Archive for the ‘Soft Goods’ Category
This is yet another example of “evasion through hyperbole” – a phenomenon well documented on this blog. Succinctly, this commercial works precisely because it conceals itself behind the premise that no – or at least few – men actually do such things (and therefore deserve to be laughed at, and therefore this is just harmless humor), and yet at the same time that very concealment allows the vast majority of men who actually do such things (albeit not so blatantly) to think that they don’t.
Obviously this man is taking advantage of that woman. He is gaining something from her (higher esteeem for him) that he doesn’t deserve (because isn’t actually the one doing the chore of picking out the furniture). The appeal of the commercial is the rationalization: “Well I don’t to that, so therefore I don’t do anything like that. That isn’t what my relationship is based upon.”
Communism/socialism is the doctrine that all people are entitled to an equal (or at least adequate) share of a nation’s wealth, regardless of the degree of their contribution to the creation of that wealth. In practice, because it ignores basic economic principles, this doctrine results in dictatorship – which means that the only things which are ever actually “equalized” are the various petty details of one’s life (what kind of light bulb he can purchase, how many viewpoints he is allowed to be exposed to, what kind of haircut he can have). As Western culture continues to become more communist/socialist, Westerners – correctly – sense that their individuality is being threatened. The result is an emotion-based rebellion. People begin to cling to anything and everything that is “theirs” – no matter how irrational and self-destructive – simply because they fear if they don’t, then they have surrendered the battle for their independence, identity, and freedom.
Women, for whatever reason, are especially prone to this type of existentialism – and therefore the key to romantic success with them is to flatter it (even if you think it is wrong). In other words: to gain her approval (by making her believe that she has yours) even though you don’t deserve it (because she doesn’t actually have yours). This is simply a more subtle – although pervasive – form of exactly the same thing that is dramatized in this commercial. It’s exactly the sort of thing that this commercial is intended to help the viewer evade (so that he will have a moment’s pleasant reprieve from the self-contempt he feels as a result of his willingness to be stupid, and therefore – hopefully, from Ikea’s perspective – think of Ikea the next time he feels that contempt as a result of yet again being fake).
These two commercials employ “evasion through hyperbole.” By dramatizing absurd, extremely unlikely scenarios, they allow people to evade something that’s actually occurring within the culture. Is it true that the government – and thus the police – are becoming more and more arbitrary and oppressive? Yes. Absolutely. Is it true that the business community is becoming more and more pretentious, and less and less truly productive? Again, yes. Absolutely (which would explain why America has incurred more debt within the last 15 years than it did in it’s first 220).
These things are so obvious that even the most oblivious, narrowly-focused person cannot help but have an inkling of them. As a result, they experience a certain amount of fear (because there are consequences) and guilt (because they are part of a “self-governing people”). These commercials provide such people with the following rationalizations: “This country couldn’t be headed towards a police state, because if it were then that is the kind of thing that would be happening. That isn’t happening, so I must be misinterpreting something. There must be another explanation for why the things which actually are happening – which I think are arbitrary and oppressive – are happening.” The other one allows the viewer to think “This country’s economy isn’t a ‘bubble’ built upon pretense and posturing – because if it were then things like that would be happening. They’re not, so I must be misinterpreting something. There must be another reason why I have that inkling.”
The effect of such subliminal messages are, not accidentally, a moment’s reprieve from such uncomfortable (but well-founded) feelings. That relief then registers in the memory of the viewer, so that the next time they appear (which these companies know they will – since they are responses to facts), the viewer will remember the experience of being relieved of them. They will then (hopefully) associate that experience with the particular company which provided it for them, think about how they happen to need help with moving, or shipping, or copying, or whatever – and then purchase the product or services being advertised (and from Old Dominion or FedEx in particular, since they “might as well”, since there’s really no significant qualitative difference between competing products and services).
The first commercial is representative of Minwax’ long-standing advertising style. They have, for at least a few years now, produced a number of commercials that are virtually identical to that one. If people think of Minwax commercials, it is commercials like it which they think of. The company knows this, so the second and third commercials are the brand’s most recent productions. These commercials are a (self) mockery of the earlier commercials. These commercials “explain” the pride which is shown in the earlier commercials by “revealing” that it is really a symptom of neurosis. By showing the people to be irrationally proud of their projects (which is what accosting complete strangers, and others who are clearly preoccupied, undoubtedly shows), Minwax is insinuating that there is no such thing as a rational pride in one’s work. By making fun of themselves – by now claiming that pride is something to be ashamed of – they are apologizing for claiming the opposite in their earlier commercials. They are letting everyone know that they’ve “seen the light”, so to speak.
Most of the today’s public is, at best, afraid of showing themselves to be innocent or genuine or proud in even the slightest degree (for fear of being labeled naive or pretentious or arrogant) – and at worst they are the cynical and nihilistic creatures who would make such accusations (creatures who hate the good for being the good). Because of this, Minwax cannot get it’s message to register with a wide enough audience by simply complimenting the innocent, genuine, and proud in people. Instead it must pander to the fearful and/or cynical within them, count on the fact that those emotions will be more frequently excited in today’s culture, hope that the experience of having those emotions touched (by viewing the recent commercials) will be intense enough to associate Minwax with experiencing them (the next time it happens), and in doing so remind the consumer about the product’s existence (should he also just so happen to be in the market for wood coatings).
Why would a brand of something as innocuous as wood coatings resort to such tactics? Why would they court disaster by pandering to the worst within people when, in the long run, it is the best within them that will be necessary to continue to desire to do something as straight-forward and innocent as home improvement projects? It is because in today’s semi-free, semi-controlled mixed economy there isn’t necessarily such a thing as “the long run.” When everyone’s economic interests are as much at the mercy of the whims of a relative few central planners – instead of the timeless, immutable laws of economics – all any company can do is decide to do whatever it can – no matter how dishonorable – to get as much as it can, as quick as it can. Such is the nature of today’s “capitalism.”
One of the most tragic things about living in a mixed economy is that when one observes any given economic event, one can never be sure what one is witnessing. Is the Cree LED light bulb truly a life-improving leap forward, or is it simply the direct or indirect result of government meddling in the economy? Obviously the answer to that question is highly complex (it would require first answering the technical question of which type of bulb is better – which itself is so highly contextual such a label as “better” is virtually meaningless – as well as researching deeply into things like the finances of Cree, Inc. and the backgrounds of it’s personnel), but that is besides the point. The point is that the average consumer, when he witnesses a commercial such as this one, should feel nothing but positive emotions (because, in vacuum, this is a flawless commercial) – and yet he may not (and with very good reason). Questions such as the one posed above, as well as the more general question of whether or not Cree is simply trying to pawn off an inferior product, on uncritical consumers, by taking advantage of the environmentalist movement will inevitably affect his reaction.
While economics, obviously, is not the only factor involved, it is small, seemingly innocuous experiences such as this one – which can occur in any context (economic or otherwise) – that are the reason anxiety and depression are at all time highs in American culture. When one doesn’t “use” one’s dopamine (ie: pushes it to it’s limit and beyond), one “loses it” (ie: it atrophies).
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”).
People laugh at what they regard as unimportant. If, for example, a person has a habit of obsessively biting his finger nails, but otherwise is a rational person, he may poke fun at himself about it (or let others do so) because doing so is a round-about way of reveling in the healthy parts of his personality. It does not mean that he regards his bad habit as acceptable, or inevitable (since “no one is perfect”), but simply that he doesn’t regard consider it to be an essential characteristic. His marginal neurotic tendencies do not define the overall course of his life, and therefore they aren’t “who he is.”
What, then, do people who find this commercial funny regard as unimportant? This commercial highlights a shortcoming in the English language which makes certain words very easily mistaken for one another. Is this commercial a celebration of the fact that such shortcomings are rare (ie: unimportant), or is it something else? There are plenty of other linguistic shortcomings that Kmart could have chosen to dramatize. Why did they choose this one? Would having people mistake “fifty” for “fifteen” have been funny? It would have been just as feasible – people are, for instance, outside of a football stadium talking about where their seats are located, a misunderstanding ensues, and people do what they wouldn’t otherwise do – so why not choose that particular pair of words? Why not save the comedic value of linguistic shortcomings for an advertisement that highlights some other aspect of the company, and simply deliver the message of free shipping from Kmart.com in some other way?
The reason is because the types of misunderstandings that could occur if “fifty” was mistaken as “fifteen” could never be as shocking as mistaking “ship” for “shit.” That one particular instance of similar sounding words can make an innocent, innocuous remark very easily sound like a shocking, vile one. The contrast between what was intended and what was perceived is enormous. More so than probably any other instance in the English language. Nevertheless, it is still just a marginal, inconsequential, unimportant feature of the language, so why should it be any funnier than any other? Why should the comedic value of a linguistic misunderstanding outweigh the unpleasant experience of hearing dignified people speak in an undignified way (something which only “shit” for “ship” – instead of “fifteen” for “fifty” – can accomplish)?
People who find this commercial funny do so not because they regard unsuccessful communication as unimportant, but because they find civility and dignity unimportant. They regard the similarity between “ship” and “shit” – and the diametrical reactions that would ensue as a result of an innocent misunderstanding – as proof of the futility of trying to gain and/or keep anything (ie: that it could all be taken away so easily, by something as small as a mistaken word – or an o-ring). In other words: for such people, it’s not the failures in life that are the flukes, but the successes. Successes are what escape the normal course of things (which is to fail). By focusing on the fact that not only can the shortcomings of the value that is language produce misunderstandings, but that they can produce misunderstandings so completely out of proportion to what caused them – and that they can have consequences as severe as losing one’s dignity (albeit unintentionally) – people who enjoy this commercial are reveling in their hopelessness. Such a massive failure of man’s intended purpose helps them to feel that their own failures, or foregone opportunities, or sufferings under an oppressive political system and/or culutre are not so bad. Seeing this commercial reminds them of the “truth” about reality. A truth that is always there, just underneath our “pretentions” towards values, standards, success, freedom, happiness, dignity.
Kmart has a legitimate value that it is advertising in this commercial, but that is not enough these days. People will not pay attention to a company’s product or service unless it stands out in some way. If it doesn’t actually stand out in some way (ie: it’s more or less identical to what your competitors offer), then the only way to ensure that your message is remembered is to associate it with something unrelated – but profound and reocurring – in the viewer’s psyche. Obviously one’s sense of life is such a thing. Kmart knows that people who are governed by the malevolent universe premise (and who suffer existentially as a result) will regularly look for ways to rationalize their beliefs. It simply hopes that when they do, they will remember that one of the moments in which they were able to escape the negative feelings such beliefs cause is when they watched this commercial, be reminded that Kmart is a retailer, think about how they have this or that material need, and put two and two together that they can satisfy that need at Kmart.
Exploiting the worst within people, instead of tapping into their best. That’s what’s required in today’s over-taxed, over-regulated economy. The long-term doesn’t exist, so companies do whatever they can do make as much as they can, as quickly as they can.
“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.