PM Pick

Super Bowl ads vs. service workers

Economist Brad Delong wonders what's going on with the Super Bowl ads' scorn for low-wage jobs:

I am not imagining this, am I? The underlying background assumption of these commercials is contempt for the men and women who serve the fast food and work the loading docks and deliver the pizzas and staff the call centers of America, isn't it? The exectives of GM and Nationwide Insurance and their creative ad professionals think that denying the dignity of labor is the road to selling annuities and SUVs to the fiftysomethings with spare cash watching the Super Bowl, isn't it? This is a Sign of the Apocalypse for our current Second Gilded Age, isn't it? Or am I overreacting?

A good question, related to this story PopMatters ran the other day about GEICO's caveman ads. The implication of these ads seems to be that sympathy for low-wage workers or marginalized groups is contrived, as contrived as the set-ups of the ads themselves, that to raise such objections as "What about the service worker's dignity?" is to exhibit a fuddy-duddy political correctness that epitomizes a lack of cool. The only people who would leap to defend the fry cooks from the affronts in these ads are not fry cooks themselves but patronizing bleeding hearts who want to earn points for their conscientiousness. Presumably, the fry cooks aren't bothered by the ads because (a) they find them sufficently funny, (b) they are content with any sort of recognition, even as the butt of a joke (the reality-TV eager-for-humiliation paradigm) or (c) they don't identify themselves with the job, which they too have contempt for. People in those jobs don't see themselves working them forever; the jobs are disposable and interchangable; meanwhile those working them are rooting their identity in future jobs (call it the permanent identity hypothesis) or in their consumption practices -- what we are is not what we do anymore, or rather what we do mainly is shop, collect things and display them.

Also (and this may contradict the point above and may end up being tautological), I think when we watch ads, unless we are consciously resisting and hurling insults at the screen, we end up suspending our actual selves and adopting a provisional persona, a kind of collective transpersonal identity which codifies all the traits recognized as socially dominant. This self is open to the fantasies the ad wants to communicate -- this openness makes the ads enjoyable rather than an irritating intrusion; in fact we're grateful to the ads for helping us assume this powerful persona that public discourse (ads, again) is continually flattering. (That's why it's strange that the ad industry promotes the Super Bowl as a commercial showcase -- it prompts viewers to adopt a critical attitude, as though they were expert judges of rhetoric and persuasion instead of the receptive blobs we typically are, softened up by formulaic entertainment. The critical attitude stymies the adoption of this alternate persona.) This provisional self is awash in aspiration and knows itself able to make good on all of marketing's empty promises of transformation, reading accurately and vicariously experiencing all the meticulous details of the lifestyles ads convey. It revels in the (demented) faux utopias of beer ads and truck ads, full of anxiety-free relations, effortless beauty, unspoiled landscapes and perfect homes. The provisional self can know no failure, so it adopts the appropriate elitist perspective toward low-wage jobs and finds the comedy in them -- the laughable idea that society makes people do things such as that. Ha! Can you believe it? The jobs themselves are shifted to the realm of fantasy, comedic nightmares invented solely for the purposes of getting laughs. Ads induce us to adopt a transcendent persepctive from which the fantasy and magical thinking ads trade in register as real and the tedium and injustices of life register as false, as jokes.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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