Flush Goes the Boss

Bruce Springsteen, native of Freehold, New Jersey, is the latest recipient of the widely uncoveted Golden Hicksie Award, given at appropriate moments by TCT to dishonor the most extreme sell-outs in our sprawling empire of commercialism and commodification.

Here’s what sad old Bruce looks like in this shocking self-travesty of what he used to be (or at least seemed to be):

I don’t know which is more pathetic, more galling, more flabbergasting — this pandering imagery, or the ideological stupidity of the ad’s content, which centers on the supposed desirability of meeting in “the middle” — at a moment when Marjorie Taylor Greene represents the new face of the institutional right.

And all in the name of selling more Jeeps, in the year 2021.

As usual, you could spend weeks pulling apart the depravity of this two-minute assault on everything that’s actually holy.

For now, suffice it to say that there’s never been a Golden Hicksie recipient more deserving of the exact, precise words of the late Bill Hicks:

“Here’s the deal folks: you do a commercial, you’re off the artistic roll call forever. End of story, OK? You’re another corporate fucking shill, you’re another whore at the capitalist gang-bang. And if you do a commercial, there’s a price on your head, everything you say is suspect, and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink.”

Point blank, as somebody once said.

P.S. From the department of excessive protestation, here’s what Cowboy Bruce’s manager has to say about this catastrophe:

“Olivier Francois and I have been discussing ideas for the last 10 years and when he showed us the outline for ‘The Middle,’ our immediate reaction was, ‘Let’s do it,‘” Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, said in a statement. “Our goal was to do something surprising, relevant, immediate and artful.”

Quoted on CNBC

Consider the Peanut Butter Jar

In an age when product containers can easily and almost costlessly be shaped at the whim of their issuers, why does peanut butter continue to come in tall jars rather than squat tubs?

A corporate PR department would surely assert that it’s because that’s what people are used to and expect.

That, of course, is 99% horse feathers.

The real reason is salable waste, aka planned osolescence.

Tall, narrow containers make it needlessly difficult to use all the sticky, amorphous gels residing in them. This structural difficulty, in turn, leads to a small but meaningful amount of the peanut butter being throw away, rather than used. It means, on average, people buy the next jar of peanut butter a day earlier than they would if the stuff came in a short, wide tub that permitted easy access to the last portions.

If you have been around big-brand peanut butter lately, you’ll know that this point stands double. Nationally advertised peanut butter jars are not just tall cylinders, but, within that form, are fairly riddled with flanges and recesses that heighten the difficulty of using the last spoonfuls. Why?

Again, there’s only one plausible answer — the obvious one: Corporate capitalist product planners want us to throw away some of what they know we want and need.

Interestingly, this very example was apparently central to the career of Brooks Stevens, the industrial designer who first publicly enunciated/acknowledged the concept of “planned obsolescence.” Here is how Stevens, near the end of his life, explained his early entry into a field in which he eventually became a superstar:

Peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches inspired one of Brooks Stevens’s simplest and most ubiquitous designs.

“I loved peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches,” Mr. Stevens says. But the jars the peanut butter came in were tall with small caps. “I could never get the peanut butter out of the shoulders of the jar.”

“So I squared up the jar,” he recalls. “And then I made the opening the full diameter of the width of the jar, so that it was a big circle and had a big cap. Then you could get it all out of there.”

The obvious question for Stevens was why he stopped there. Why not go from jar to tub?

The answer was inherent in the job description of the modern corporate capitalist product engineer:

[The industrial designer] has to be a salesman, an engineer, a manufacturer — in the sense of knowledgeable about process and materials — and an artist, and in that order.

-Brooks Stevens to The Chroncile of Higher Education, September 16, 1992

It bears repeating, and remembering: Salesman, then engineer…in that order.

Survival and the Business Class

Capitalists have always claimed that, because they have an intense interest in providing things for which people will pay money, they must be granted free reign to dominate society’s macro-level decisions. Any serious interference with the private business sector’s ability to make and sell whatever makes it the most profit will, the theory goes, only lead to disaster. Only capitalists, it is said, pay careful-enough attention to what people actually want and need. Hence, we must leave them to it.

bomb on dollar image

One of the classic hypotheses stated by Karl Marx was, of course, a converse notion. Capitalists, Marx observed, can and do care about what people want and need only up to a certain point:

“Après moi, le déluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society.”

This thesis is rather interesting in these days of SARS-CoV2, isn’t it?

In this vein, I was struck this morning to learn — somehow for the first time — that, in 1943 — 1943!!! — the business class forced FDR to fire none other than John Kenneth Galbraith from his post as Deputy Director of the Office of Price Administration.

Galbraith’s offense? Doing his job: administering prices and restricting capitalist production of “consumer” doodads so that fascism — the real kind — could be stopped from conquering the world.

According to the excellent book recounting this stunning bit of forgotten history, while ousting Galbraith, the Republican Party also pushed legislation that “would have barred anyone who didn’t have at least five years of experience in ‘business’ from running OPA.”

So, this idea of “run it like a business” is quite a bit older than Ronald Reagan’s epochal and ongoing triumph.

Interestingly, many years later, here is what Galbraith recalled about his experience trying to use the OPA to save the USA from eventual atomic war with Nazi Germany:

“There were weeks when Hitler scarcely entered our minds compared with the business types in Washington.”

Celebrate the Lifestyle

Was there ever a more honest marketing pitch than this one from the Satanic organization known as the National Rifle Association? Its tagline is a pithy summation of the insipid message and crude but obviously effective method of the vast majority of modern “country” music and associated commodities, not the least of which are guns.

nra ad

Paging Professor Santayana…

photo of bellamy salute The United States is all aflutter over the moral status of respect for its national flag and its peculiar, all-but-compulsory nationalist rituals. As usual, those offended by the disrespect are utterly ignorant about the actual genesis of what they defend. Turns out that not only was the author of The Pledge a socialist, but also “hoped that the pledge would be used by citizens in any country.”

But wait. It gets even worse for the putative upholders of tradition and original values. It also turns out that the “Pledge of Allegiance” came into the world in 1892 (not 1776), a year squarely within and contributory to the Nadir of American Race Relations, as a marketing scheme to sell flags and magazine subscriptions.

This is not all. Here is the original instruction on how to signal one’s endorsement of and/or compliance with The Pledge’s sentiment:

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

That gesture was known as the Bellamy Salute and was the official Pledge accompaniment until 1942, when, against the DAR‘s attempts to keep it even after a two decades of European fascism, Congress shame-facedly buried it (but not The Pledge itself).

Santayana nailed it: Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.

Brand-Building Through Catastrophe

Ad Age today has a thought piece by one “Tim Leake, senior VP-chief marketing officer at advertising agency RPA.” Mr. Leake says using natural disasters as marketing opportunities is “the icky thing to do.” Of course, he also answers a clear “no” to the the question “Should we just stay away?”

So, here’s what you do to make sure that devastation and sorrow make a contribution to your brand’s further implantation into targeted minds:

How should we say it?

Sometimes, to stop acting like a brand and start acting human, it helps to purposely do things that the brand wouldn’t normally do. A high-end production is likely to feel like an ad. A CEO speaking to her webcam is likely to feel more genuine. Or, if the brand’s Twitter stream is normally filled with product-centric messages, maybe share a screen-shot of a note from the people behind the brand. This will help put some distance between how you “normally act” and the gravity of the current situation.

Play humble and concerned, in other words.

Lovely stuff, Mr. Leake.