Keep Product Placement at Bay
Some hours ago, I read the Citizen review of the new Transformers movie, and I have since read the Wired magazine feature on the very same. Both waste no time in discussing the role of product placement in the movie and the Transformers canon as a whole, and rightly so. The franchise began as a series of toys with a promotional cartoon show, rather than as a tie-in to an existing fiction. In securing the merchandising rights to Star Wars for himself, George Lucas instigated the age of the tie-in, where Transformers and its ilk introduced it’s mirror-universe counterpart. In a feat of what I can only describe as meta-marketing, the new movie not only contains product placement (ie. The Camaro), but it will have its own tie-ins (the franchise has come full-circle in this regard, notes Wired). Finally, the portrayal of the United States military in the film lead not only the Citizen reviewer, but director Michael Bay himself to believe that the film also serves as something of a recruitment ad (well, technically Bay was referring to the entire set of US Army policies towards films for which they have supplied equipment. Transformers just happens to be one such film, so I don’t think my assertion is that much of a leap).
Having not seen the movie myself – it’s on my to do list, but not at the very top – I will reserve my judgment on the prominence of product placement and pro-militarism in Transformers itself until after I have attended a screening. I will, however, address the issue of product placement/commercialization and “art” (quotation marks necessitated due to the use of Transformers as an example), as well as broader themes of capitalism, greed, and happiness. Terribly tired, terminally tepid topics? To tell the truth, ‘tis a trail well-treaded to talk of them. Still, the inspiration for what will form the body of this post has been bouncing off the inside walls of my skull for some time now, and I feel that whether or not it is novel, I should commit it to the blog. Here follow my mercantile musings:
Are We Using the Wrong Bait?
Everyone knows the old saying, in which it is postulated that Happiness is an ichthyoid which eludes capture. In the context of capitalism and consumerism, I find this saying to be entirely false, but more on that later.
If given the chance to comment on the aforementioned saying, there are those who would assert that we are indeed simply using the wrong bait to catch this fish we call “Happiness”. The Beatles boasted that they “didn’t care too much for money, money [couldn’t buy them] love”; Prince screeched that you “don’t have to be rich, to be my Girl”, and so on. Of course, that’s easy to say when one is rolling in it, so to speak. Still, there are those less ‘loaded’ who still maintain that the road to true happiness is not paved with toaster ovens and Gucci handbags. The argument, such as I understand it, is that the pressure created by markets has an adverse effect upon our mental health. This makes a lot of sense to me, by way of the following rationale: In order for a market economy such as our own to exist for any sustained period, money must flow. Money flows when it is exchanged for a good or service. If people are happy with a product or service that they have, then they will be less likely to buy another. If people are dissatisfied, the opposite is true. Therefore, it is in the interests of those who profit from the existence of the market to ensure that consumers are dissatisfied with those products and services which they have as much as is possible. Dissatisfaction is a form of unhappiness, which is indeed harmful to an individual’s overall mental health. An offshoot of this viewpoint is the adbusters position, namely that the advertising used to create dissatisfaction (aka. Manufactured desires) is harmful and invasive. If you believe I have misunderstood in any way, please correct me, but this is my perception of this line of arguments.
Whenever I reflect upon this argument, I become more than a little unnerved; I am - after all - a consumer, raised by society to be a cog in the great economic machine. On account of being relatively poor, there are a great many desires which I have (which would be considered manufactured) which go unfulfilled. Still, I devote time to comparing prices, looking for sales, browsing Ebay, etc. I read reviews in magazines and on the internet, I take great care in envisioning the purchases which I would make if my financial situation provided. These activities, sadly enough, DO make me happy. The actual act of making the odd purchase also makes me happy, and having that which was desired also adds to my happiness…but only for so long. After a time, the novelty wears thin, and I revert to the “desire” stage, only to repeat the cycle. Reflecting upon the argument which tells me that such behaviour should not make me happy is disturbing in two aspects: 1) that consumerism DOES make me happy, and 2) Without consumerism, what on Earth would I do with the time I currently devote to the pursuit thereof?
I can understand that the need to spend time with friends and family should be held higher than the need to brag about your new gadget to them, but even removing that factor, consider what friends and families do: Play games (ones purchased as often as those invented), discuss various products from the Average to the Zany, and consume in groups, whether it be television, music, movies, video games…there is simply no escaping commercialism, unless one is willing to live in a world where “red rover” and “capture the flag” are as sophisticated as games get. Come to think of it, that sounds far more pleasant than I would have imagined….yet it would be an unlikely result of a drastic shift in our way of life. To eliminate the rat race and all the trappings thereof, one would have to shun civilization as we know it. If food production remained such as it is, currency would linger as a means for non-producers to acquire food. To earn this money, they would have to work or create, and in order to earn more money they would have to promote their works, and before you know it, you have a functioning market economy. To truly escape, one would have to embrace either self-sufficiency farming for every family, or a hunter-gatherer society. While it’s true that most urban land is, in fact, prime agricultural land, I question the ability of a total maximum of 6 Billion people to live in such a fashion while leaving room enough for the countless other inhabitants of this blue speck we call home.
Speaking of the wrong bait, our present system may or may not be guilty of using it, depending upon one’s point of view. The way I see it, there is no better way to motivate than direct personal reward, and I doubt that there are many who will challenge this. The real question is whether the quality of life benefits which have been brought to us due to this system are worth the moral injustices committed by those who have taken the search for the benefits thereof too far. Given the immensity of each, I can’t say that anyone is, nor should be entitled to make that decision. This does not prevent me from having an opinion, but for the moment, I cannot arrive at one. On the one hand, so many of us owe our lives to progress, and indeed I owe my ability to share these very ideas with you to it. But the closer I lean to a “yes” verdict, the more I realize what horrors I would be condoning by making that choice.