Archive for the ‘Clothing and Fashion’ Category
The purpose of sports heroes – the value that they trade in exchange for the fortunes they earn – is to provide the public with inspiration. Their feats are supposed to be a supplement to the average person’s every day life. A way of helping the average person live his own life more heroically. The problem, however, is that in recent decades (due to the stagnating economy and disintegrating culture), the inspiration of sports heroes has transformed from a supplement to a substitute source of inspiration and pride. People are more and more quite literally living vicariously through famous athletes – and instead of the past time of paying attention to them being a net gain, it is often now a net loss (ie: a way to evade one’s problems, instead of an inspiration to face them and solve them). That is what this commercial exploits.
Usain Bolt, by illegally enjoying himself in what turns out to be someone else’s hot tub, is symbolically (albeit likely unknowingly) communicating his status in the culture, and the source of his (relatively greater) wealth (as compared to previous eras). His presence there is an acknowledgement of the fact that he doesn’t have what a man of similar accomplishments, decades ago, failed to have simply because he is better than that predecessor, but precisely because people are willing to now give a man like him more than they were before.
Of course, this is a dramatic, absurdly unrealistic expression of these facts – and that is precisely why it is expected to work to sell Puma brand merchandise.
The commercial provides the viewer with a means of rationalizing away his (subconscious) awareness of his inappropriately high interest in the sporting activity of other people. He is able to tell himself that if he were really giving the likes of Bolt more attention than they deserve, then that (ie: the use of his hot tub, and the affections of the women in his life) is what would be taken from him. He isn’t allowing that much to be intruded upon, so therefore he must not be over-valuing the athletic achievements of others.
The rationalization provides a moment’s reprieve from the anxiety which comes from having a disorganized or arbitrary value structure. The memory of that reprieve remains in the viewer’s mind, ready to prompt a recitation of the rationalization whenever the anxiety returns or becomes too much to bear (which it will, since the only thing which can ensure that it doesn’t return and grow is actually reducing one’s interest in sports figures to rational levels). That reoccurred rationalization, Puma hopes, will be closely associated (in the viewer’s mind) with Puma the brand, and then – hopefully – if the person happens to be in the market for sports apparel, he will consider taking a closer look at their products, and perhaps making a purchase.
This is the kind of manipulative, destructive, fundamentally non-capitalist behavior that capitalist organizations have to engage in when they’re mired in the unpredictable flux of a mixed economy, where only the short-term is certain.
This commercial is an implicit admission on the part of One Direction that they don’t have any exceptional talent or artistic vision. That their music is interchangable with that of any of the dozens of other “boy bands”, past and present. That what makes them popular now is simply their embrace of trivial things such as fashionable hairstyles. Anyone can see that this is what this commercial is, so shouldn’t this lower the group’s popularity, not increase or maintain it?
The reason why it won’t is because One Direction’s fans already knew this about them. They knew it, and – in their better moments – they were ashamed that they had been taken in by it (and afraid – rightly so – that they will continue to be taken in by it because one’s emotional responses aren’t within one’s immediate control). What the admission in this commercial does is allow them a moment’s reprieve from those feelings by creating doubt about their legitimacy.
When someone who likes One Direction sees the guys of One Direction making fun of themselves for what everyone knows to be true, what she (or he?) feels is that maybe – just maybe – there’s another, respectable reason why they feel they feel those feelings of shame and fear. That they’re not really fans of One Direction for the reasons they chronically fear and suspect (but never explicitly admit) they are.
It’s what Hitler and Goebbles termed “the big lie.” A lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” In other words: when One Direction, as they do in this commercial, implicitly says that they’re not deserving of the fame and fortune they receive*, the effect is that they convince people that they actually do. That they actually are an exceptionally talented group with exceptionally good music and messages.
People see them admitting to their mediocrity and think “no group which depends upon other’s stupidity for their success would point it out so explicitly, there must be another reason why I like them.” This thought relieves the shame of being taken in by such a gimmicky entertainment act (and the fear that continuing to do so is a bad thing), and in the process – hopefully, from Macy’s perspective – reminds them of Macy’s.
Macy’s knows that that feeling of relief – because it is based upon a specious rationalization – will not last. They know that the people who accepted it will need to consciously revisit it in order to reinstate it (to ward off the bad feelings), and they hope that when they do, in addition to thinking of One Direction, and wigs, and silly behavior, they will also think about Macy’s and whatever the company happens to be selling.
*This is by no means to say that One Direction – simply because they’re commonplace – don’t deserve any reward for being entertainers, or that their music and message is automatically worthless or harmful (their music and image is actually quite positive, on the whole). It is simply to point out that a disproportionate interest in “boy bands” – and this boy band in particular (if you’re not a local fan) – is unhealthy; and that it’s that unhealthy interest which is the source of the vast majority of their commercial success.
If Axe were to come right out and claim “if you use our product, women will automatically like you”, they would have very few (if any) sales. People wouldn’t believe it (simply because it is so absurd), and they may even come to resent the brand for making such a claim (making it more difficult to try get the public’s attention later on, should any attempt be made to discuss Axe Hair Styling’s actual merits). Axe knows this, so it doesn’t (explicitly) make that claim – but it also knows even though people may reject ideas consciously, subconsciously they may be accepting of them.
Whether out of desperation, or even a conscious belief that the irrational is possible, there are many people who are willing to try something to get what they desire simply because they believe it is better than doing nothing. All that an advertiser has to do is imply to such people that their product is that “something.” These commercials imply that using Axe Hair Styling alone will make women like you, and hide behind absurdist humor to do so. Clearly no one believes that any woman is going to do what these women do, so Axe is safe to retreat behind the excuse that they’re “just kidding” should they be charged with trying to exploit people’s mental frailties.
But isn’t that an apt charge? Isn’t that exactly what these commercials are trying to do? None of them discuss, in even the slightest detail, how the product works, how it is superior to competing products, evidence that shows that women respond to hair styled with “product”, or anything else along those lines. They simply assert women will like you if you style your hair, and then count on the customer’s ability to lie to himself (ie: tell himself it’s only a joke) should he feel silly later on for being taken in by such an empty, simplistic claim.
Capitalism is supposed to be about trade. Not trade in the superficial sense that goods are being exchanged, or in the subjectivist sense that both party’s desires (no matter how irrational and self-defeating they may be) are being fulfilled – but trade in the sense of mutual benefit. Of a true quid pro quo. Of an interaction where both parties come away truly better off than they were before.
Sadly, in today’s “capitalism”, such trades are becoming rarer and rarer. Because of the centrally-planned, and therefore unpredictable, nature of the macro-economy, the short-term is essentially all that matters to firms. Whereas in a truly capitalistic system most firms would sacrifice the short-term for the sake of the long-term (eg: Henry Ford famously refusing to sell Model T’s in any color but black, despite public demand for variety, so that he could give his company a solid foundation first; which in the long-run was of greater objective benefit to the car-consuming public), in today’s mixed economy of capitalism and socialism, firms have no choice but to either sacrifice the long-term to the short or to go out of business.
As a result, advertisements like these are produced. People are induced to make purchases based not upon a product’s objective merits (and in many cases, tragically, there are some – despite them being ignored), but based upon range-of-the-moment, emotional impulses that have nothing directly to do with the product. Ironically, in much the same way that a woman would decide to get to know a man just because his hair made her feel a certain way; without reference to any facts that may or may not support doing so.
Increasing numbers of young people, and in increasingly sophisticated and enveloping ways, and as a result of the education (read: indoctrination) they receive, the example set by their elders, and the structure of the adult society they will soon enter, are choosing the manipulation of others as their means of survival (as opposed to the manipulation of physical matter). Such a “career choice”, however, does not provide for authentic self-esteem and genuine happiness. No matter how much prestige or “fun” or material wealth they may have already achieved, they remain unhappy. No matter how much more they plan to acquire in their adult lives, they remain aware that they will never be happy.
This commercial is expected to have wide appeal precisely because it allows this sort of young person a respite from that secret unhappiness. It allows him to “get out in front of it” by comparing his actual self and his actual deeds to the person and deeds portrayed in the ad. Because the culture has not degraded quite so much that obvious, crude manipulation of this sort can work (and thus is not attempted), the receptive viewer of this ad is able to conclude: “that is what a manipulator looks like, and that is what a manipulator does.” This, of course, allows him a moment’s relief from his own uneasiness through the unspoken conclusion “I don’t do that, I must not be a manipulator.”
Such a young person may gain sway over his peers, access to opportunities and/or physical wealth precisely because he is skilled at making something as trivial as the direction of one’s shoe laces into a referendum on a person’s soul (and many today do just that) – and he may dream of one day being able to take that knack for exploiting the pretentions and insecurities of his authentically knowledgable and productive betters into the “big time” of politics or the arts or the media – but it’s ironic that the only type of person this ad – which was made by grown-up versions of that type of person – will work on is precisely the type of person who is supposed to see cynically through it.
Too Bad That Your Chic “If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em” Philosophy Came From the Mouth of a Hick Senator From Indiana, Who Also Happened to Be a Member of the Ku Klux Klan
In other words: You’re aware that the fashion world is nothing more than the arbitrary, nonsensical whims of a bunch of flawed people just like you, who think just low enough of themselves that they’re willing to be slightly more opportunistic (read: ruthlessly manipulative) than you are, so that they landed the jobs that you wanted but didn’t receive. You secretly realize how pretentious, pointless, and wasteful their entire existences are, but – lacking any genuine source of self-esteem to beat them – you should shop Marshall’s to join them as best as you can.
Here we see the parastical nature of evil. Evil must not just appropriate the material values which it’s victims produce, but also it’s spiritual achievements as well. It does this by distorting their subject matters, perverting their meanings, and cutting off the result from the achievement’s original intent.
The dialogue in this piece is a heavily attenuated, slightly edited, poem by Walt Whitman entitled, unsurprisingly, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” Originally published in 1865 at the height of Manifest Destiny, it was meant to inspire moral confidence in those youths of Western Culture. To spur them on, beyond the devestation and disllusionment of the Civil War, and to continue their achievement of conquering nature and building a nation.
The best that could be said of this commercial is that it is a eulogy to that long dead spirit, but because it is selling blue jeans, the only objective conclusion to be reached is that it is attempting to christen the current spirit of the youth as equally noble to it’s predessessor in order to “fit in.” Observe the senseless, purposeless, primitive actions, symbols, and facial expression of the youths in the commercial. Notice how all of the shots feature youths entering to commune with – as opposed to entering to conquer – nature. This is clearly meant to elevate a lack of achievement to equal prestige with that of actual achievement. To further inculcate the already prevalent multiculturalist notion that a primitive lifestyle is no worse than a modern one.
Levi’s, like most well-established companies, believe they cannot afford to do anything except adapt to the philosophical conventions of the time. Nevertheless, this particular compromise may be especially sad. It is likely, given that company’s unique history, that it wishes desperately to believe that the worst about the youth of today isn’t true – that they actually are the same sorts who bought their blue jeans over a century ago, in order to continue doing exactly what Mr. Whitman exhorted them to do in his poem. Perhaps Levi’s believes that by celebrating that spirit, even if in a heavily distored way, that they will reignite it. Unfortunately, ultimately, this desire, if it is there, is not enough to do so.