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ads without taxes, ads without services

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Lovely reuse, in service of UK Uncut it seems, of an iconic ad by an iconically evil ad firm. I think it’s by this person.

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January 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm

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the vicissitudes of branding, abs, etc

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I’ll admit, in the wake of my time spent with the Occupations, my reaction to an article like this has tilted from enthusiasm to skepticism. Lovely to have encounters with students who dramatically change one’s mind, or at least render one’s solid and potentially writeable ideas complex and ambivalent.

In a similar light, check this ridiculousness out from The Daily Mail. Late to it, I am, but it’s rather hilarious. And make me even more determined to start doing my sit-ups in the morning etc.

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January 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm

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recession chic: own-brand politics

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Interestingly zeitgeisty subsumption of recession chic Walmartistic marketing * into politics, this “No Labels” campaign. Even more interesting that it seems to be either a product or an opportunistic ally of MSNBC, the no-name name of television news. While the members of this movement, as I understand it, are involved for a variety of reasons, if it’s primarily a vehicle established to support a presidential run by Michael Bloomberg in 2012, then here “store brand” = “post-ideological plutocracy.” Obviously ‘post-ideological’ needs to be in scare quotes, but that’s the idea, and really just a consolidation of a long-held (and eighty-percent perverse) American instinct about the relationship between politics and money.

* Part of Walmart’s very very tacit come-on is that such is its buying power that it could force name-brand companies to make or bake items for its store brand simply in order also to have access to its shelves for stuff under their own labels. Somehow this seems similar to what these “No Name” people are up to.

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December 21, 2010 at 6:44 am

Posted in ads, america, Politics

iphone 4 and “mechanical reproduction”

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I’m fascinated by the new iPhone 4 promotional video, its juxtaposing of scenes of quietly utopian everyday life with shots of the human-free robotic production of the phones. What’s especially fascinating is the chaismus at play: wholesomely septic family life under neoliberalism, with its romping, drooling toddlers and hotel comforters that at least look clean, takes place at a distance. Dad’s in Hong Kong or Milwaukee, mom’s at home taking endless videos of the scrambling kid. They have family time via videophone – perhaps dad’s been away for a long time, christ perhaps they conceived the kid via some other newly released app that “will change everything, all over again.”

On the other hand, what is it – according to the logic of the video – that permits this touchless familial intimacy at a distance? An entire factory full incessantly and with inhuman precision machines that seem to be, well, copulating these devices into existence. All that clockwork contact, pressing and insertion. One sequence even seems to involve something of a moneyshot, the climactic interest of which at least in part is the strangeness of seeing a tiny bauble of goo amidst all this stainless steel sterility.

Static visions of yesterday’s Crate and Barrel lifestyle, Californian, with the single child and a job that shows dad the world, are subtended not simply by the magical products on offer at the Apple Store, but the laborless labor of the machines, fucking all day and night to bring us our A4 chips and Retina displays, our 18 month contracts with AT&T or O2 and our business trips to pay them out.

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June 8, 2010 at 11:37 am

l’effet de placement: “we are the deal”

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From AdAge:

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — Apple may not have paid for its new and much-ballyhooed iPad device to be woven into a main storyline in last night’s showing of “Modern Family” on ABC, but everyone is acting as if they did. You can see why, especially when you consider how much ABC might have gotten if it had charged for all the iPad play.

Apple has been telling other media outlets it paid nothing for “Family’s” bumbling Phil Dunphy character to spend the better part of the program yearning for a new Apple iPad (due out this Saturday) and even stroking the machine wistfully at show’s end. And two people familiar with the situation reiterate that notion, telling us Apple and the studio that produces “Modern Family” — News Corp’s 20th Century Fox — collaborated on its hard-to-miss cameo. Also worth noting: On Twitter, actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell on the show, said “I will say that no ‘Product’ has been ‘Placed’ in my itchy little palm. I am excited about the iPad & will probably break down and buy one!”

Whether or not it is true, I guess that marks the end of another branding strategy. It’s a strange situation though foreseeable situation when consumer products that seem not to have been placed for pay into sitcom scripts nonetheless acquire the anti-aura of having been worked into the plot because of a marketing deal. We might as well revise the key paragraph of Barthes’s essay “The Reality Effect” on the realistic detail into accordance with current conditions, mostly by substituting the word deal for the word real. First the original paragraph:

This is what we might call the referential illusion. The truth of this illusion is this: eliminated from the realist speech-act as a signified of denotation, the ‘real’ returns to it as a signified of connotation; for just when these details are reputed to denote the real directly, all that they do – without saying so – is signify it; Flaubert’s barometer, Michelet’s little door finally say nothing but this: we are the real; it is the category of ‘the real’ (and not its contingent contents) which is then signified; in other words, the very absence of the signified, to the advantage of the referent alone, becomes the very signifier of realism: the reality effect is produced, the basis of that unavowed verisimilitude which forms the aesthetic of all the standard works of modernity.

Now the revision, with changes to the original text in italics:

This is what we might call the market-deferential illusion. The truth of this illusion is this: eliminated from the realist speech-act as a signified of denotation, the ‘deal’ returns to it as a signified of connotation; for just when these details are reputed to denote the deal directly, all that they do – without saying so – is signify it; Modern Family’s iPad finally says nothing but this: I am the deal; it is the category of ‘the deal’ (and not its contingent contents) which is then signified; in other words, the very absence of the signified, to the advantage of the referent alone, becomes the very signifier of branding: the branding effect is produced, the basis of that unavowed verisimilitude which forms the aesthetic of all the standard works of modernity.

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April 4, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Posted in ads, barthes, realism

judt again on social democracy

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Tony Judt has a new and valuable piece on social democracy in today’s Guardian:

We need to rethink the state, and rearticulate the language of social democracy. Social democrats should cease to be defensive and apologetic. A social democratic vision of the good society entails from the outset a greater role for the state and the public sector. The welfare state is as popular as ever with its beneficiaries: nowhere in Europe is there a constituency for abolishing public health services, ending free or subsidised education or reducing public provision of transport and other essential services. We have long practised something resembling social democracy, but we have forgotten how to preach it.

Agreed. And I agree with just about all that Judt says in this piece… except one thing. When he casts around for an angle to take in preaching it, he (somewhat reluctantly) lands on morality as the fulcrum point of whatever case we might make moving forward:

If we remain grotesquely unequal, we shall lose all sense of fraternity: and fraternity, for all its fatuity as a political objective, turns out to be the necessary condition of politics itself. The inculcation of a sense of common purpose and mutual dependence has long been regarded as the linchpin of any community. Inequality is not just morally troubling: it is inefficient.

In post-religious societies such as our own, where most people find meaning and satisfaction in secular objectives, it is only by indulging what Adam Smith called our “benevolent instincts” and reversing our selfish desires that we can “produce among mankind that harmony of sentiments and passions in which consists their whole race and propriety”.

Morality is a lovely concept, but to my mind it’s better at filling Santa’s kettle outside Bloomingdales than forming an axiomatic basepoint for a political movement. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the coming weeks and months, but I would substitute beauty for Judt’s morality, aesthetic instincts for Smith’s benevolent ones. The aesthetic marks a point of negotiation and often enough junction between the individual and the collective, and as such it bears within it the possibility of the suturing of self-interest and collective good in a more psychologically and socially realist form than morality or benevolence.

Anyway, this is something I’m going to be working on moving forward, so there’ll be more on here about it I’m sure – and on Judt, whose Ill Fares the Land dropped through the mailslot as I was reading the above article in the Guardian. I’m sending my first book off for peer review today or Monday, and so it’s time to open up new research. And I gave my blog-derived paper that might be the start of a new book on social democracy and aesthetics for a second time in two weeks last night – this time to a management / marketting department which was interesting and appropriate, as it’s exactly the wisdom of advertising that I’m trying to poach for our side.

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March 20, 2010 at 11:28 am

“misjudged utility”: addiction and narrative

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Christopher Caldwell writes about on-line video games this week in his column in the Saturday FT. The piece takes as its occassion the following harrowing story:

Kim Yoo-chul and Choi Mi-sun had been on the run for months – allegedly for doing something unspeakable – when they were arrested last week in Gyeonggi province in South Korea. Mr Kim, 41, and Ms Choi, 25, were ardent internet users. They met online. They had a baby. But becoming parents did not temper their computer habit. They grew fascinated with an online game called Prius, which allowed them to raise a virtual “child” called Anima. In the interests of their virtual child they neglected their real one. Last September they returned from a 12-hour session at an internet café to find their baby dead of starvation.

Caldwell procedes to consider the reasons why such games are so addictive by seeing them through the lens of developments in video gambling:

If we consider the matter neurologically, raising a virtual baby can in some ways be more “rewarding” than raising a real baby. You get points. You get to undo your mistakes. Like art, video games can seem better than life.

The problem is that, unlike art, video games are increasingly sophisticated and subtle. A lot of recent academic research has focused on how video gambling machines take advantage of the predictable vulnerabilities of problem gamblers. Many non-gambling games are built the same way. They are designed to trick the reward centres of the brain through a variety of techniques: “near misses”, delayed rewards, illusions of control. In other words, they induce the same sort of misjudgment of utility that leads a crack addict to neglect his job. Designing machines to be pleasurable or useful is one thing – designing them to be addictive is quite another.

The phenomenology and false economies of the crack addict, yes, but also of the reader caught in the rhythms and deliberate temporalities of narrative. I am definitely not the first to see, say, in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary a performative diagnosis (even a deconstruction) of the relationship between the logic of addiction and narrative organization. But Caldwell’s piece (and other recent thoughts about parallel forms) leads me to think that perhaps the right way to conceive of the recent history of narrative is in terms of a split, a fissuring of narrative elements into two sectors.

On the one hand, new(ish) forms such as pornography, advertising, video games, and gambling, have taken up the neurological tricks long resident in narrative and brought them right to the profit-generating center of the works produced. On the other hand, literary modernism and its aftermath seems in this light a movement in fiction centered on the disavowal of the technologies of narrative addictiveness: a resistance to the traditional rhythms of plot is combined with a diminishment of the sense of authorial (and thus vicarious readerly) control. The phrase “misjudgment of utility” maps crookedly though provocatively onto, say, Adorno’s discussions of modernism’s uselessly utopian attempts at autonomy. Modernist fiction is that fiction that does not tease you into thinking that you can win. Which is of course better than video slots, but also… perhaps politically pernicious in a deeper sense.

At any rate, I am thinking this morning that I’m starting to understand a bit more clearly a turn that I’m taking in my own work. I’ve finished (though not yet sold – Christ is the process slow) a book about modernism and the temporality of its plots. And I keep telling everyone that I’m done with literature for awhile – that the next thing is going to be about stuff like education and advertising and pornography and the like. “Oh, so you’re going into ‘cultural studies’?” they ask with an unavoidable sneer. I am never sure what to say about that – it certainly doesn’t feel like that’s what I’m doing. “Cultural studies” is not quite right – maybe what I’m interested in is the persistence of narrative in a culture whose best literary works have long since disavowed it, the fault lines that run between this disavowal and the profit-driven enhancement of narrative in other forms.

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March 14, 2010 at 10:45 am