Archive for the ‘Food and Drink’ Category
The commercial works as follows: America’s moral – and thus financial – integrity, stability, and potential are at all-time lows, Americans (inexorably) are constantly aware of it, but only emotionally. They’re plagued by fear (because they can’t understand why, nor how to fix it), as well as by guilt (because they vaguely grasp that they’re partially responsible for it). They don’t like this feeling, so anything which (temporarily) alleviates it will be valued more than it otherwise would be. This commercial allows for the following rationalization: “Things are not that bad, so therefore my fears are – somehow – unfounded. That is the kind of thing I would see going on around me if things were truly as bad as I constantly feel like they are.” Taco Bell knows that because this is only a rationalization – that things are tantamount to as bad as this – that such precious heirlooms are being compromised, albeit not with such willful blatancy) – people will inevitably have their fear and their guilt return. When they do, Taco Bell hopes that such people will remember the feeling produced when first seeing this commercial (in order to make the uncomfortable feelings go away yet again), remember that they’re hungry, or need to pick food up for the family, or whatever and then decide to visit Taco Bell.
If Taco Bell – a company that is quite literally a luxury of an economy with a strong capitalist foundation – suffers or even disappears as a result of the very things they’re trying to get people to evade (so that they can capitalize in the short-term), they will have deserved their fate.
If one saw, in real life, a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips, the blemish would mean nothing but a minor affliction, and one would ignore it. But a painting of such a woman would be a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values — and one would experience a feeling of immense disgust and indignation at the artist. (There are also those who would feel something like approval and who would belong to the same moral category as the artist.) -Ayn Rand
The apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head, true or not, is (or is at least believed to be) the defining moment in his life (and indeed, because it dealt with such an important physical truth, one of the defining moments in the history of Western Civilization itself). Obviously, because such profound epiphanies do not actually occur (or at least are not caused by being literally hit in the head), the actual historical incident (if true) is of little consequence. In other words, if Isaac Newton actually was hit in the head by a falling apple, and if instead of it inspiring him to formulate his theory of gravity it made him desire an apple-flavored ale, it would be of no importance. The fact that Isaac Newton, just like everyone else, drank alcohol doesn’t in any way detract from his status as a giant of history. Of course he drank ale! He was, after all, a man.
However, if Newton wasn’t actually hit by an apple (or at least if it’s unverifiable), and therefore the legend (as it actually is) is simply a subliminal way to communicate the integrated nature of mind and matter (ie: that “fortune favors the prepared mind”), and therefore it’s purpose is to inspire people to be rational and to study sciences (so that they too may be able to “accidentally” make a profound discovery) – then to artistically emphasize the fact that Newton, when hit on the head, may have just as likely been inspired to have a particular flavor of ale is “a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on [intelligence], on all values.”
The purpose of this commercial is to inculcate and/or exploit whatever nihilism it’s viewers might possess. Because Western culture is no longer predominantly rational, enough hopelessness has seeped it’s way into people that this commercial will not be offensive, but comforting. It’s subliminal message is the following: “Even Isaac Newton was a man – and therefore he was also idiot, so it’s okay for you to be one too. Yes, he did happen to discover a fundamental physical truth which has shaped, does shape, and will continue to shape human existence no matter what, but he could have just as easily been provoked (by a falling fruit) to desire an apple-flavored beer. He was just lucky a lucky idiot – and you’re not one, so lighten up, stop aspiring to greatness, and make the best of how life really is (ie: enjoy a cheap little indulgence, such as a beer, since that’s the closest to happiness that you – a member of a pathetic little class of creature known as ‘humans’ – are going to get).”
Western culture is at a point where the consistent, conscientious rationality which was the true cause of Newton’s achievement (and all others like it) is needed the most. It was the only cause of it’s existence, and it is it’s only hope for survival – but because of the mixed economy, capitalist enterprises (organizations which are ironically derivative of, and completely dependent upon, the existence of a rationality-revering culture) would rather take whatever emotional impulses (ie: anxiety and guilt) which could provoke people to think about what they’re subconsciously aware of, and manipulatively redirect them not into saving the culture, but into the same sort of nihilistic irrationality which is destroying it (ie: which makes such pragmatic business tactics appear necessary in the first place). This commercial is a particularly glaring example of that.
“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.
The man represents a certain type of person: the trader. The woman represents another type: the parasite. Virtually everyone in America these days is a mixture of both. Is it so bad that people see the values others possess and always instantly imagine taking them (as opposed to trading for them)? No, but enough people do – enough of the time – that this commercial is expected to work. How will it work? By giving such people a rationalization for their parasitic (ie: fundamentally unAmerican) behavior. That rationalization, in a nutshell, consists of saying to oneself: “that is what a true parasite thinks like. I don’t have thoughts like that, so therefore I must not be a parasite.” (as if the degree of something somehow changes it’s nature). That rationalization provides a moment’s relief from the chronic (and deserved) feelings of guilt and shame which inevitably come from choosing to be a mixture or trader and parasite. It’s evasion through hyperbole.
The way it plays out in this particular commercial is that people know (or at least subconsiously grasp) that it takes quite a bit of parasitical behavior to reach the point – spiritually – where one could be capable of intentionally corrupting her capacity for romance in order to achieve some ulterior value, and so they are able to conclude that because they don’t do so for something so obviously of lesser value such as a Quesarito, that they don’t consitently do such things (and therefore have not reached a spiritual level that is tantamount to doing what the woman in this commercial does). The commercial helps many people evade the fact that they do compromise their capacity for romance in order to have a relationship which “works” (eg: is socially-acceptable, or financially-safe, etc). Or, at the very least, it helps them evade the fact that their fundamentally unAmerican behavior is the acceptance of lesser values (whatever benefits they receive as a result, even if they’re not spiritual), and that doing so comes at the expense of greater values (ie: the long-term maintenance and security of those benefits which – ironically – destroys their capacity to embrace and enjoy true relationships, including romantic ones, once their “practical benefits” allow opportunities for them to come along).
These two commercials employ the same trick that these commercials employ. Taking a legitimate character trait – a steadfast refusal to suffer political oppression – and trivializing it. The problem isn’t that there’s anything wrong with having standards about relatively unimportant things – afterall, the purpose of creating and maintaining a free society is so that one can live and be happy, and meeting one’s standards is an integral part of achieving happiness – but there is definitely something wrong with exploiting those who only have standards about relatively unimportant things.
These commercials are expected to appeal to the American public because the American public, for the most part, allows itself to be pushed around politically (and in fact most readily contribute to the “pushing”, provided it benefits them personally). Most Americans (correctly) feel anxiety and guilt about that. They know (or at least subconsciously sense) that if the “pushing” continues, eventually it will have direct consequences. They also know – or sense – that they could do something about it (even if that means “compromising” one’s standard of living because of a steadfast refusal to be part of the problem). The result of these feelings should be pledging their “lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors” in order to change things, but McCormick and Terminix would prefer that such emotional energy instead be directed at grilling and pest control.
McCormick and Terminix are hoping that their commercials produce the following rationalization: “I must not be part of the political problems plaguing America today, because if I were, then I wouldn’t have standards. I’m refusing to compromise here, so I must have standards about everything.” That rationalization is hoped to produce a moment’s relief from the (deserved) anxiety and guilt, and then when it comes back – which it will, since it’s a response to facts – the companies hope that the public associates the escape from it not with changing those facts, but with their products – so that in the event that the consumer happens to be in the market for them, they will think of their particular brands.
To employ this trick, ironically, is McCormick’s and Terminix’ contribution to the “pushing around” which is plaguing America, and if one day not even those tactics will work anymore (because the economy will be so bad that people won’t have any option but to compromise on grilling and pest control), they will deserve the consequences.