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Spending my Saturday rushing a bit to write… a paper that in a sense will encapsulate quite a bit of the argument of this blog over the years. (I mean especially when I was writing posts about things rather than simply being moody and attitudinal…) Luckily, looking back through my posts on the topic, I’m finding quite a lot of the paper pre-written. Perhaps I’ll post some bits of it up here, new stuff, as I go along and you can reassemble my talk at home…

But for now, let me repost one of the greatest ads ever made, something I know I’ve posted about four times already:

As I’ve said before, the ad

crosses a nascent geopolitical conflict with an aesthetic tension – a tension, actually, between two unreconcilable aesthetics: the collectivized bodies-as-machines of the Chinese against the pouty individualized hotness of the Americans. (Isn’t this, in a sense, the work that international athletics almost inevitably performs? Jesse Owens’s sole black body against the Riefenstahl logic of Hitler’s review platform etc… War by other means – by means that come closer to the aesthetic register than any other…)

Until today, I hadn’t considered the very opening shot – where she is woken up by the shaking glass of water – is playing on a disaster / crisis trope that’s very 2003. Something’s happened out there… And indeed it has – but not the thing that most media were trying to get us to worry about circa 2003. And it further occurs to me today that there’s something more to it than I wrote in the earlier post that brings into the picture something quite uncanny. The conflict, yes. And while the ad is focalized through the Americans’ experience of the confrontation, at the same time it’s utterly clear that the ad isn’t taking sides, isn’t picking a winner… Or, really, if there is a prediction in play, it has to go with the Chinese, who can do all that while the Americans have nothing to counter it with but attitude and haircuts. All this mirrors the fact that the corporation that produced it is hedging its bets between its old marketing base and the booming new markets of Asia, their burgeoning new urban middle classes. The ad was in fact shown both in the USA and China in the run-up to the 2003 Women’s World Cup, thus the dual language titles at the end…. The very fact that Adidas could and would make an ad for both markets is significant subtext of the ad itself, and informs the unsettling strangeness of its content. We still see the world through your eyes, America, but the fact of the matter is that this might be about to change.

Anyway, exciting stuff. Perhaps I ought to write the hard stuff now about Marcuse and Marxism and Bernays and the rest. Tempting to fill up the entire thing with unmediated ad clips that simply tell the whole story I’m trying to tell… Hmmm… Not avanty enough for that, I don’t think. And my wife’s going to come to the paper, at least if the babysitter accomodates, so I’d like to make it, you know, good.

Written by adswithoutproducts

February 27, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Posted in ads, america, china

4 Responses

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  1. Actually, must say, after so many years of very painful and unfun work on the other book (currently under consideration somewhere) this thing is a fucking joy to write. I actually think it’s very very good (don’t often think that about my writing, or ever really)… Probably the roots of the phantom blogbook that I’ve never been asked to write (tee hee).

    Hmmm… Maybe it’s literature that’s the problem. Maybe I should move away from it a bit. For one thing, fewer and fewer people care about it (though I still very much do) and for another thing it’s fucking complicated, profoundly so…

    Sisyphus, if you’re reading this – I’ve incorporated the Gap ad you sent me so long ago, right at the front of a good run of ads…

    I’ve also more or less directly incorporated the post above… All getting very meta, it is…


    February 27, 2010 at 7:17 pm

  2. And the paper, unlike just about everything that you sit down to watch nowadays, actually has an argument – or really two arguments in a kind of dialectical diptych:

    1) Contemporary readings of advertising culture miss the point of ads: they are registrations of capitalist crisis as much as registrations of capitalist cultural dominance. They are about over-production and deflationary tendencies more than anything else, and often wear this fact on their sleeve, though even if not are haunted, down to the level of form, by them.

    2) After being lost so long in the valley of estrangement and then resting up at the grand hotel abyss, it’s time for leftist aesthetics to grow up and start looking at Edward Bernays the way some used to (misguidedly) look at Carl Schmitt. (That’s a bit cryptic – I’ll say more when I’ve written it…)


    February 27, 2010 at 7:23 pm

  3. Yay for the Spike Jones ad! (that’s the one, yes?)

    Isn’t Bernays the PR inventor? I don’t know the Schmitt…

    I just watched _Children of Men_ the other night — didn’t you write something on it? I couldn’t find anything. Anyway, I’m glad I avoided watching it for so long; it’s so wrenching and upsetting. Really well done, but upsetting. And then I got to watch a short interview with Zizek in the special features section.

    I wonder if the fact that so many directors of commercials (and music videos) are directors who are funding their noncommercial art or haven’t broken into feature directing has something to do with the double-sided nature of the ads…

    Michel Gondry has some wack-ass ad spots, for example.


    March 2, 2010 at 7:14 am

  4. Unless the director is either a tech-head or has the sang froid of an executioner (or both, like Chris Cunningham), doing commercials inevitably fucks with their creative vision & their motivation. I’ve also seen it a lot with musicians who try to do “commercial composition”. After all, imagine what it’s like being a porn star & trying to clearly delineate between your on- and off-screen fucking.

    Wow, leftists armed with the Eddie Bernays’ worldview… that’d be damned incredible. Hell, the right’s taken Orwell away from us, so let’s grab one o’ theirs.


    March 4, 2010 at 12:21 am

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