I would like to begin this post with a prolonged scream. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!
Okay, thank you, let’s move on.
To quote Faulkner, “As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people.” And It’s something I’m either willing or resigned to live with. I accept that the world moves by money. I accept that all most everything people do is in an effort to gain money so that they can spend it on things made by people who are also trying to gain money. I accept commercials as an important part of this system. I don’t go in for all that complaining about ads on my YouTube videos or along the edges on my Facebook. I don’t like to complain because I know that their presence allows me to enjoy free entertainment. Not that I particularly like ads, but I do get some enjoyment from them. They can be funny at times, brief and rare times. I also like to entertain the belief (true or not) that they don’t work on me. See, I’m a smarty-pants and their weak-ass attempts to fool me don’t work, which makes me feel all warm inside. So I don’t so much enjoy ads as feel superior to them.
Anywho, what I dislike about ads are their annoying attempts to be my friends, to weasel their way into my life like their supposed to get me or something. The way they insinuate themselves into my holidays and family dinners like they belong there. I dislike their cloying 30 second pulls at my heartstrings and their pathetic attempts to get a laugh out of me. But most of all I hate the way they try to pretend like they’re not selling anything, that’s just plain insulting.
I’ve seen a few episodes of Mad Men so I’m pretty sure I get it. Just plain saying here’s a product go and buy it doesn’t really work. An ad has to sell the story, it takes positive ideas that may have little or nothing to do with anything and attaches them to the near vicinity of the product.
Take for example one of the many horrendous Christmas ads from this previous year. A tall thin woman in an evening gown walks in slow motion down a hallway pushing a cart on top of which is a giant red bow. She pushes this bow out a door and out onto the drive way of what is apparently the castle she lives in, she then places the bow on top of one of the two Lexus she’s bought for Christmas. The ad is obviously selling cars and it’s doing so by associating the car to the ideas of wealth, luxury, elegance, yada yada yada. Anyone who buys Lexus for Christmas (Do they? Do they really?) because of this commercial would be buying into the story of the stupid castle and the mute lady in the silk dress. But more then the illusion of wealth and the dream of absurdly expensive presents, the ad is also trying to sell Christmas. The ad has very little to do with the car and everything to do with that stupid bow because if you really sat back and thought about it, buying a car for Christmas is a ridiculous thing to do (Unless you live in a castle) but the big red bow makes that car into a Christmas miracle.
Irritating as the commercialization of Christmas is, I don’t really want to dwell on that because it’s a little too irritating. I do think it’s interesting however to think about hidden meanings and the way we consume them. (I know, right? Subliminal messages, duhn duhn duhnnnnnnnn.) It seems to me that whether or not I am buying the products, I might be buying the story.
In all my Anthropology classes my professors exhortated the value of looking for the deep meanings and the way those meanings radiated through the structures and beliefs of cultures. See cultures develop when we attach meanings to objects, occurrences, and actions. Often these meanings are so ingrained in the way we think that we are not aware of them. For a very crude example; we know what a red rose symbolizes, we know that a red rose is an appropriate gift for your prom date, we also know that it is an inappropriate gift for your dentist (unless of course you’re taking your dentist to the prom). We know that the gesture is romantic and we know without beginning told that a romantic gesture is not appropriate behavior towards someone with whom we have a primarily business relationship. Of course there are symbols that are not quite as obvious as a red rose. Most of the meanings we are internalizing on a daily basis we are totally unaware of, we think of them as natural, as givens, not as intricately constructed parts of our culture.
This is when hidden meanings can be dangerous (duhn duhn duhnnnnnnnn), or, you know just annoying and stuff. For progressives who are trying to expand equality and correct inequality often what it is they’re up against isn’t necessarily just politics. Much of what they’re combating is the way these inequalities are woven into our cultural meanings, which is way more difficult if you think about it. It’s very difficult to convince someone to change something that they consider to be natural even if you yourself know that what is ‘natural’ is really just the popular narrative of the privileged.
Sorry, I can actually feel myself spiraling off topic. So, back to commercials that I hate.
There’s another one for a certain type of tequila. It feature’s a manly actor with a face like an Easter Island statue lacquered in bronzer. This guy walks masculinely off a train and into a bar. With no greeting to the bartender he speaks the name of his tequila in a gruff, manly way. He receives the tequila on the rocks because mixers are a sign of weakness. He then looks across the bar at two men enjoying themselves over a couple of cosmos. The Easter Island dude then stares at these ‘men’ in such away that they are thoroughly and properly shamed for enjoying pink things with cherries in them.
The lesson of this story is I think ‘Real men don’t enjoy things’ but I could be wrong. The story certainly is selling manhood. That it’s important in order to be successful socially. And that it can be lost by too closely associating with objects and behavior deemed feminine.
Does this not bug anyone else? This constant, pathetic, need to reaffirm gender roles? This commercial seems to be taping into the silly idea that men are losing something, that manhood is under attack and needs to be defended. Are you man enough? Who the actual fuck still cares? If those dudes enjoy their cosmos let them. But we consume this subtle meaning without thinking about it. We only think about the tequila, but the commercial is causing us to reaffirm these ideas. By reproducing it we legitimize it, we buy the story and we sell it too.
Commercials by their very nature have to distill cultural ideas into very small, chew-able, bites. Because of this they can be little windows into the way we think and what we value. In the same way that the Easter Island dude reaffirms the importance of defending masculinity from effeminate men, the woman in the silk dress reaffirms her place along side the big stupid bow as an adornment and a prize of wealth and success. It’s difficult to say women are full and complete people when they play second fiddle to a big red bow. It’s also difficult to raise young men who do not undervalue women when everything even mildly feminine is dismissed as shameful with a stern look from some douche in a suite.
I don’t really hate commercials, but I mostly do. I do totally hate the way this “capitalistic system” commodifies, gender, sexuality, and pretty much anything else that we’re willing to buy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming commercials. They only do it because it works. They’re really only a symptom. But I think that we could all be better off if we were more critical of the hidden meanings in the story. We should all be aware of what it is we’re really buying.