Sunday, June 25, 2006

Car commercials, self-image, and the suspension of the laws of physics

Car commercials really interest me, in an academic sense. As I have said before, I like to really watch commercials not for what they are trying to sell us, but for the message that they are trying to get across. Of course, most modern television advertising in the first place is not about the product itself. It is about a feeling, a state of mind, a concept. Anyone who doubts that this works only need walk into a Starbucks. All it takes is a state of mind and some granite table tops to sell a four dollar cup of coffee.

This approach seems to be used quite a lot on several products at the opposite end of the cost/durability index; razors and automobiles. I’ve spoken earlier about how advertisers try to get young males to buy their products by making them into sleek racing machines, into a “complete system”. Of course, there are women thrown in for good measure. Automobiles advertisers really need to make use of this approach because of the expense and longevity of the product they are selling. They have to pull out all the stops to get you to believe that you are special, someone worthy of everyone’s attention (including the women) in the entire world.

How they try to convince you of this is becoming more and more surreal. High priced cars are now somehow able to slow down time. The world literally stops dead in its’ tracks when you drive by in the brand new 200X (insert automobile name here). Every single person within viewing distance is captivated while you drive by with a knowing, smug half-smile on your face. These fancy machines have the ability to mesmerize all who see it. The results are a population of zombies who live on a different time scale than everyone else when you drive by.

Another favorite trick is the inherent coupling of this particular automobile and an exciting, dynamic lifestyle, usually associated with the rugged wilderness of the western United States. How many automobiles currently are or have been named for a place in the west? Tacoma, Tuscon, Montana, Durango.... (Personally, I am waiting to see an SUV or truck named the Bakersfield. I think that would be a winner.) If you own one of these conveyances, you will be transported to far off realms of intense beauty and solitude. You will become adept at white water kayaking, mountain biking, and rock climbing, even if the only reason you get off your couch on the weekends is to go down to the convenience store for another six pack before the big game comes on TV. These machines are capable of actually transforming you into a dynamic and interesting person that you somehow believe has really inside you all the time, and only needs a little impetus to come springing out.

The intent of this, as it goes without saying, is to convince you that YOU will also be worthy of the attention of the star-struck when you drive one of these machines. You will be unique, elevated to star status equal that of any movie star. (I find this point pretty ironic, because nothing would make these companies happier than to have every single person in the United States have one of these. Or two. How you can be unique and different when every single one of your neighbors is also as unique and different as you are rather defies explanation. And Webster’s.) You will become special and worthy of everyone’s attention, admiration, and yes, envy. Everyone will be envious of you. You, Bill Patterson of Topeka, Kansas, who works as a bank teller and who only leaves the city to go visit your mother in Kansas City every few weeks. If you buy one of these, you are no longer the dull boring person that no one pays attention to, except when your mother nags at you about getting married. You will be a brand new person who can command everyone’s attention, who controls the laws of physics just by the act of driving through the neighborhood.

When you really stop and break down the message commercials are trying to get across, I think they are very, very insulting and condescending. I suppose the fact that these commercials work says something about the gullibility and self-image of the television watching population in this country, as well as the absolute power of repeated and pervasive suggestion on a person’s psyche.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Stupidest Thing I Have Heard This Week.

I thought that a good nominee for this particular award on my part would be for Rick Santorum's announcement that Weapons of Mass Destruction had been found after all in Iraq, but the CIA and the White House didn't want to release the details since they were all so busy with the war effort. Not only were these 25 year old munitions left over from the Iran/Iraq war that were buried and everyone forgot about, and that they wouldn't hurt you if you came up and banged on them with a hammer, but the Dept. of Defense immediately came out and shot that particular theory down. But, it wasn't enough to keep wingnuts from coming and and speading the good news that, yes, WMD were there after all!

What a wanker. He is going to get clobbered this November.

No, I think this week's Stupidest Thing award goes to John Jacob, a relatively unknown canditate for the House from the state of Utah. According to a story in the Salt Lake City Tribune, he declared that the reason that his campaign is having so much trouble is that Satan opposes him, and I guess is actively working to defeat Mr. Jacob.

I suppose that makes Satan a Democrat?

Friday, June 23, 2006


It’s been a while since I have posted anything. For what its worth, I’ve been somewhat under the weather and there have been a few personal things going on. Plus, it is very hard to get up the enthusiasm to write about anything that just doesn’t sound like a broken record. I had intended to write another dazzlingly insightful piece on advertising, and still might. But it’s hard to be snarky and pointed when what is really bothering me is the entire political climate of this country, and how absolutely insane half of its inhabitants seem to be.

I know that steam starts coming out of my ears when I read something by some conservative wingnut that attributes all sorts of ridiculous motives to liberals (e.g., “Liberals want the terrorists to win!"), just so they can dismiss their enemies out of hand and feel better about their positions. So, I am somewhat hesitant to do it myself, lest I have to acknowledge myself as being inconsistent and hypocritical to boot. But what the hell! Why not? No one is reading anyway.

It is my firm belief that the hard-core… conservatives (I am really at a loss of what to call the type of people I am referring to, as there are out there, somewhere, truly principled conservatives) really need an enemy. An “other” upon whom they can focus their distain and hatred, and blame for all the ills of the world. This unfortunate trait seems to be firmly embedded somewhere in the human psyche, and it only takes some certain aspect of their lives to have it really come to the forefront. They seem be incapable of looking inward, of doing any true introspection. Everything bad that happens must be “someone else’s” fault. It’s part of their nature. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism as a force in the world, they must turn their focus to someone else.

See how vilified “liberals” have become? And anyone who strays from their cast-in-stone ideology immediately gets anointed as a liberal. It doesn’t matter what the term “liberal” means anymore. To conservatives, all it means is, “the enemy” who is to be scorned, ridiculed, made to be less-than-human. And I find this all the more astounding, because the literal definition of the term liberal, per my Random House dictionary, is “1. Favoring progress or reform, as in politics, religion, etc. 2. Open minded or tolerant. 3. Characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts.” So, those are the people that conservatives are vilifying. Open minded and tolerant. Generous. Sure sounds evil to me. But the word has been twisted to such an extent now that even someone like George Bush can be labeled as a liberal when he doesn’t live up to the strict precepts of other hard-core conservatives, when George doesn’t seem to be able to carry their water for them.

It’s all a very neat trick, and one that has been practiced by ideologues and tyrants down through history. I’m sorry, but some of the language that I have heard used to describe liberals by conservative talk show radio hosts could have been used by Germans in the run up to the Holocaust. I heard someone, I think it was Mike Savage, say something like “Turn over a rock, and you will find a slimy liberal. They are disgusting.” That’s not something you say about another fellow human, much less a fellow countryman. That’s something you say about slugs or insects that deserve to be stepped on just because they exist. That’s the feeling I get when listening to some of this amazing bile. Some of these people are working themselves into such a state that, if they were given total control, I would not be that surprised to see concentration camps, gulags, and enforced ghettos in this country.

Conservatives, in my estimation, have given up all concept of playing fair and trying to strive for any sort of common good. The only thing that matters is defeating “the enemy”. They cannot envision that “the enemy” can say or do anything that isn’t vile, evil, underhanded, etc. That is the only reason I can figure out, for instance, of the blindly stupid approach of denying that global warming exists. There is such a vast amount of data out there, and back by every credible person in the field, that this phenomenon exists, and we are getting ourselves in vast trouble because of human activity. No, in their reasoning, it must be some sort of plot, a conspiracy, by liberals and Democrats in order to cripple our economy. That is one theory that I saw advanced by someone on the web. I don’t know how many people actually subscribe to that ridiculous belief. But some do.

In other words, it’s much more important to them to be able to paint their opponents as crazy, irrational people who want to do harm to everything they believe in, rather than maybe consider the possibility that something that could possibly have serious ramifications on all life on our planet could actually be real. Just so they can feel good about their position, they will not even entertain the possibility that liberals could actually be correct about something as big as the possible destruction of the planet Earth as we know it.

How insane is that?

Friday, June 16, 2006

"When I'm 64"

Paul McCartney turns 64. One of those convergences that had to happen.

I wonder if he is going to go visit the Isle of Wight?

Karl escapes, Bush in Bagdad, and speculations on the state of mind of the country.

It has been some depressing news of late. Karl Rove apparently escaped the Sword of Damocles that was hanging over his due to his role in the Plamegate affair and subsequent cover-up. I am hoping against hope that many of bloggers that I normally read, such as Christy at FireDogLake and emptywheel at the First Hurrah, are right when they are speculating that this means Karl cut a deal and dumped a load on either Scooter Libby or Darth Cheney himself. That’s a nice thought to use as solace. I was really hoping to see Karl sweating in front of a judge and jury. He deserves it. But I am still pretty bummed, as most of the things that many of us have fervently been hoping would occur have just not panned out. However, if letting Rove off means seeing Cheney would get indicted, well, that would be a nice trade. I’m not holding my breath, though.

It is an interesting thought, however, that Joe Wilson may sue Rove in civil court for damages. His lawyer hinted as much.

So, Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq. I am not sure what that is supposed to accomplish, other than be yet another act in the Political Theater that is the Bush White House. That is so much in character for Bush and his crowd. His administration is run by spectacle. That is, spectacle is his favorite slight-of-the-hand move. Dazzle the audience, including all the members of the press that are supposed to be asking the hard questions, so no one will see what is going on with the other hand. Poof! The day’s bad news, whether it be low polling numbers, New Orleans still not getting any federal help to mention, the debacle of the President’s plan for “cheaper” medicine for seniors, the war in both Iraq and Afghanistan getting worse on a daily basis, it doesn’t matter. Nothing bad thing exists that cannot be made invisible by the grandstanding of Bush and his minions. From “Mission Accomplished!” to the plastic Thanksgiving turkey for the troops to photo ops hugging a black girl in front of the ruins of her house, it doesn’t matter. It always makes for great theater, that just happens to distract the audience from what might just really matter.

And, as always, the press cooperates.

I am just totally baffled by the psyche of this country right now. Yes, I know that talking about anything and pretending that the discussion reflects, somehow, the thoughts and feelings of “this country” is a pretty ridiculous proposition. The country is pretty divided right now. Still, I think generalizations can be made, so long as one admits that they are generalizations up front. Generalizations have some big time limitations. But, on the other hand, they are useful things to start discussions.

This country has lost its’ mind, to put it mildly. We have forgotten every principle that made this nation great. Not only have we forgotten them, in many cases we are trying to actively destroy them. Things that, ten years ago, would have been beyond question are now a matter of proper debate. We are now a nation that argues for legalized torture, is in favor of holding a person indefinitely without charging him or her and without access to a lawyer, demands that the press be cheerleaders for whatever the party in power is pushing and not ask any embarrassing questions at all, argues that the party in power can listen in on all forms of personal communication that exists without any legal constraints, even though the current laws on the books make it possible that such listening in could be done in a legal manner, invading a sovereign country in a supposedly “preemptive” manner whose justification doesn’t even have to turn out to be true, and the de-humanization of any and all opposition.

How is this possible? If you were to read that last paragraph without knowing which country the person was talking about, you might guess the country in question was the Soviet Union, Communist China, per-war Germany, or any two-bit banana republic that has ever existed. How did we ever come to this?

Insanity is one possible answer. I can only hope that it is of the temporary kind.