Above: A CAPP billboard. Photo from flickr user Peterblanchard.
Across Canada, ads from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers are appearing on billboards, bus shelters, television sets, cinema screens, and the pages of newspapers and magazines. These ads, to say the least, are bullshit: They characterize a massive campaign of misinformation and an attempt to green-wash the single most environmentally destructive project on the planet. Most of these ads use the same strategy. Reassuring messages are superimposed over images of pristine landscapes, which are often unrelated to the Tar Sands – or which are planned for mining and have not yet been transformed by developers into permanent, toxic moonscapes. Other billboards, similar to the one above, claim “Every Drop of Water Counts” or “Clean Air is Essential.” Without contrary information these ads paint CAPP as responsible and caring – but what if they were actually honest?
The above sketch from television’s Mr. Show allows us to see how advertising works in today’s late capitalist society. This is important because, in doing so, it shows us how the culture industry (of which advertising is a principal representative) and the traditional capitalist corporation are somewhat at odds with one another. Though this is not to say that, like in the sketch, they can’t get together at the end of the day so as to divvy up the profits from a so-called “good job”.
I will offer an interpretation of this sketch through the following headings: a) Mr. GloboChem; b) Pit-pat vs. Ding-Dong; and c) Grandma Betsy’s transcendent biscuits. These titles are intended to point to what has been placed in the background, so to speak, of each of these highly amusing bits: a) the capitalist corporation’s violent origins; b) the mechanisms of psychological manipulation in modern advertising; and c) the synthesis of all culture under the science of demographics. If these descriptions seem daunting, I assure you that their meanings will become more intelligible as the article goes on.
Above: An iconic scene from John Carpenter’s They Live – starting at 1:30.
This clip from John Carpenter’s film They Live can teach us a great deal about the way that ideology works today.
What we should immediately notice is how there are two levels of messaging at play: the explicit ‘normal’ world and the implicit ‘hidden’ world, which is only exposed when the actor “Rowdy” Roddy Piper puts on the sunglasses. This is what allows him to see the world underneath: all visual media content (billboards, magazines, television, etc.) are reduced to propagandas like “OBEY,” “MARRY AND REPRODUCE,” “CONSUME,” and so on. Along with this, certain people are revealed to be weird aliens while satellite dishes broadcast strange signals from the top of every set of streetlights. Through this “beautifully naïve mise-en-scene,” as Slavoj Zizek describes it, “we learn to see dictatorship IN democracy.”
Bursting through her front door with a shopping bag on one arm and a purse on the other, Cheryl makes an enthusiastic candidate for a Microsoft home invasion. The domestic space of her living room is replaced, much to her apparent delight, with the commercial space of a windows store.
“What do you say we go shopping?” asks the lone PC salesman who lingers in the space of her former living room.
Armed with ironic signage and a small group of allies, we took our protest to the beating heart of consumerism in Toronto—Yonge and Dundas Square. On the back of our placards were functional, oversized QR codes, scannable by smart-phones, and linking to the same resource of cultural de-mystification that we used in our last action.
We repeated and exaggerated the dogma of television and the political vanguards of consumer nations: It is our patriotic duty to shop, to accumulate debt, to stockpile things we don’t need, and to therefore enable the economy to grow infinitely and forever. We are free, because we are free to consume, etc. etc. Through our overzealous consumer rhetoric, we hoped to render common arguments for conspicuous consumption transparent.
Above: Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher are friends who have sex.
The poster for No Strings Attached forgets to indicate any semblance of plot or genre, including comedy, drama, or suspense. I mean, look at it: there’s just nothing there.
Tits Over Wits by Michael Fraiman
I first saw the poster for No Strings Attached sometime last December while passing by a fairly large SilverCity theatre in Toronto. Though it was seven months ago, I distinctly recall standing there, looking at this poster, and trying to figure out what the movie was about. Are these characters cheating on someone? Are they comically insecure? Are they in danger? Does one of them kill the other? Do they simply fall in love after having sex? If the latter is true—and plot synopses confirm that it is—then why doesn’t the poster just say that, or at least indicate some kind of tension or conflict?
More importantly: Who thought this poster was a good idea?
Above: George explains how his involvement in the 7-day Peopleforgood challenge has made the world a better place and left him feeling “enlightened”.
On some abstract level, the good people of Peopleforgood.ca are correct; this self-defined “social movement” has identified the problem of ‘too much bad’ in the world and sought to rectify the situation by adding more ‘good’. Calling out to the masses through a massive bi-lingual publicity campaign (including newspaper, public transit, and google ads; billboards; TV and radio spots; and a smart phone app), People for Good aims to mobilize all benevolent Canadians behind the vague moral imperative of ‘good’. Their irrefutable agenda for social progress, delivered from a position of absolute moral authority (‘We are the good’) is outlined on the ‘Manifesto’ page of their website: “We’re People for Good. And our goal is to make the world a better place, one good deed at a time.”
Potential do-gooders are directed to PFG’s user-submitted list of ‘Good Ideas’while the movement’s most ambitious (and photogenic) moral utopians are invited to participate in the seven-day ‘Good Experiment’challenge: perform one good deed each day for a week and create a video diary about the experience.
But you won’t find many good ideas in People for Good’s list of ‘Good Ideas’.
Free Tree Boy! The words fill the air and Canadians from sea to shining sea rally behind the cause – freeing their beloved hero, Tree Boy, from his wrongful imprisonment!
Wait a minute. Does that sound right to you? Maybe you’ve seen the posters around the downtown, maybe you’ve visited the website, but hopefully the bells I’m ringing sound off-key. Skittles’ new ad campaign revolves around sending Douglas Birch, a fictional character known as Tree Boy, to college (this is “freeing” him, from what I’m not sure. Wage slavery?). Participants can vote online for which college program Tree Boy should attend . . . they can also purchase specially marked Skittles packages, send them in, and collect six “Freedom Bands” that carry words like, “Free Tree Boy,” “Do The Unexpected,” “No Boundaries,” “Imagination,” “Be Free,” and most inanely, “Rainbro.”