Archive for the ‘Health’ Category
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.
Axe, in it’s advertising, has always hidden behind the pretense of being “down to earth.” Not the type of brand to insult the consumer’s intelligence by claiming it’s products will automatically make him irresistible to the opposite sex. It does this, ironically enough, by claiming just that – in a very direct and over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek fashion that’s the hallmark of it’s commercials. The insinuation which comes from this tactic is that contrary to the claims of it’s competitors and/or predecessors, personal styling products don’t automatically make a man irresistible (even though that was never what the others claimed – instead it was only that it their products would help – but that’s beyond the scope of this analysis).
Why, then, would Axe now claim that it’s products will cultivate world peace? Surely none of the competition has ever made that claim. The reason is because even though Axe has pretended to be “down to earth”, it actually never has been. In fact, it has been doing exactly what it has said it was never doing – what it has accused it’s competition of doing – all along. It actually has been claiming that it’s products will automatically make the consumer sexually irresistible, and it has been doing this through a trick known as the big lie.
Axe knows that even though virtually no one consciously believes in such a simple solution to the challenge of being attractive, there are many who subconsciously wish for one, or who (because of faulty metaphysics) think one is possible. Such people, when they hear such flagrant claims, may consciously laugh them off as ridiculous, but will still subconsciously consider them as having merit (“surely no one would make such a flagrantly absurd claim – and only make such a flagrantly absurd claim – if there wasn’t at least some element of truth to it”).
The problem with this tactic, however, is that it’s untenable. Eventually even the most “metaphysically twisted” individual will subconsciously reject his non-objective metaphysical beliefs and begin to operate, at least in regards to this issue, according to an objective set of them. The result is someone who’s own personal experience has destroyed all confidence in the claim that something as simple as body spray will make him sexually irresistible (ie: “women keep behaving like women, god damn it!”. At this point, if the company wishes to continue to have him buy it’s product (even though the product is either not worth the money, or virtually identical in quality and effect to competing products, making his selection arbitrary), it is going to have to sustain the big lie by exploiting other irrational philosophic notions.
Many people believe in the political doctrine of collectivism, and the ethical doctrine of altruism. As a result, they become enthusiastic (and uncritical) whenever any behavior or suggestion is portrayed as being “for the greater good” and self-sacrificial. Axe knows that the capacity to desire simple solutions to complex challenges is still present in the consumer (because the metaphysical paradigm shift – from non-objective to objective – was only situational and subconscious), so if it wishes to go on exploiting it, all it needs to do is give him a rationalization for his to indulge it. The notion that the kind of attraction he seeks by using Axe products is not simply an involuntary, physiologically-induced reaction (which would be ugly and shameful, even if it were possible), but instead it is world-saving “love” is perfect for this.
Obviously the claim that nothing more than hair gel or body wash will make one irresistible to the opposite sex is absurd on it’s face, but even if it were true, the claim – that all it would take to achieve world peace is “love” between men and women (a blind, chemically-induced “love” no less) – would still be absurd by itself. Axe isn’t worried about this, however, because just as the first “big lie” created believers in it, for the same philosophical reasons, so will the second – and so there will continue to be suckers to continue to buy their products (at least until they have to come up with the next, even more perverse “reason”).
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.
“Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at. The classic example: you see a very snooty, very well dressed dowager walking down the street, and then she slips on a banana peel . . . . What’s funny about it? It’s the contrast of the woman’s pretensions to reality. She acted very grand, but reality undercut it with a plain banana peel. That’s the denial of the metaphysical validity or importance of the pretensions of that woman. Therefore, humor is a destructive element—which is quite all right, but its value and its morality depend on what it is that you are laughing at. If what you are laughing at is the evil in the world (provided that you take it seriously, but occasionally you permit yourself to laugh at it), that’s fine. [To] laugh at that which is good, at heroes, at values, and above all at yourself [is] monstrous . . . . The worst evil that you can do, psychologically, is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face.” – Leonard Peikoff, The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series, Lecture 11, 1976
This commercial is a parody of the type of commercial that producers of personal hygeine products were known for employing during the 20th Century (especially in the 1970’s and 80’s). What was the element of the human experience that such commercials gave metaphysical importance to? Which element is this new commercial mocking? Succinctly, it’s the connection between what kind of man one is (ie: the choices he makes in every area of his life, including his personal ones) and the work that he does. It’s a recognition of the fact that to be successful at work one has to have the same approach to all things. One has to be integrated. All of his life’s facets must work harmoniously with each other to symbiotically support one another. They must not be in contradiction, and working to undermine one another. To bring the same seriousness, passion, and conscientious judgment to all of one’s choices – big and small – will make all of his life better off. That is the notion that the old commercials celebrated, and what this new commercials mocks.
Given today’s macroeconomic environment, it’s no surprise that such a notion would be expected to be met with contempt. Relative to even the Mid-20th Century (when it was by no means completely direct but certainly more so than today), the direct connection between overall virtue and professional success is almost non-existent today. To be a virtuous person guarantees nothing these days in terms of economic success (if anything it guarantees the opposite). It’s almost impossible to know why a given man is successful and why another is not. While there are still some slivers of the society that allow for – or even demand – personal virtue (and only personal virtue) in order to reach financial goals, the overwhelming majority of them don’t necessarily do. It’s just as easy these days to get rich by being immoral as it is by being moral (or any precarious mixture of the two). A rich man’s riches tell you nothing about his moral stature, just as a poor man’s rags tell you nothing about his.
Everyone knows this. Few acknowledge it (the culture still hides behind the pretense that America is still a meritocracy, just as it’s always been), but everyone knows it – subconsciously. If they didn’t, then this commercial would not have been released. It would not have been expected to succeed – and if by some fluke it had been released anyway, it would have received widespread denunciation. Instead, not only has it been released, but accepted and praised. Why? Because it provides people with an answer to the uncertainty described above. It tells them that those who succeed actually are immoral (and always have been). By linking the type of man who was praised in such commercials decades ago not with professional ability, but with incompetence (“the worst architect in the world”), it gives people a comforting feeling that such men who were once praised are now “getting what they deserve” (contempt) “because they aren’t really good at their jobs anyway.” It allows some people to feel as though the fact that men were better in previous generations was all just a lie – which helps to sever the connection between their overall immorality and their lack of professional competence. It helps them to believe that it’s not a vice to be immoral and/or a financial failure, but a virtue. It’s simply a lack of pretentiousness. A cold, hard, mature look at the way the world really is: hopeless and pointless. Or, if successful, it allows them to feel as though their immorality is actually a okay because, even though they have professional success just as the virtuous man does, he is (and always has been) really just as inept as they are (so what difference does it make that they reached that same status by social climbing, or pandering – instead of hard work as he did?).
Old Spice is attempting to pander to the worst in people – their jealousy, their nihilism, their hatred of the good for being the good – in order to make a short-term profit (at the expense of their long-term self interest, since it’s these same attitudes that gets anti-business politicians elected). It’s disgusting, but understandable – given the fact that in today’s economy no business can afford to thing about anything except the short-term.
Why promote a product without saying anything about the product itself? It’s a wide-spread tactic, so it must be working, but why is it done? In most instances it is because the product is either virtually bereft of redeeming qualities, abused by the demographic being targeted, or essentially identical to competing products. The message of these commercials is, basically, as long as you become more masculine in one (minor) respect, it’s okay to remain emasculated in every other. Instead of dealing with a lack of masculinity, buy Barbasol and feel like that constitutes dealing with it. Because Barbasol is, at present, more or less identical to competing products, this is all the company can do to meet short-term sales goals.
It is tempting to think that what the company is doing with these ads is drawing attention to the very real problem of the emasculation of American culture (without having to risk being accused of political activism). If this is true, the company’s desire to see that problem solved is understandable. There is a direct connection between the long-term profitability of large companies and how self-confident (how “masculine”) a country’s citizens are. Moral relativism breeds passivity in men (if for no other reason than a fear of being called close-minded or patriarchal or Eurocentric or “fascist”, etc), and as a result political leaders who are inimical to business and industry receive or maintain power. However, even if that was Barbasol’s motivation for producing these ads, in the way explained above, the laws of human psychology dictate that these ads will only prolong or worsen the problem.
If a company as large as Barbasol truly felt that the state of the culture is so dire as to warrant it becoming directly involved with political activism – if it felt that that was in it’s best interest (as opposed to simply doing whatever it can – no matter how immoral – to make a profit) – then such oblique and nebulous political activism would be considered fruitless. Much more drastic measures would be seen as necessary. With that in mind, the proper interpretation of this series of advertisements is that it is yet another example (well documented elsewhere on this blog) of a cynical, desperate, short-term oriented company employing sophisticated psychological manipulation techniques on the public in order to profit right now.
If Barbasol is not going to “complain like a man”, it should at least “advertise like a man.”
First, even if it were true that “sex makes the world go round”, why treat a profound truth with casual, mocking contempt? Surely most Ancient Egyptians, Imperial Japanese, and medieval Europeans thought their lives and struggles to be prosaic and unimportant just as most modern Americans do about their own lives. Does that mean that we, ordinary modern Americans, regard the lives of these historic people that way? No. Obviously not. This commercial specifically exploits the popular, albeit fuzzy, impression that everyone in those eras was dealing with broadly-reaching and dramatic political and cultural events (ie: the common woman of today is being told to compare herself to the common woman of the past – who, as we “all know”, was patently uncommon). This is not necessarily a bad thing. Assuming the “sex-as-motor premise” were true, the fact that American women are being reminded that their own lives truly are just as important (and, in fact, more important – since their lives are morally rigtheous) than the romanticized impressions they have of the past, this commercial would be an exceptional positive. By asking modern women to take themselves – all of themselves – seriously in their own life time, it would be affimation and celebration of the fact that the American spirit is alive and well within young, middle-class, American women; a demographic notoriously lacking in it. It would be telling them, in effect: “you – through your sexuality – are the cause of the greatness that is our modern, scientific, industrialized, politically-stable and morally-just culture. You – the rewarding pleasure you have the capacity to impart – is the (uniquely rational and legitimate) incentive which motivates men to achieve the great things which they do. Honor that, by honoring yourself – by taking care of your body.” It would be giving moral justification to femininity, sexuality, and – by extension – masculinity, modernity, and Western culture’s Aristotelian (eudamonistic) philosophy.
Unfortunately for Summer’s Eve, however, the “sex-makes-the-world-go-round” theory is patently false – and so that interpretation of this commercial is too generous. In truth, all this commercial is actually doing is trying to appeal to what is the actual spirit of today’s women. In other words: this commercial is not asking modern women to take all of themselves seriously. It’s only asking them to take seriously the only aspect which has been taken seriously throughout most of human history. Which brings up the second problem with this commercial.
The reason why this commercial is expected to appeal to contemporary, ordinary American women is because it compliments a method of existence which more and more of them are employing more and more of the time. In past epochs – before America, individual rights, capitalism, and everything else exceptional about the post-Renaissance world – it really was possible for a woman to have increased chances for survival by being born with exceptional beauty. This isn’t to say that this isn’t still true – or even that it’s improper in a tie-breaker between two otherwise identical women – but merely to say that in past eras beauty alone could suffice. In other words: moral character be damned, looks are what count.
Why was that possible? Because of the men of the time. Before America, before individual rights, before capitalism, and before everything else exceptional about the post-Renaissance world, the men who rose to the top were either the most physically dominant or the most morally corrupt, or both. If you were stronger than the man down the road there was nothing in law or in ethics which said that you were wrong to take what he owned and make him your slave. Or, if you were more ruthless than him, again, there was nothing preventing you from declaring yourself his political superior, concocting some vague intellectual (usually religious) “justification” for it, and doing the same thing. In other words: Happiness (ie: Aristotelianism, eudamonism) be damned, raw survival (by any means necessary) is what counts (ie: that’s all that that can be expected of life, and that’s all that was had). Men like this, for centuries and in every corner of the world, ruled the types of men who currently (or at least until very recently) – and justifiably – “dominated” the culture from the American Revolution onward. They set the politics (individual rights), maintained the economics (capitalism), invented the wealth and made life better for everyone. In doing so, these men were able to “dominate” (ie: attract) contemporary women romantically and sexually – precisely because these women understood to whom they owed their existence. In the past, however, it was the morally-corrupt historical archetypes who were in charge. They were the ones who controlled the lives not just of morally-righteous, victimized men, but of women as well. Just as these brutes and degenerates sought to become their betters (the producers of wealth) by seizing the results of their betters, they sought ways to believe themselves to have similar spirits to those of their victims. They did so by acquiring the symbols of such a spirit. One such symbol was the companionship of a beautiful woman – so that’s who they sought.
Despite themselves, they knew that a beautiful woman, kept in a life of luxury, was only possible if enough wealth existed within the culture to support her. In the past, because of the prevailing social dynamics, there wasn’t much wealth – and thus such women weren’t common. If, in the past, a brute or a cheat seized enough wealth from his impoverished victims to be able to have such a woman, he was able to believe that he too was a creator of wealth, a contributor to society, and a man of noble soul. And just as terrified men allowed such men to believe they were productive achievers by choosing not to resist, so long as the brute’s woman, terrified like an animal in fear of her death at his hands, played along, he was able to look at her association with him and believe himself to be something other than what, the rest of the time, he knew that he was.
In a sense, a woman in this situation isn’t to blame – but only if she doesn’t know any better. The women of today should know better. There are mountain ranges of recent historical evidence to suggest that life doesn’t have to be the way it was for so long. They’re surrounded by the residual results of life “under” a different sort of man. It wasn’t until the Enlightenment (ie: it wasn’t until the traditional victims threw off their traditional oppressors) that the existence of such women began to grow; culminating in the archetype of the twentieth century American house wife (who lived a life far superior in terms of material comfort than even her uncommon historical counterparts ever could dream). Yet, most contemporary women couldn’t come close to realizing this fact – let alone caring enough to resist it’s reversal by any and all means available. That is why this commercial is expected to be appealing: despite it being patently primitive, it fits perfectly with the contemporary woman’s pre-Enlightenment, “progressive” world view.
For the most part, a woman can’t help it if she is born beautiful. Just as an ugly woman is to be applauded when she develops a beautiful soul nevertheless, a physically beautiful woman should be encouraged, inspired, and even expected to do the same (and chided if she fails – or worse: choses to intentionally make herself physically or spiritually ugly; as so many are doing today). This dynamic, however, assumes a specific type of broader cultural atmosphere; which itself presupposes a specific set of prevailing (implicit or explicit) philosophic beliefs. Today’s culture – today’s dominant philosophic assumptions – produces a view of life (ie: in politics, in economics, in personal relationships) – in which life is a zero-sum game. This necessarily produces women who believe and feel, down to their cores, not that physical beauty is merely a fortunate accident of nature – irrelevant to the problem of survival per se, but nevertheless an immense and luxurious value to be relished and cherished (in private, and only with a man who has earned it) once that problem has been overcome. Instead, increasingly, modern women necessarily regard physical beauty as nothing more than an uninspiring tool to be cynically used; in the same way that a predator disguises itself as a flower to deceive its prey. Life, to to the spiritually-battered women of today, is nothing more than an animal’s version of passive, hand-to-mouth existence. Emotionally, that nothing more should be expected of life than the private emptiness of believing that what she has isn’t what she deserves – only what she was born with. These are the cynical, wretched emotions being appealed to in this commercial.
Contrary to popular belief – which superfically, yet smugly and self-righteously, insists that personal belief systems have no relation to every day affairs and thus any and all of them must be tolerated and respected no matter what – improper philosophical ideas can and will rob a people of not just their freedom and wealth (as every day’s headlines show to be happening). Additionally, and more importantly, they can quite literally twist the core of your soul beyond recognition.
“Hi, I’m an eighteen to twenty-four year old female who’s ability to read memorized lines that I didn’t write makes me seem self-aware and intelligent. Despite my appearance, you can relate to me because I share the same cynical attitudes about beauty and happiness that you do. I’m trying to be like you right now. I can’t help that I neglected my intelligence in order to manipulate people with my beauty – just as you can’t help that you neglected your beauty in order to manipulate people with your intelligence. Anyways, I’m in this commercial because market research shows that girls like you love to dislike girls like the one I’m pretending to be. Don’t all the disassociative observations I’m making prove to you that we have something in common? Now I really am going to tell you to buy something. Buy the same tampons I will use for awhile – the ones in the ugly, unpopular packaging, so that eventually the ones in the traditional packaging become unpopular, at which time I will resume using those. This is because just like your stock and trade – pseudo-intellectualism – gets people to make uninformed decisions, beauty does too. You see, we’re not all that different after all. We may be enemies in competition for the same target – the girl who is both genuinely intelligent and beautiful and not ashamed of it – but ultimately we’re the same kind of half-formed spiritual parasite. So don’t wish you could be me; you already are.”