Archive for the ‘Sports and Entertainment’ 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.
The “champions” in this commercial are men who are pretending to be something they’re not. By carrying around their “trophy”, people believe that they’re members of an athletic team who are in Las Vegas to celebrate their victory – or something like that. This isn’t true, of course – their “trophy” is just a plant holder they found in the hallway of their hotel – but it’s okay to get all kinds of rewards one wouldn’t otherwise be able to get because, after all, “what happens here, stays here.” That’s the joke, at least.
The effectiveness of this commercial comes from the fact that while many people who visit Las Vegas actually do engage in behavior that they wouldn’t engage in elsewhere, they don’t engage in behavior that is that extreme while they’re in Vegas. This recognition helps people to rationalize the behavior which they do engage in. It helps them to tell themselves: “I don’t do that, so therefore what I actually do isn’t so harmful that it needs to ‘stay in Vegas’ (ie: be kept secret or unacknowledged).”
This begs a question, however: if what people do while in Vegas isn’t so bad that it needs to “stay in Vegas”, then why does such an idea even need to be joked about? Why does such behavior need to be rationalized away via commercials like these? Why can’t it just be openly, explicitly talked about and celebrated? The answer: because what people do in Las Vegas actually is bad. Because it actually is harmful their values and virtues and interests – and therefore the only way they are able to go through with engaging in it (ie: visiting Vegas) is if they lie to themselves via evasion through hyperbole.
It isn’t surprising that a place like Las Vegas – which owes it’s existence to a widespread and perverse view of money – would employ an advertising technique such as this one, but it is disturbing that it is able to do so so openly and on such a large scale. What does that say about the true health of the culture and economy?
This is a jab at political correctness. It’s become so bad in modern Western culture that you could almost expect someone to tell you you’re prejudiced and bigoted if you thought it was weird that someone had wires like a marionette (as if that weren’t objectively “weird.” ie: highly abnormal, and therefore understandably shocking). This commercial both informs (an ad’s primary purpose) and entertains (and more importantly does so by complimenting an objectively virtuous trait within the viewer’s character: his ability to judge things objectively, and to not doubt his conclusions simply because they are straight-forward).
Update: the following, sister ad to the one above is an attack on existentialism. The boy clearly has an objectively negative personal feature (his “wires”) – and the commercial even demonstrates this by having him get caught in the ceiling fan – but nevertheless, the father tells him that his wires are simply “what makes him, him.” Why would a loving, well-meaning, rational parent ever do this? First of all, if such a man’s child is born with some debilitating physical feature, he would do whatever is medically and financially possible to eliminate it so that the child can have the best life he can (and to not do so would be obscene; bordering on child abuse). If nothing can be done, however, certainly he wouldn’t say or do anything to make the child feel unworthy of love or completely hopeless about life, but he would also not tell him – at a stage where he’s well into his development as an individual – that he’s not disabled, but merely “different.” That merely compounds his disability by impeding his ability to think about things (especially himself) objectively. He becomes not only physically disabled, but mentally disabled as well (hence the reason why the boy in this commercial thinks getting caught in the fan is “awesome.” Just think what other kinds of reckless and self-destructive things he might do with that attitude). Yet that sort of dishonest stifling is precisely what Existentialism counsels. Existentialism, in a nutshell, is epistemological (even if not metaphysical) subjectivism – which necessarily leads to ethical and aesthetic subjectivism. It short-circuits genuine self-esteem by giving people philosophical permission to treat anything and everything as good and acceptable simply because they desire it. It’s pure emotionalism.
This commerical is positive because, like the one above, it lampoons the existentialist attitude. The contemporary culture is so thoroughly saturated in existentialism that one could almost expect someone to tell you you’re a bad parent if you told your (appropriately aged) child that he was disabled because he had wires like a marionette (as if that were not objectively debilitating). Obviously no child has the disability of being “wired”, but that’s precisely the point: Existentialism demands “acceptance” for the sake of acceptance – so in principle there could never be anything (no matter how obviously bad) that anyone could evaluate as bad. This commercial – like it’s sister commercial – both informs (an ad’s primary purpose) and entertains (and more importantly does so by complimenting an objectively virtuous trait within the viewer’s character: his ability to judge things objectively, and to not doubt his conclusions simply because they are “insensitive”).
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 you play video games to the point that it interferes with your life, because it doesn’t interfere with your life this much, it isn’t really interfering with your life. Therefore, continue to play video games.”
This is evasion through hyperbole
These two commercials do what advertising is supposed to do – and in an all-around wholesome manner. Unlike so many commercials these days – many of them documented on this blog – this commercial doesn’t substitute psychological manipulation for merit (or even for informative substance completely). Instead it educates the viewer about the existence of a product and/or it’s features, and because it does that, it can legitimately entertain him aswell (which it does, in an uplifting and rational manner).
It is rational to have a certain degree of contempt for criminals, because it is an indirect way of taking pride in oneself for having achieved the traits of character civility requires. It is rational to contrast one’s own lifestyle with that of someone headed to prison, because it is an indirect way of celebrating the rewards of those character traits. The humor employed in this commercial is not meant to belittle, and therefore excuse and enable, any kind of self-destructive behavior – but instead calls upon the best within people in order to be enjoyed.
The contrast between what the police commissioner gets to enjoy and the criminal get to “enjoy” (because of who they are) is a nice dramatization of the connection between broad, abstract character traits such as objectivity, courage, and justice with specific, material values like the pleasure of playing fantasy football.
Why is it laughably contemptable when Justin Verlander (fictitiously) attempts to be rewarded for something he hasn’t done, but perfectly acceptable when some person playing a video game attempts to (not really) do something only the likes of Justin Verlander can do? Even if you “pitch” a perfect game in video game, and even if you win $1,000,000 and the hand of a pretty girl because of it, you aren’t Justin Verlander. Your accomplishment is nowhere near his accomplishments; the fact that he hasn’t (yet) pitched a real perfect game notwithstanding. Why is it okay in this day and age to openly degrade the truly heroic just so that the truly non-heroic can feel better?
Justin Verlander, like virtually everyone else who sees this ad, fails to see the wider philosophical implications of it and thinks it’s just a harmless joke (hence his participation in it), but that doesn’t change the fact that this ad is bad for everyone involved. Verlander deserves the accolades and admiration he has. He’s earned it. If the trend he is attempting to exploit for the sake of some short-term gain continues over the long-term, eventually all he will receive from people – people who have been made to believe that faking an accomplishment is just as good as actually doing it – is at best indifference, and at worst outright hostility (he would be a reproach). Similarly, those who allow themselves to believe that it’s okay to seek rewards for achievements they haven’t earned will eventually lose whatever motivation they had to cultivate or maintain whatever skills or potential they might have had to reach real goals. They will be forever searching for the easy path to success – even if their ambition never compels them to, they will – as mentioned – grow to hate the likes of Justin Verlander because he reminds them that this is all they deem themselves worthy of. Finally, of course, there is the effect that the method of thinking which this ad exploits will have upon the very people who made it: 2K Sports. Their purpose is to make a product, trade it, and therefore profit and live. In the short-term, this type of manipulative behavior will work. In the long-term, however, all it will do is to ensure their financial ruin. The reason for this is that luxuries such as video games can only exist if there is enough wealth (and resultant free time) in the society to allow for it. If people are encouraged to never achieve real goals – if they are told over and over again that fake goals work just as well – eventually they will take it to heart. As a result, they will not achieve and produce, and their standard of living will drop. When this happens, the first things to go from their lives will be their luxuries (ie: things like their video games).
Justin Verlander doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a baseball player. He can’t be disliked because of his inability to grasp the vicious evil – the antipode of everything he and his life implicitly endorse – which he is helping perpetuate. Similarly, 2K Sports is just one single business in a much larger macroeconomic environment. An extremely unpredictable, unstable, politically-twisted macroeconomic environment. One where the “long-term” doesn’t exist. One where all that any given person or company can reasonably do is focus on the short-term exclusively, and do whatever they must to meet their particular goals. Nevertheless, despite these facts, if exceptional achievers like Verlander and the producers of technological marvels such as modern videos games become rarer and rarer or even cease to exist, they will have no right to claim that they don’t understand why it has happened (although they will probably try).