Celebs and the Super Bowl: The Selling Out of Real Talent

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By Shawn StJean

I had done my best to forget the numbing spectacle of the Super Bowl for another 10 months, but as I recently thumbed through a paradoxical magazine that juxtaposes features on eco-friendly homes with advertisements for upscale/luxury products to fill them up with, I was reminded–by a full page spread–that the iconic figure of Morpheus, a lead character from the Wachowski Brothers’ Matrix films, functions these days as spokesfigure for Korean-based KIA’s new luxury sedan , the K900.

The TV commercial and the print ads are amusing enough, but the concept–“Challenge the Luxury You Know”–among other patent allusions to Hollywood’s dialogue–may as well be a riff against “the Devil you know” (Cadillac, perhaps?).  In the television ad, Morpheus as concierge offers a wealthy couple the “blue key” or the “red key” –as if they’re the type that would take the latter, under any circumstance.  What follows is an even sillier, operatic orgy of vehicular destruction, and, the corporations would have us believe, it’s all in good fun.

I have no issue with the car companies, or any product manufacturers, competing, and employing every rhetorical means to persuade us of their superiority (hey, when you watch the Super Bowl, you oughta know what you’re in for.)  But, as anyone who frequents this blog knows, I’ve a special place in my heart for The Matrix.  It has made some seminal ideas of Socrates, through Plato’s philosophy, accessible to twenty-first century citizens of the planet.  We need them.

But like this?

Are some writers, thinkers, ideas, and people themselves, inviolable against parody, especially in the service of commercialism?  Laurence Fishburne, who plays Morpheus, thinks not.  He granted an interview discussing the advertisement, and some of his remarks are more revealing than the ad itself.

“All my heroes are doing commercials now:  James Earl Jones, David Bowie, Malcolm McDowell, Sam Jackson. . .actors of weight.”  Hmm. So the great Morpheus, the paragon of free thinkers, follows the crowd now?  Or is that Fishburne talking?  Appearance and reality do blur here.  Is he somehow less free of market forces?

“In The Matrix, it’s like, reality is what you perceive, it’s in your head, blah, blah, blah. . .” It’s more like the actor is struggling to remember, or it’s not a concept worth articulating.  Perhaps the bodily weight he’s put on through a decade of prosperity has clouded his Kung-Fu.  In any event, Mr. Fishburne certainly has come a long way from seventeen-year-old “Clean” in Apocalypse Now.

I imagine this sounds like a personal attack on Fishburne and his choices, but fundamentally it’s not.  I’m drawing attention to the debasement of important cultural values of the West.  There was a time not so long ago when actors/personas of “gravitas” didn’t transfer their charisma, admiration, and authority to corporations.  So why now?  Are all rules out the window?  Do they really need the money that badly–or has public trust become just another commodity to be leveraged?

But, Hey, I can hear someone objecting, didn’t the Matrix trilogy make Warner Bros. like a billion dollars in the first place?  So where’s the paradox in one commercial entity washing the hands of another?

For my reply, I’ll enlist the aid of another cultural icon:

Venerable songwriter Bob Dylan also featured in a commercial during that same ball game, and some might say the difference is merely in degrees of propaganda: he encouraged viewers to buy American cars (Chrysler ones in particular.)  But there’s a distinction worth making.  There’s more there than a hip guitar beat and a series of jingoistic catch phrases/images (one girl wrapped literally in an American flag.) Whether one views the approach as pure patriotism or crass exploitation of sentimentality, a higher reality lurks here. It’s a policy of isolationism that’s defined Americans since Plymouth Rock and which, for better or worse, kept us on the bench during World Wars One and Two, until very late in those games.  Since then, we’ve abandoned those policies in favor of trade deficit, unlimited debt, War on Terror, world economy, world bank, world police force.  And how’s that working out for us?  To me, Dylan’s choice to endorse isolationism, whether right or wrong, is to stand for something real: a defensible philosophy. “Let Germany brew your beer; let Switzerland make your watch; let Asia assemble your phone; we will build your car.”  After all, those are quintessential American jobs he’s talking about–and even if, with all the imported materials in Ford, Chrysler and GM products, and the “foreign” autos assembled in U.S. plants today, the situation isn’t as simple as Dylan presents it, it’s still a solid concept: keep your business among your neighbors, and they’ll be around to buy back from you.  They’ll have retained the means, the freedom, and the pride to do it.

I’m not trying to politicize Fishburne’s particular brand-fealty–it might have been Ford just as well as KIA.  My point lies more in the dilution, or rather the dismissal, of a fundamental truth.  Addiction to comfort, security, and luxury, over Truth, is one of those very “shadows on the wall” Plato and the Wachowskis warned us against.  This isn’t homage, or even parody.  It’s contempt.  And it insults the American consumer by waving his own illiteracy in his face.

Yes, The Matrix franchise has about as much surface resemblance to Plato’s Republic as the Super Bowl has to an actual football game: it’s one big show.  But for all the window dressing, beneath the TV sales, the betting pools at work, the 6-hour pre-game, and the bottomless bowls of nachos and empty calories, there’s still something there, a fundamental set of values.  Football is a worthwhile activity, for American youngsters especially, and their families.  The Matrix, for all the car chases and bullets flying, presents an unpalatable set of considerations to the young people of today: you don’t have to exist as a wage-slave penned up in a cubicle, jacked in to what amounts to a milking machine, for 1/3 to 1/2 of your functional life, all for the possibility of some intermittent pleasure and luxury.  An automobile, after all, following a home and the decision to have children of their own–will probably rank as the third weightiest financial commitment of their lives.  The payments will keep drivers working, and tractable, and docile.  But, before they buy in, they can still choose Red/Reality–it’s not as pleasant, and the vinyl doesn’t feel like “real” leather.  But hell, leather is skin: whether cowskin, pigskin, or the human variety.  It likely came off the back of the guy in the cubicle next to you.

Decide for yourself:

KIA K900 Super Bowl TV Ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ob-wn52Dkmk

Fishburne’s Interview: http://on.aol.com/video/laurence-fishburne-on-playing-morpheus-for-the-kia-super-bowl-commercial-518103767

Dylan’s Super Bowl TV ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlSn8Isv-3M

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Cyber Monday? Seriously? Is Resistance Futile?

Harrison Ford and Sean Young as human replicants in Blade Runner

Well, why not just go full cycle with Bionic Tuesday, Pneumatic Wednesday, Hydraulic Thursday and keep the whole Black Friday assembly line going, until we’re all just equivalents of the mindless computers and games and dolls that they’re trying to push on us until the money comes out automatically and we can jack right in without all the advertising?

I mean, we’re already forbidden from saying “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah,” as they’ve been homogenized into the ritualistic and asinine  “Happy Holidays!”   Why not just skip the holidays (the food and good cheer, the visits and hugs with friends and family, the warmth of the hearth and the joy at snow outside, and the charity toward those less fortunate,) entirely and just have one big Skype-fest?  After all, it’s as good as being there. . .

Awhile back, I did a post called “Who Programs You?” https://clothosloom.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/who-programs-you-15-2/and this is exactly what I was talking about.

So how’s that for a nice short, efficient rant?  My IPad will be jealous.

So When Did Black Friday Become A Bigger “Holiday” Than Thanksgiving?

Need I say more?  Well, I’ll say a little.  If aliens are intercepting our media transmissions, they can’t help but come to the above conclusion.  I barely watch 1-2 hours of television nightly, and yet I’ve seen hundreds of BF-hype commercials this week, and hardly one that even  mentioned our nation’s unique holiday of gratitude.  I seem to recall this started out as a kind of ironic joke–“Black” means awful in this context, right?  Now, forget aliens, what message is this sending the kids?  “Okay, we’re grateful for what we have through the preceding year, blah, blah, let’s get 3-4 hours sleep and rush out for more.  Why such a hurry?  Well, little Joey and Sara, it’s so cheap.

My broad interpretation is that the vendors and stores and conglomerates and credit agencies and banks are slowly and surely buying us and our values–and they’re getting us pretty cheap.  Now, I know everyone is not participating.  But someone must be.  Otherwise these things wouldn’t get bigger every year.

Anyway, in a spirit of Thanks and Gratitude, I’d like to take a personal, non-commercial moment to name a few of the milestones for Clotho’s Loom (the website and the book)–ironic, I know, as these are by definition commercial entities. So if you’re reading this, you might want to stop here–your time would be better spent meditating on your own stuff.

CL the site has been in existence for about six months.  Since that first post, “A Modest Beginning,” we’ve had about 100 posts, and 5000 unique views.  CL the book has gotten on 100 shelves over at GoodReads and 250 people have entered the giveaway of the forthcoming print edition there.  I have just finished laying down the raw audiotracks of the Audiobook edition (all 205,000 words–whew!)  The print edition is on schedule, unbelievably enough.

So if anyone is still here and has contributed to any of this, THANKS SO MUCH.  Enjoy the holiday season, wherever you are. . .

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Marvel Comics pays tribute to Norman Rockwell’s famous painting, and more importantly, the American Holiday

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A Moment of Silence, Before the Spectacle Begins. . .

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Amid ever-increasing commercialism of both professional sports and the holiday season in general, this is sobering to see.  My two favorite NFL teams will be battling it out today, in the latest in a long-standing tradition of AFC East grudge matches.  But the question of whether the New England Patriots can defeat the Buffalo Bills pales in comparison to the awesome gravity of Veteran’s Day itself, and its tribute to the real-world battles and wars fought outside relatively small arenas like Gillette Stadium, so that we Americans can continue to enjoy our very way of life.

The Patriots football organization has dedicated a permanently empty seat, above their south endzone, to American POWs and MIAs since World War I.

For those who will never get the opportunity to visit this small but important shrine, click and read the plaque in enlargement.  And take a moment today to acknowledge the veterans around you, living or dead, no matter what their age, service or conflict affiliation, length of service, or discharge status.  None of us wants war for any reason, right or wrong, and those who fight, and stand ready to fight, shoulder that burden for all of us.

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