Archive for July 2014
“Fiesta” is simply the Spanish word for festival or party. There is nothing inherently more fun about a “fiesta” (ie: a party taking place within a Spanish-speaking culture) than a “party” (ie: one taking place in a culture that predominantly speaks English). Why, then, would this commercial have a Caucasian man with an American accent – obviously someone who’s primary culture is English-speaking – refer to parties as “fiestas”? The answer – and indeed the first part of the commercial’s subliminal message – is that he couldn’t help it. That the “tropical” tastes of the Lime-a-Rita line of Bud Light made his party a fiesta.
Rational people do not consciously thinks that a fiesta is more fun than a party. When such people, if they’re of a predominantly English-speaking culture, call a party a fiesta, they do so simply to perpetuate (or at least introduce) levity and amusement into a social situation. The desire to do such a thing indicates that a good time is being had (or at least will be had – if, for example, they are inviting someone to the gathering when they call it a fiesta). There is nothing wrong with being in that mood, of course, but only provided that it’s sincere.
Does the fact that a beer has an exotic flavor automatically make consuming it a (psychologically) healthy decision? Is it automatically just about sampling the flavors, and not simply drinking beer for the same reason many people do (ie: to escape from reality – to evade problems and failures – rather than to embrace it and to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments)? Of course not, so why is the claim that a given beer will produce a “fiesta” any more honest than the claim that it will produce a party (a claim that is widely – and correctly – understood to be merely a rationalization for overindulging in alcohol)?
The reason why this commercial has to appear to be tongue in cheek is because if it openly claimed that drinking is okay (ie: indicative of a positive mindset) simply because the beer has exotic flavorings, it would be obvious that Bud Light was trying to exploit something negative within people, and anyone with even a sliver of self-respect would be insulted. The commercial must appear to be simply joking about putting forth that message, precisely to be able to do so.
The fact of the matter is that people who habitually abuse alcohol do rationalize it through dubious excuses such as that they’re just trying out new flavors. Such people do go through the motions of being in a light-hearted mood (eg: calling a party a “fiesta”), in order to give themselves permission to overindulge. Simply because they don’t do it in such an explicit, over-the-top sort of way – where it is explicitly, albeit humorously demonstrated that the mere presence of alcohol will create a good time – doesn’t mean that that’s not in effect what often happens.
The first part of this commercial’s subliminal message is that it’s obvious message couldn’t be serious – and then once that’s established, the second part is that it’s okay to do what the obvious message advises; precisely because one doesn’t explicitly believe what the people in the commercial are shown to believe.
Why does a company as large and as highly-leveraged as Anheuser-Busch is resort to such devious psychological manipulation in order to sell it’s products? It’s products have objective merit – it is appropriate to consume them under certain circumstances and to a certain degree – so why not create commercials which simply announce the existence of a product and/or promote it’s merits? The answer is that in today’s highly-regulated, over-taxed business environment, doing what is objectively best for the consumer is not an option. Often such a tactic means foregoing short-term benefits for the sake of long-term ones. America’s mixed economy doesn’t allow for such strategies. Companies’ profits – and often their very existences – are at the mercy of politics much more than they were the immutable laws of economics, so they are going to do whatever is necessary to make as much as they can as quick as they can. Most would say that manipulative, dishonorable commercials such as this one are the result of too much capitalism. The truth is that they are the result of not enough of it.
The comedic element in this commercial is, obviously, the fact that the phrase “pull one off” is an (unintentional) allusion to masturbation. The commercial is funny because even though technically it’s completely legitimate to use that phrase in regards to how the advertised product is consumed, provided that there are adequate alternatives, it’s one that shouldn’t be used because of it’s similarity to a vulgar slang term. That begs the question, however: why, exactly, is that particular phenomenon considered funny. The answer can be found here, in an analysis of another commercial which has a similar object of humor.
The power that determines the establishment, the changes, the evolution, and the destruction of social systems is philosophy. The role of chance, accident, or tradition, in this context, is the same as their role in the life of an individual: their power stands in inverse ratio to the power of a culture’s (or an individual’s) philosophical equipment, and grows as philosophy collapses. It is, therefore, by reference to philosophy that the character of a social system has to be defined and evaluated. – Ayn Rand
At a glance, this commercial seems to be rather innocuous and forgettable. An acknowledgement of a obviously implicit part of any activity within a capitalist social system: that failure is always a possibility. What’s interesting about this commercial, however, is the fact that such a (very public) acknowledgement was thought necessary. What is it about today’s social system that makes a company like Domino’s – which is about as mainstream as a company can be – and therefore has the least amount of incentive to do or say anything controversial – to even obliquely endorse the capitalist system (ie: by pointing out that without economic freedom – including the freedom to fail – there would be no progress)? For such a commercial to be produced and aired, things must be extremely precarious – and indeed they are.
Given how much the precautionary principle dominates today’s social and economic policy, and assuming things continue on their present trend, it is not unlikely that within a decade or two certain elements of American culture will begin to seriously advocate for direct government oversight of business decisions. Arguments for such power – based on the premise that bad business decisions cost people their jobs as well as their retirement security (ie: falling stock prices) – are not too far of a stretch from the kinds of arguments currently made to defend already-existing government involvement in the economy (eg: minimum wage laws, antitrust regulations, labor standards and union power, etc). Unlike today’s government meddling, however, that degree of involvement would have consequences that even ardent “fence sitters” can not ignore. Perhaps that is why even a mainstream company such as Domino’s – one of the biggest beneficiaries of today’s pseudo-capitalist economy – would feel it necessary to preemptively attack such a notion (by using it’s access to the public’s attention to help subtly (re?)inculcate an appreciation for free markets).
America’s economic picture has reached the point that it has precisely because those who have benefited the most from it’s (relatively more) capitalist past have been able to afford to ignore it’s mutation into something less capitalist. They have long been able to forego defending capitalism on principle, and to instead write off it’s anti-capitalist trends as “chance” or “accident.” Have we reached a point where that is no longer possible? Where the threats to the very foundations of not only one’s short-term interests, but also one’s long-term success, have become so large that not even the most non-intellectual, pragmatic of Americans can no longer ignore them? This commercial’s endorsement of capitalism is timid, to be sure, but it could also be praised as cunning and deft (the benefits of capitalism obviously need to be induced – rather than just dogmatically asserted – in order for a pro-capitalist sentiment to truly take hold). The bottom line, however, is that it’s good to see a private, for-profit organization – in times of peril – at least toying with the idea of defending capitalism itself, instead of doing what it has always done: ignoring the peril, innovating around it, and hoping it will just go away. One just hopes this attempt to provide the public with a bit of “philosophical equipment” is not too little, too late.
Update: below is a commercial by beer maker Heineken which, although it deals with a more general concept freedom than capitalism does (personal freedom, instead of strictly economic freedom), is perhaps the result of the same sense of urgency that provoked Domino’s to make the ad that it did.