And Now Sit Still, Damn You, for the Following Deconstructed Commercial Messages:
Do you have problems in your life? Do you suffer from symptoms? [woman sitting at kitchen table, staring sadly at a plastic fork] There is an exciting new product that can and will help you. What is the name of this product? [cut to gleeful skysurfer] We call it CransacTM. CransacTM! What a product it is! Already your problems are retreating to a hidden thicket deep in your medulla. [woman romping through fields of poppies] They will not reëmerge unless CransacTM for some reason goes away. [quick cut to woman staring in agony at plastic fork clenched in her fist] Your symptoms are a thing of the past, provided you use CransacTM according to instructions. Side effects of CransacTM are mild and bearable, including, but not limited to, ennui, loss of intellectual sparkle, an itching sensation you cannot locate, projectile bleeding from the ears, the urge to swing a cat, and in rare cases, [cut to shot of woman's black pointed shoes shriveling up under a house] fatal Wicked-Witch-of-the-West syndrome, in which a house might fall on you occasionally. So ask your doctor about CransacTM. [cut to old Dr. Trustworthy romping through a field of poppies like some kind of maniac] Ask him anything. Just don't ask him, or us for that matter, "What in hell are you selling, Jack?" *
I keep seeing these commercials for gold, mined in America and used in many fine industrial applications. I have not been able to figure out who these commercials are aimed at, or exactly what they might be selling. Could it be that our culture is evolving beyond commercialism into an unknown realm wherein the aesthetic value is paramount? Where a work of art may inhabit and dominate any form or medium, unmarred by any of the inherent prosaic qualities of that medium? After all, it is no longer necessary for the two "choices" offered in any commodity to compete for buyers; the soft-drink industry cares not at all as to what proportion of its products is labeled 'pepsi' or 'coke'; they have the luxury of making images unfettered with any sales pitch, crude or subtle. Because their spiritual purpose is thus purified (they exist solely to serve Beauty) and is so much higher than the purpose of the 'content' of television shows, which exist only as a vehicle, a bottle for the soft-drink, they are gradually supplanting the 'content', which withers and decays every week into a more frantic and insane mask failing to conceal an ever more torpid and cretinous figgy-pudding. Or so goes the conventional wisdom. But there is absolutely nothing to prevent us from considering the shows to be the final victory of the Absurdist movement pioneered by Eugene Ionesco and Harpo Marx, and the commercials a desperate reaction, a failing attempt to shore up the crumbling walls of the Fortress of Meaning. We can think of it in any terms we prefer; we still buy the product and stare ox-eyed at the drivel. That's What Makes America Great!
Before I start foaming at the fingernails, I'd better buckle down and start concentrating on... what was it? The twelve reasons my wife will divorce me if my offerings on the altar of Christmas are inadequate. I need some new and creative gift ideas. The Salad ShooterTM isn't going to get it. Perhaps I should order (from Gullibleshopper.com)...
The Oddjob Hat. This magnificent piece of movie memorabilia is crafted from solid pig-iron in the shape of a bowler hat, with a razor-sharp brim suitable for lopping off unwanted heads at fifty yards. Specify head size. Black only. $10,000. Free shipping!
The Gates ZapperTM. If Bill Gates tries to enter your property for any reason, the Gates ZapperTM automatically blasts him with 10,000 volts of harmful electricity. Perfectly safe for all other persons named Bill or Gates, as it is keyed to his Nerd DNA. $5,000,000.
The Philosophical ExplanatatorTM. Responds brilliantly to any and all questions about the nature of Being, the meaning of Meaning, and the definition of the word 'is'. Warning: can be addictive and destructive to your zeitgeist, causing weltschmerz and/or mal-de-mer. Useful for indefinitely preoccupying homicidal spaceship computers, George Will or Robert Byrd. $495.
From FauxHaute.com, for the terminally tasteful: The Pluperfect Pullover. This completely nondescript garment exudes the ever-so-faint odor of simplicity. It is pocketless, with no distinguishing characteristics whatsoever, except its obviously high-class, totally pukka attitude. Wear it to your book club - they'll forget Jane Austen and focus on you. Available colors: earthworm, sludge, mold and slag. $299.
From SmartCrap.com: The Silence BombTM. Unlike conventional noise suppressers, which merely cancel sound by inverted feedback, the Silence BombTM kills noise pollution at the source. When your neighbor Rodrigo cruises by in his rotting '77 Dodge Dart, with the bass from his speakers causing birds to drop from the sky stone dead, this device homes in on the source and from a roof-mounted dish-antenna emits a focused pulse of EMF radiation that fries every circuit in his car to a nice crispy brown. The only sound then will be your diabolical chuckling as he leaps from his flaming vehicle. Requires 1000-amp feed - check local codes. Will not cause cancer if used as directed. D.O.D. permit included. $24,999.99.
From GadgetGlutton.com: the gadget to end all gadgets! The Gadget ShooterTM. Eliminates unsightly gadget buildup. Can't resist buying all that smart crap? Wife holding out until bedroom is accessible? Set up the Gadget ShooterTM in the back yard, enclose excess gadgets in the handy iron shell casings provided, and place on the accelerator platform. Stand back as the electromagnetic rail-gun boosts the items high into the stratosphere, landing up to 10 miles away, where it's someone else's problem! Great fun for the kids! Who says the trillions spent on 'Star Wars' antiballistic missile research was a waste! Only $15,999.99. Extra shell casings, $50 ea.; kiddie/pet parachutes $100, reusable. Shipping weight appx. 10,000 lbs. For MIRV and GPS targeting capabilities add $5000. Drop a Salad ShooterTM through your uncle Mortie's kitchen window! Tracking radar not included. Happy Holidays to All!
The effect of decades of repetition and hyper-realism in television commercials has now made it possible for me to drop Virtual Acid whenever I wish: I skydive into a psychedelic, indolent fantasy world called the Eternal Automobile. In a beautiful sunlit land I am riding in slow motion in the passenger seat of a convertible that changes color to match every tropical bird we pass; my chauffeur is a woman reminiscent of Anne-Margret, though thinner and a bit less wholesome, and her lips are entirely enigmatic. She speaks, but only bird song emerges as the orange clouds, like Tang-flavored cotton-candy, stream by far too quickly. Behind us the cactuses shrink into tiny emerald dots, and far ahead of us glows the Sierra Madre and a mysterious treasure that the car will drive us to, as we drink our drugged champagne. The woman makes a fluid gesture with her wrist, and the moonlight glances off her tiny silver wristwatch. This perfect moment is sufficient unto itself, and I have no urge whatsoever to actually possess such a car, or know its price or the tedious, grating details of the APR financing and cash back deals. The commercial has sabotaged our entire consumer culture by giving me the dream for free.
This essay has been brought to you by BLASTO!!TM, the new instant laxative, for people who just can't wait, and gentle be damned! Seat yourself like Mad King Lear on your throne, grasp the towel-rack in a death-grip, pop a BLASTO!!TM and hang on. Our Motto: "Why waste time?" Available at lower-quality drugstores across the nation.
Psycho-literary-sociological analysis of the foregoing 'joke' paragraph will reveal to the keen observer a veritable smorgasbord of rich subtextual Americana: the scatological junior-high sensibility, the pervasive underlying mercantile miasma, and of course the vast, protean influence of MAD Magazine. But somewhere in the bottom of the keen observer's mind lurks the nagging question: did perhaps the apocryphal makers of "BLASTO!!TM" pay me big bucks to plug their product under the guise of my penetrating scholarship? Is nothing sacred in the Arcadian Groves of Academe any more, man?!
The question pretty much answers itself.
* Disclaimer: We have no actual knowledge of any product or trademark called CransacTM, and have no interest in either promoting or harming sales of CransacTM, so if you own shares in the gigantic, evil CransacCorp, please, don't call, write or sue - just bug off!
Copyright 2006 David Warren Rockwell