So unAmerican, Redux
“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.