One of my earliest posts on this blog was about Tila Tequila, whose initial claim to fame was being the most “friended” member of MySpace. My initial shock was her insistence that success was due to her punk rock DIY approach to celebrity. Anyone who knows anything about punk (that is, from direct experience), celebrity and punk are like BP oil swirling in the Gulf of Mexico. Unless, of course, you are geniuses like the Sex Pistols (and Malcolm McLarin), who exploited the media as a kind of guerrilla warfare. Now that John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten) self-parodies on reality TV shows (I still love the guy– you’ve got to see Filth and and the Fury for some insights into his character), it seems like the media has won the war.
Enter Lady Gaga. As Nancy Bauer writes in her NYTime philosophy blog post, Lady Power,
“Gaga wants us to understand her self-presentation as a kind of deconstruction of femininity, not to mention celebrity. As she told Ann Powers, ‘Me embodying the position that I’m analyzing is the very thing that makes it so powerful.’ Of course, the more successful the embodiment, the less obvious the analytic part is. And since Gaga herself literally embodies the norms that she claims to be putting pressure on (she’s pretty, she’s thin, she’s well-proportioned), the message, even when it comes through, is not exactly stable. It’s easy to construe Gaga as suggesting that frank self-objectification is a form of real power.”
This year’s slate of Super Bowl ads indicate two trends: 1) a continued lack of imagination among the highest paid “creatives” in the world, and 2) a backlash against environmental activism. These Super Bowl ads were decidedly conservative by recycling standard demographic tropes to shore up the shrinking ego of the persecuted male species. This has been the long-standing approach of torch-bearer Bud Light, which perfected the art of celebrating the isolated, addicted male in defiance of the over-bearing power of women and community. What is new this year is transmuting this “abusive authority” into the guise of ecological consciousness.
Case study number one is the “Green Police” ads by Audio, which couches its anti-PC message in ironic humor, thereby softening the seriousness of its subtext. It confirms the fears that environmental regulation will result in a police state, and turns anyone who cares about the environment into a potential fascist. While we may laugh at such cartoony fears (it’s only a joke, right?), the Rush Limbaugh crowd takes them very seriously.
(It’s not an illegitimate protest. From an eco-justice point of view, the threat of global regulations forced upon local populations is real, but in the latter case the concern is that corporate interests will hijack environmental rhetoric in the service of obliterating local autonomy in the same way that trade liberalization promoted by the WTO has done.)
Here Audi defends the rich white male’s perceived loss of autonomy and his right to be a jerk. My particular peeve against Audi is based on personal experience in Europe where Audi drivers across the board are the most arrogant and dangerous exemplars of the tragedy of commons (for example, watch this ad). On highways one must be in constant alert of Audis rushing at jet fighter speed, lest your leisurely Sunday afternoon drive through the Tuscan countryside ends in a pile of crushed steel, bones and shattered glass.
The paranoia exhibited by Audi plays into the general meme that government regulation of corporate abuses will translate into socialist totalitarianism. Say “Green Police” ten times fast and you may end up with “Greenpeace.”
Call this a backlash shot across the bough of environmental activism. Green consciousness becomes the work of thought police.
Case study number two comes from Bud Lite, which (yawn) sticks to its failsafe storyline. In it Bud Lite’s primary target audience (those possessed by an inner 13-year-old “mook“) must retreat to their boys-only (stripper exception clause allowed) playhouse to take cover from moralistic authorities (women) who condemn their innocent behavior. But now the right to secrecy, addiction and misogyny is threatened by ecological activism. In this ad, rather than a house being built of recycled beer cans (which excites a young female foil), its owners have constructed a living refrigerator, without realizing, however, that symbolically it’s also a morgue.
Case Study number three is the Budweiser bridge. The only thing surprising about this ad is how it blatantly demeans humans as mere slaves to their corporate overlord. In this case, people are willing to let the truck (a symbolic container of the Budweiser corporate brand) drive over their backs. So while the previous ads play into people’s fears of losing individual freedom to ethical constraints, here people voluntarily become the servomechanism of corporate power and control. How’s that for ironic Super Bowl humor!
* Pithing is when you stick a needle in the brain of a live frog. The goal is to scramble its brain in order to immobilize it for dissection while it is still alive. When applied to advertising a paradox or insult is used like a needle to confuse and conquer unwilling media gawkers into immobile rage. In protest I won’t post a link.
This should come as no surprise but marketers are taking a perfectly great public theater tactic and turning it into a advertising technique. In the above ad T-Mobile takes the idea of flash mobs and Improve Everywhere to turn them into a hokey displays of corporate performance art. Why is this a problem? Obviously everyone are enjoying themselves. The difficulty is that practices like this contribute to an increasingly confusing environment in which the work of activists and artists get mixed up with marketing. People will no longer be able to tell the difference between guerrilla theater, performance art, street protest and marketing tactics. Ads like the above clip trivialize human creativity in the service of selling objects.
As high budget cartoon dystopias go, DEWmocracy is the mother of all corporate cannibals, riffing on the Matrix, The Invisibles, 1984, while managing to include a requisite Native American (with a really bad wig) to tell our skateboarding hero that he is “The One.” Hard to believe, but this bad acting trumps Keanu Reeves. Mountain Dew even includes pseudo participation in which user generated designs can become the next Dew label. Yeah for democracy.
The project also has a bunch of mysterious interrogation videos uploaded to YouTube, by one mysterious seedvideos1234, which is an odd bit of art imitating life given the recent scandal of the alleged destruction of CIA torture videos. But you won’t see the viral videos on YouTube associated with the DEWmocracy site, either because it’s just so bad PesisCo is disowning it, or it’s now too old to be bothered with (I have been sitting on this post for six months– sorry to be so out of it).
Just for fun, here’s an anti-Dew piece that attacks Pepsi for hypocritically advocating corporate responsibility while plastering the city with its ad graffiti.