Columns

Not "Lovin’ It"

TV commercials are becoming more overt in reflecting the "culture wars", particularly the fierce backlash against intellectualism.


The Age of American Unreason

Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 9780375423741
Author: Susan Jacoby
Price: $26.00
Length: 384
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2008-02
Amazon

"I just want to show my knees!"

This, inexplicably, is the zinger of a final line in a new McDonald’s commercial called "Intellectuals", which advertises the super-sized fast food chain’s new "McCafe" lattes. These fancy new cups of McJoe apparently don’t come with correspondingly uppity mentalities or vocabularies; the tag line of the commercial boasts "all the coffee, all the attitude". This attitude, in fact, seems to be the true selling point of the commercial, not the coffee. But what attitude is this, precisely?

The American "culture wars", which pit traditional conservative values against progressive liberal ideals, have gotten grislier than ever -- particularly in terms of an ongoing, furious anti-intellectual backlash. There’s never been a better time to happily flaunt your anti-book-learning, jazz-eschewing, Europe mistrusting pride.

As Susan Jacoby wrote in her book The Age of American Unreason, "America is now ill with a powerful mutant strain of intertwined ignorance, anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism." And this prescient observation was made even before the country was graced with a gun-toting, book-banning, "pray the gay away", anti-abortion "maverick" of a female Vice Presidential candidate.

But what does any of this have to do with coffee and exposed knees?

Let me take a minute to describe the "Intellectuals" commercial spot, for those of you who may not have seen it, or who commenced vomiting so early on in the commercial that you missed some of it. It features two well-dressed, seemingly middle-class, educated women, sitting in a posh coffee shop. One woman is peering over her hipster intellectual glasses at a newspaper; the other has a book in hand in front of a fireplace. The ensuing dialogue between these women is as follows:

Woman 1: You know, I heard McDonald's is making lattes now.

Woman 2: McDonald's? (initially feigning contempt) Well that's just...(face lights up) fantastic!

Woman 1: Isn't it?! (with tremendous relief; leaning in conspiratorially) Now we don't have to listen to jazz all day long!

Woman 2: I can start wearing heels again.

Woman 1: Read gossip magazines! (gleefully discards book )

Woman 2: Watch reality TV shows...

Woman 1: I like television!

Woman 2: I can't really speak French.

Woman 1: I don't know where Paraguay is!

Woman 2: Paraguay?

The commercial spends a few seconds discussing the product itself, displaying the creamy latte that comes without any fancy-schmancy nonsense. The commercial ends with that coup de grace, the blissful female looking forward to being restored to her rightful state as a sex object: "I just want to show my knees, you know?"

At this point, the commercial ends, although one almost expects these two "intellectuals" to bust out of their "classy" constraints and shimmy into a liberating striptease down to their g-strings. What struck me about this commercial was the immense sense of relief conveyed by these two women; relief that they would no longer need to keep up the exhausting pretense of feigning sophistication, education, or sartorial modesty.

Apparently, if this commercial is to be believed, a certain segment of the female population has been feeling oppressed by the intellectual and cultural rigors of the modern coffee shop. They feel they can’t wear heels (I see plenty of heels in coffee shops) and they can’t read gossip magazines; they have to pretend to be aware of Paraguay (a country which, ironically, is sometimes called Corazon de America).

Now, thankfully, they can breathe a huge sigh of relief, toss aside the unread copy of The Brothers Karamazov, and proudly reveal the TV Guidethat they were concealing within its pages.

This begs a crucial question: whoever said you can’t discuss, wear, or read (within standards of decency) whatever you want in a coffee shop? There seems to be an enforced defensiveness to this commercial’s joyous railing against perceived expectations.

It’s not so much that the coffee shop requires patrons to be intelligent and cultured; it’s that this demographic, and this sensibility, tends to prevail in that particular environment. But, for the women in this commercial at least, there is a pressure to live up to this standard while in that environment.

Interestingly enough, an Australian McCafe commercial simply features a woman drinking the coffee, and appearing to enjoy the taste. But not in America -- there seems to be a strong undercurrent of inferiority and insecurity at the bottom of the internal conflict faced by our heroines in "Intellectuals". McDonald’s to the rescue! In the safe haven of the fast food chain, the damsels can be as openly clueless about Paraguay as they want. Which, of course, they could have done at Starbuck’s -- so what is the difference?

The difference, of course, is that, at McDonald’s, they don’t have to feel bad about it. They can talk in loud voices about the latest episode of The Surreal Life without feeling like empty-headed idiots. They can discuss NASCAR and moose steak while hiking up their skirts. They can pore over a Weekly World News article about an obese Bigfoot specimen found in Yellowstone National Park. They can theorize that Paraguay is a town in North Jersey, right near Paramus (or, they can just think of it as "that place we’ll probably bomb someday"). They can, if you’ll excuse my snobbery, be stupid without having to feel stupid.

But that’s precisely what’s difficult to understand about the new "dumb pride" initiative within these culture wars. For all the swagger of the anti-intellectual movement, there seems to be a lack of true self-acceptance among those who boast their folksy, salt-of-the-earth simplicity. It’s as though even as they paint intellectualism as the refuge of the anemic, godless pansy, they still have a dim notion that, just maybe, being smart is still kind of a good thing.

There seems to be a deep resentment, therefore, of the continued existence of highbrow culture, simply for reminding the willfully ignorant of their shortcomings. If they truly believe in the superiority of their stupidity, it shouldn’t matter what the "intellectuals" think (or that they do think).

I’m actually reminded of a quote I read from Jessica Simpson (in a gossip magazine, no less!) in an article about her past relationships. In reference to relationships with celebs like John Mayer, Simpson reportedly said, "I thought I had to be artsier, more intellectual." Perhaps she had to live under the strain of having to pretend to know that Chicken of the Sea is actually tuna. Only in the current social climate would the burden of having to appear intelligent be worthy of a celebrity tell-all sob story. Well, Ms. Simpson need not worry; now she can head over to McDonald’s, toss that book into the fire, and sip lattes while she talks about hair extensions and belching.

I’m going to take a huge leap and liken the entire anti-intellectual movement to Jessica Simpson in relation to John Mayer. Sure, it’s All-American and proud in its hiked-up Daisy Dukes, sassy and defiant in its ignorance; it knows it’s hot right now. But it still wants John Mayer’s approval. And if John Mayer won’t give it, well, it’s about time he went away.

The backlash, of course, is not restricted to anti-intellectualism. It also applies to cultural sensitivity and all areas of political correctness. "Happy Holidays" is an obscenity designed by liberals to undermine the Christian God; Global Warming was invented by Al Gore to bolster his chances in the 2000 election. Even a preference for organic or all-natural foods is depicted as being suspect and sinister. In his book, Liberal Fascism, conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg states that a commitment to healthy, organic foods and the prohibition of smoking are values shared by modern liberals and Adolf Hitler.

"That is not the same thing as saying that banning smoking is as morally disgusting and reprehensible as trying to wipe out the Jewish people," Goldberg is quick to clarify in a Salon article. "You can say that something is as much part and parcel of an ideology and not say that it is as evil."

This nutritious liberal fascism gets a good kick in the pants from the Corn Refiners Association, which puts a new spin on the traditionally vilified high-fructose corn syrup in a new advertisement. In this commercial, a mom voices vague disapproval of another mom’s serving of a high-fructose corn syrup beverage. "You know what they say about it..." She trails off, as if she can’t quite recall just what it is that "they" say.

Corn Syrup Mom wastes no time in fixing her wagon. She snaps, "What? That it’s made from corn? That it doesn’t have any artificial ingredients and is fine in moderation?" The other mom just gapes mutely, and proceeds to sheepishly compliment the other mom’s top. Well, that shut her up!

The commercial then encourages viewers to "get the facts" about corn syrup (as dispensed by the Corn Refiners’ Association, of course!), adding that we’re all in for "a sweet surprise". Never mind that high fructose corn syrup has caused obesity rates to spike since its introduction in the 1980s, or that it’s linked to diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

The true content of this commercial, from where I sit, is the thorough smack-down being given to health-conscious Nazi mom. Once again, there is an arrogant, yet vaguely guilty tone to the Corn Syrup Mom’s attack on the health-conscious mom. She’s essentially saying you can just shut up with all of your highfalutin’ organic ways; real women serve high-fructose!. Once again, while the agenda of simplistic American traditionalism is dished out with a lot of sass, there’s also a lot of defensiveness. Corn Syrup Mom preempts the expected attack on her favorite genetically modified enzyme–treated sweetener, heading it off with Yeah? You wanna make something of it? type of retaliation.

I think the answer to this challenge ought to be yes. We do want to make something of it. In fact, I fear that unless something is made of it, it will continue unchecked until it has made something even more frightening out of the United States.

There is no reason that intelligent, responsible people should need to drop IQ points or accept the pouring of corn syrup down kids’ gullets in response to a climate of bullying and cultural regression. Certainly, the anti-intellectual set can happily sip their lattes in Mickey Ds, comfortable in their forgiving cultural element. But I’d rather "smoke 'em out of their caves" and meet them at a real coffee shop at high noon.

They won’t necessarily be, as McD’s would say, "Lovin’ It." But they will be forced to deal with feeling dumb in an atmosphere that’s not dumbed-down for them like a grade school curriculum taught to the pace of the slowest student. If being ignorant is something to be proud of, let’s see some more genuine pride, even in the swankiest coffee shops. Why not? And hey, if they can’t take the heat, they can look up Paraguay on a map and move there.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

Next Page

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image