Archive for February 2015
“When men abandon reason, physical force becomes their only means of dealing with one another and of settling disagreements.” -Ayn Rand
While the physical force deciding the disagreement in this commercial is consensual, it is still physical force, and therefore unreasonable. A rational analysis of “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” was not conducted, so even if the victor of the arm wrestling match happened to be the same person who would have been the victor had one been conducted, it still is not a reasonable settlement of the disagreement (in that case, the decision is completely arbitrary).
The purpose of this commercial is to make light of the fact that in today’s society, “the usual way” really is physical force. Although there is still much formality and reference to law and procedure, it is all window-dressing, meant to conceal a process which is tantamount to “strong arming” (rather than justice).
Why would people want to make light of this fact? In order to alleviate whatever anxiety (because they know that such a culture means that their own legitimate interests are perpetually on the chopping block), as well as whatever guilt they might feel (because they know that they have eschewed America’s founding principles in order to acquire short-term personal gains). This commercial allows such people to tell themselves that if “the usual way” really was one where reason took a back seat to the arbitrary conclusions of force, then that is what it would look like – and because it doesn’t look like that, then today’s actual state of affairs must be different (somehow).
Skittles hopes that the pleasant alleviation of that anxiety and guilt will remind people of Skittles whenever they need to alleviate it again (which they will, since the only way to make it actually go away is to actually change the culture’s “usual way”), remember that they’re hungry or have a craving for sweets or whatever, and then purchase their product as the way to satisfy it.
Using emotional manipulation of the worst kind – as opposed to rationality and/or the complimenting of rational emotions – in order to gain a short-term boost in sales or an advantage over competitors: a perfect, and ironic, example of the “usual way” that the commercial itself pretends to deride.
“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
The fable of The Tortoise and the Hare is, essentially, a dramatization of the triumph of rationality over irrationality. The hare’s irrationality (particularly his hubris) costs him a race that (because of his clear physical superiority) he should have easily won. Conversely, the tortoise’s rationality (particularly his honesty with himself about the fact that the hare was at a competitive disadvance because of his hubris) gave him the ability to deduce that he would nevertheless be able to win a race which, on physicality alone, he would have no chance in. The fable is a healthy, wholesome celebration of the power of reason (something which should have particular appeal to human beings – considering that reason is their particular means of survival).
This commercial is a perversion of that message. In this commercial’s perversion – er, “plot twist” – of it, the tortoise doesn’t win because of his virtue, but because of his lack of it. He wins only because he is willing to cheat (ie: to use an artificial means of propulsion – an automobile).
In a society dominated by people who believe in the moral-practical dichotomy – and therefore one with an economy that puts enormous pressure on individuals to cut corners in order to stay competitive – of course such a “plot twist” will not only be tolerated, but will actually be embraced. Seeing it allows such people to think to themselves that how they live their lives is not a deviation from the normative state of reality, but actually an honest (ie: virtuous) embrace of it (as against the moralistic, and therefore unrealistic lessons and values they were exposed to as children). It allows them to tell themselves that even the tortoise, if he were truly being rational and moral, would have bent the rules a bit.
That helps them give philosophical (ie: moral) justification to their lives, which is a fundamental psychological need, and therefore (Mercedes hopes) will cause the commercial to remain in the viewers’ minds (because the resulting rationalization will need to be recalled whenever the truth about that approach to life causes such people to yet again feel as though they actually are immoral).
“Under the Railroad Unification Plan, a local railroad had gone bankrupt in North Dakota, abandoning the region to the fate of a blighted area, the local banker had committed suicide, first killing his wife and children — a freight train had been taken off the schedule in Tennessee, leaving a local factory without transportation at a day’s notice, the factory owner’s son had quit college and was now in jail, awaiting execution for a murder with a gang of raiders — a way station had been closed in Kansas, and the station agent, who had wanted to be a scientist, had given up his studies and become a dishwasher — that he, James Taggart, might sit in a private barroom and pay for the alcohol pouring down Orren Boyle’s throat, for the waiter who sponged Boyle’s garments when he spilled his drink over his chest, for the carpet burned by the cigarettes of an ex-pimp from Chile who did not want to take the trouble of reaching for an ashtray across a distance of three feet.” – Ayn Rand, 1957: “Atlas Shrugged”, Part III — “A is A”, chapter IV
The context of that quote is a gathering of “crony capitalists” (ie: not really capitalists) who are meeting to discuss their schemes, the cost such schemes have on real capitalists, and the pathetic, disgusting, trivial – and therefore obscene – personal habits to which the victims’ rights, wealth, hopes, and dreams are actually sacrificed (as opposed to the “noble” collectivist ideals which such suffering is supposed to be for the sake of).
Who, in this day and age, has very good credit? Is it the man who’s more (truly) productive than the next, or simply the man who’s more willing to exploit the worst within others, or some kind of market-distorting government interference, or a combination of both? Increasingly, if not completely, it is the latter. That is to whom this commercial is targeted..
This commercial is expected to work on such people because depsite everything they tell themselves, and despite how they spend the vast majority of their time so narrowly focused on their day-to-day concerns that they don’t even have to tell themselves such things very often, they are plagued by a chronic (and deserved) feeling of guilt about the true source of (at least part of) their financial successes (including their relatively good credit scores). A commercial like this one provides a moment’s reprieve from that guilt. It allows the targeted demographic to tell themselves “I don’t do that [blatantly take something with deep personal value to someone], so therefore what I do do must be different [than partially contributing to types of personal disasters – born from professional ones – dramatised in the passage quotes above].” How, essentially, is it different? Blank out. All that matters is that for a moment, the viewer is relieved of his chronic emotion. Experian knows that because such an emotion is inevitably going to return (the only to way to change that is to actually change the nature of one’s life), the rationalization which came from seeing this commercial the first time has a chance of being recalled (in order to once against blunt the uncomfortable emotion) – and the company hopes that when and if it is, that the viewer will also remember that it was an Experian commercial (because if he also happens to be in the market for a credit check, he might think “what the heck, I’ll use Experian”).
It’s sad that this particular commercial resorts to this manipulative tactic, because there are others (here and here) in the same family which don’t resort to it, and instead just dramatize the kind of legitimate negotiating which can take place in even a truly capitalist (ie: truly quid pro quo) transaction.*
*Or, if anything, actually (and admirably) lampoon the typical bank for being exactly the sort of fake (“crony”) capitalist (organization) the analyzed commercial compliments.
“The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles.” -Ayn Rand
Many people today believe – and it may be true – that the American Colonists rebelled against their British governors in response to a far smaller degree of taxation and oppression than Americans suffer under today, at the hands of their own government. What causes such people to accept – let alone speak – such a belief? Is it to try to cause action, even if it’s just completely peaceful action, that will throw off the oppression the American people currently suffer under? Obviously not, because if that were the case then the message would have resonated by now and something would have been done. No, the reason why people hold this belief (or fixate on this fact) is to console their guilt. They know that they should do something – that they could do something – but that they are not doing anything. Telling themselves that the colonists were being petty and merely overreacting helps them evade that fact.
This commercial does just that as well. By portraying the revolutionaries not as men of principle, but rather just petty reactionaries (against a degree of oppression that really wasn’t all that intolerable), it allows the men of today to believe that their own passivity is perfectly rational and noble. If the revolutionaries were doing what they did not because they were unwilling to tolerate any degree of oppression – if they only followed through with the revolution and pledged their “lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors” to the goal of establishing a completely free country – simply because their British oppressors failed to find a way to placate them (ie: free tax filing), then that makes today’s American feel better about his unwillingness to stand up for the principle that his life belongs to him, and not to the government. He has no one to point to in order to prove the opposite. To prove that acting on principle can be done, and that it can actually work. That suffering under oppression – of any degree – is not necessary. That freedom can exist.
Obviously no one takes this commercial seriously. No one disputes the historical record (ie: that the Americans did in fact follow through with their revolution) – but by entertaining the idea that they would have abandoned it (had the British found the right tool of appeasement), it provides the average American viewer a moment’s reprieve from the constant (and deserved) guilt he feels for having abandoned his own “god-given” right to (complete) individual liberty. TurboTax knows that without actually solving the problem, that that guilt isn’t going to go away. That it will nag at the average American constantly. They merely hope that whenever such an American seeks reprieve from it again, that he will remember how he felt when he saw this commercial (and then, hopefully, remember that it was produced by TurboTax – and then, should he happen to be in need of a tax filing service, decide to utilize theirs).
This commercial is contradictory and incoherent in that it’s both an exhortation to fully live one’s own life, as well as an admonition not to do so because “the world is a gift.” Of course, to this charge the reply would be that the two are not mutually-exclusive. That (by consuming things such as the advertised product) one can both live one’s own life fully, as well as do so “responsibly”, but that begs the question: why not live or “play” even more “responsibly” and just do nothing? Such questions are not expected to be considered. Individuals who ask, let alone answer, such question is not who this commercial is intended to appeal to.
The people who will like this commercial won’t (at least initially) remember it as an environmentalist tome. Whenever they recall it, what they will instantly remember is that the song “This Land is Your Land” was used to insinuate that “your land” (you, the American viewer) isn’t merely the land within America’s borders, but all of the land (and therefore the cultures) of the entire globe. Why would an American find that notion appealing? Because he’s one who doesn’t believe that America is anything other than one nation and culture among many. That the fundamental unit, on a global scale, isn’t one’s “Americanness”, but his humanity. That if the whole world is America’s, then so too America is the whole world’s.
“What I discovered is that the Modern Liberal looks back on 50,000 years, 100,000 years, of human civilization, and knows only one thing for sure: that none of the ideas that mankind has come up with–none of the religions, none of the philosophies, none of the ideologies, none of the forms of government–have succeeded in creating a world devoid of war, poverty, crime, and injustice. So they’re convinced that since all of these ideas of man have proved to be wrong, the real cause of war, poverty, crime, and injustice must be found–can only be found–in the attempt to be right.
If nobody ever thought they were right, what would we disagree about? If we didn’t disagree, surely we wouldn’t fight. If we didn’t fight, of course we wouldn’t go to war. Without war, there would be no poverty; without poverty, there would be no crime; without crime, there would be no injustice. It’s a utopian vision, and all that’s required to usher in this utopia is the rejection of all fact, reason, evidence, logic, truth, morality, and decency–all the tools that you and I use in our attempts to be better people, to make the world more right by trying to be right, by siding with right, by recognizing what is right and moving toward it…
…What you have is people who think that the best way to …eliminate the attempt to be right is to work always to prove that right isn’t right and to prove that wrong isn’t wrong. You see this in John Lennon’s song “Imagine”: “Imagine there’s no countries.” Not imagine great countries, not imagine defeat the Nazis, but imagine no religions, and the key line is imagine a time when anything and everything that mankind values is devalued to the point where there’s nothing left to kill or die for.
Obviously, this is not going to happen overnight. There are still going to be religions, but they are going to do their best to denigrate them. There are still going to be countries, but they will do what they can to give our national sovereignty to one-world bodies. In the meantime, everything that they teach in our schools, everything they make into movies, the messages of the movies, the TV shows, the newspaper stories that they pick and how they spin them have but one criterion for truth, beauty, honesty, etc., and that is: Does it tear down what is good and elevate what is evil? Does it tear down what is right and elevate what is wrong? Does it tear down the behaviors that lead to success and elevate the ones that lead to failure so that there is nothing left to believe in?”-Evan Sayet
But even that – the denigration of American patriotism – is not the depth that this commercial sinks to.
The song “This Land is Your Land” is a celebration of America. Depending upon how it’s interpreted and which combination of lyrics are used, maybe it’s a celebration of America realizing it’s ideals (capitalism), or maybe it’s a lamentation that America has failed to live up to them (because one believes that socialism is America’s ideal), but in either case, the notion that America has ideals – and that those ideals are unique and good – isn’t under dispute. Even Mid-20th Century socialists like the song’s writer believed in things which were historically unique to America (freedom of movement, speech, artistic expression, etc), so even though (in the less-popular version) they could lament the fact that private property exists, or that people are hungry, they could still recognize America’s superiority, feel genuine love for it, and write a patriotic song about it.
While it is true that humanity could be fundamentally the same – and therefore united – because all people possess the certain basic physical and neurological traits necessary to do so, it is empirically obvious that all people are not the same. That they have intellectual and moral differences which makes global unity impossible. The song “This Land is Your Land” is a recognition of those differences (specifically by being a self-referential celebration of some or all of the, depending upon one’s economic beliefs, the particular intellectual and moral values that distinguish Americans from all other peoples). The culture, however, has reached the point where such things are offensive prima facia. Why? Because they distinguish differences at all. Because they discriminate, period.
The real target of this commercial isn’t America, the poster-child of capitalism, or even patriotism in general (regardless of the country). The real target is evaluation as such. Any evaluation. Any standard. Any meaning. In short: thinking. Thinking, per se.
While people who see this commercial, and approve of it, will tell themselves that they feel the way that they do because they are finally moving beyond the “artificial” boundaries of nation and culture, and towards the (never quite fully defined) value “love”, what they’re really feeling good about is the fact that a song which is (by Americans) widely (even if incorrectly) thought to be an (all too rare) completely unapologetic celebration of “Americanism” is being diluted and rendered impotent. What an exceptional act of destruction!
This commercial is for nihilists, and will only work because nihilism (short of immediate suicide) cannot be practiced consistently. In practice, a nihilist is simply someone with a sense of life based upon a malevolent universe metaphysics, so whenever he is provided with a rationalization such as this one, his misery is momentarily numbed. He is allowed to feel like it’s everyone else (ie: those “patriotic zombies) who lack love and genuine values (blanking out the fact that the very purpose of creating America is to protect values from those who would oppose them), and not him. Jeep knows that this experience is very pleasurable to the nihilist, so it hopes that this commercial will leave enough of an impression that when he thinks of it, he won’t just remember the “love for humanity” he was allowed to feel, but also the fact that Jeep makes America’s most environmentally friendly SUV (which, if he “must live”, since “no one is perfect”, would bring the nihilist at least closer to his ideal: a “responsible” nothing).
It is bone-chilling that a cynical, pragmatic automobile manufacturer – people who have the least incentive to be philosophical, and therefore will only be so if they think it will work (ie: they will promote any philosophy if it helps them make money – calculated that enough Americans would find this ad appealing so as to be willing to air it on the country’s biggest stage (The Super Bowl).