Sunday, February 5, 2012

Appendages and Smokescreens: Culture In(jury)

"Ever since Calvinism sanctified man's calling in this world, poverty, contrary to the accepted notion, has in practice been a taint to be washed away only by toil. The same process that freed each man from slavery and serfdom, and returned him to himself, also broke him into two parts, the private and the social, and burdened the private with a mortgage. Life outside the office and shop was appointed to refresh a man's strength for office and shop; it was thus a mere appendage, a kind of tail to the comet of labor..."

Oh, what to say about Super Bowl advertising. I know I don't feel too bad for the automobile industry. I know that. Just think, just a few short years ago the industry in question was on the cusp of meltdown. Take a quick-glance at the present moment; think about the fact that the average 30 second ad slot during the big weekend is approximately $3.5 million, and consider the sheer quantity of automobile ads.

If I could put this in Horkheimer language, that'd be quite a lot of appendages. But, to be a bit more serious, I can't help but think of the "culture industry" as a bit of 'culture injury' with regards to the tonal inflection of, well... about every syllable of ole Max and Theodor.

What I find most amusing about using this specific ad as a reference point, is the song. It's a somewhat obscure song by Willis entitled "Smokescreen" from the album Come Get Some (2003). With regards to the ad itself, where the amusing emerges for me, is in the fact that the title song (which is cut just before the words themselves can be featured in the ad) encapsulate the 30 second ad slot: smokescreen.

Max and Theodor put it this way: "The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the men."

I enjoy that line, I do. To put it another way, they suggest that the "culture industry" does not sublimate but represses. And much like in this ad, and many others that lean heavily on sensual and sexual tensions, repeated exposure of various objects of desire "only stimulates the unsublimated fore pleasure" and that the mass production of the sexual "automatically achieves its repression."

My question, both for myself as I watch and consume, and for us, the industrial consumptives, is, as Max and Theo note: Is the triumph of advertising in the culture industry that the consumers feel compelled to buy and use its products even though we see through them? Does an ad like this really need to be 'seen through?' What's the correlation of successful ads with actual consumer behavior (specifically as it relates to higher end needs products like cars, which are obviously a bit more nuanced than humoring hops and domain names with cleavage)? Do most of us simply recognize an ad for an ad? Or does the culture industry have us, like the Matrix?

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