing.
Philosophically, this only works because far too many people hold a primacy of consciousness metaphysics. It allows them to lie to themselves in such crude, barely believable ways (to the point where not even their emotions are fully invested in what their minds have decided, and therefore they feel “torn” between rational hesitation and irrational desire), because they either implicitly or explicitly accept the premise that that which they decide is untrue, is untrue. That there is not an objective reality.