It's Good to Be the King
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Monday, February 13, 2006

Disquieting Modern Trends: Post-Super Bowl Death Knell of Advertising as We Know It and Desperate Call for Return to Core Values Edition

A bloated, lasagna-and-beer-stuffed greeting to you all, as we lounge on the couch now some full week-plus after the orgy of American consumption and media-drenchedness that is the National Football League Championship game or “Super” Bowl. We had so many leftovers here from the annual Disquieting Modern Trends S.B. party that we decided just to stay put, eating, quenching, watching Fox News1, and applying a post-game onion dip poultice to our most tender areas for the better part of February. Life is good.

Mr. Zuniga & Ms. KochBefore turning to the matter at hand, we’d like to thank our erstwhile fill-ins, Todd Zuniga and Elizabeth Koch, for turning in one of the most acerbic D.M.T.s in recent memory. Nicely done, friends. We filled our bellies to nearly busting with ale and croque-monsieurs at the various Opium Magazine events last weekend, only to return to D.M.T. HQ for full-on Super Bowl indulgence. A twofer weekend, indeed.

Not much was disquieting at the Opium party at the Slipper Room2, but we had total confidence that the N.F.L. and ABC would not let us down. The game? Who was even paying attention? But disquietude would surely be on hand in the gaps. And indeed: this was the year that Super Bowl commercials jumped the shark.

So over.I know this thesis brushes against your own personal grain, you who pride yourself on your annual Super Bowl party with the chili and the big sammich and the TV in every room and the constant wagering on the whole experience, but let us remind you that we are the professional prognosticators here, the ones with such a fine–tuned Mission: Impossible-style bead on how the worm turns that we called Sarah Silverman over before you even began to know who she was3. But in truth: the ads were nowheresville this year. Nada. Nope. Ptooey.

Here’s the logic: The J.J.-nipple débâcle of 2004 described the outer contour of what low-rent skank could do in advertising and popular entertainment, and the backlash of requisite mea culpas and turtlenecks last year created little heat and less light. This year no one really knew what to do. Who can blame these beleaguered ad execs, sucking their Red Bulls and mashing their Treos with bloody thumbs as mainstream Western advertising civ spins out around them? Witness: most of the real revenue eyes aren’t even watching TV anymore or are TiVo-ing their ads with ruthless efficiency around Desperate Housewives4, and most of the smart money is on how to get into Google’s banner-ad pants.5.

But still, TV is there, and the industry must provide ad content for a nation’s billion slavering eyeballs, especially the first weekend in February. What a bind they are in! What can they do? People getting slammed/stomped/hurt (FedEx, that football player smashing everyone in the office) surely is still funny, right? No. Continued, puzzling Clydesdale anthropomorphic perversities in soft focus on sun-dappled Milwaukee mornings (Budweiser) still captivates, yes? Heavens no. Massive C.G.I. investments in the depiction of personal hygiene implements as partnership between Caltech, the Pentagon, and the Borg (Gillette and the Razorblade Particle Accelerator or whatever the hell that thing was) will seize America’s tech-hungry imagination, dontcha think? No, and again no. What, then, can obtain? Can the center, good God, hold?

dmtincredibles.jpgFace it: big commercials are OVER. They can get no bigger. Just as Pixar et al can no longer get mileage out of being EVEN MORE LIFELIKE this year and therefore must return to the tired but resilient devices of character development and story to move us (see The Incredibles6), so too must advertising—whore of Babylon that she is—even in the sultan’s court that is the Super Bowl, retrench to its core values, its MacGuffin, the inexhaustible well, the Things That Make It All Go: cheesecake and epic strangeness.

And so, on to celebrate the only two specimens of Super Bowl Extra-Large Advertising that even bumped the needle of disquietude and therefore stimulate us. The two ads looping the elevators of DMT Plaza this week are:

The Girl
Go Daddy Go!This ad is a bright spot, always. The original Super Bowl commercial from last year was delicious not because of its breast-errific spokesmodel en si, nor its congressional hearing setting (which mise en scène was delectable in the post-wardrobe malfunction landscape of 2005 of its first airing but did not update particularly well to the age of the Alito confirmation). Rather, the lovely last moment of the ad, in which the spokesmodel in question is asked what she will do during her TV ad and coyly suggests that maybe she could “do a routine where I went like this” and executes a little arms-above-the-head pirouette, in jerky slow-mo, so perfectly simultaneously embodies and mocks our commonly held cultural definition of sexy dancing that we simultaneously laughed, choked on our Doritos, and popped a stiffy. Blithe as a Frangelico Magdalene, she stoops to conquer and ennobles us with her grace. Really, look at it again ( )—it’s sublime.

Go Go Go DaddyThis year, however, the GoDaddy ad could do little but reference last year’s spaghetti-strap malfunction, giving us a high-def and excruciating slo-mo close-up of the strap threads themselves giving way under the (this year, essentially unseen) surging pressure of the GoDaddy girl’s mammarian bio-volume and top-heavy pulchritude. Though some may see this coy indirection as Hitchcockian or clever, we see little more than fear and a lack of courageous imagination. There is the senator taking another hit of oxygen, sure, but we S.B. viewers—stultified by a series of off-tackle running plays between two teams that collectively boast a single exciting player who is only noted because of his hair—are refused even a glimpse of the O2-requiring ta-tas. It’s one thing to shut us out of those erectile dysfunction ads, but it’s another thing to deprive us of the opportunity to know if our erectile is, in fact, dysfunctioning.

The Giant-Headed and Core-Level-Disquieting Burger “King”
But nothing that aired between 5 and 11 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday—or, for that matter, any time this in the past year—came even vaguely close to the laser-focused disquietude of the Burger King ad. Everyone finds this puppet/man/King disquieting. Indeed, we would posit that conversations about the Burger “King” are probably the only place in regular social interaction where you are likely to hear the word “disquieting” spoken, the King being so singularly icky and Webster’s/O.E.D.-esque definitional when it comes to this word. Our 15-year-old daughter says he is “endlessly disturbing” and the rest of our collective pool of children hold him out as either a nightmare vision or simply their worst fear of what may happen to them if they are bad. He mutely mocks us with his gaping pie-hole of forced jollity. His incongruously athletic legs and arms jar our sensitive sensibilities of proportion as they negate the Mardi Gras bloatedness of his crown, his beard, his nose like a summer squash.7

Wake up with the KingHe so handily lodges in the collective consciousness as creepy and surreal that we wonder if (a) he is product of some kind of Cold War research conducted by the pre-illegal-wiretapping N.S.A. for the purpose of digging secrets out of purloined K.G.B. triple agents, or (b) the result of a potentially illegal partnership between David Lynch and those Mummenschanz people, all hooked up with Madison Avenue’s most sadistic and incisive minds. The new Burger “King” is a distillation of disquietude, a boiling down of every relevant turn-of-the-millennium post-modern U.S. cultural fear, a near-perfect embodiment of a string of ugly Western-civ prototypes (the abusive father, the smiling fascist, the oddly faceless Big Brother, you name it), in short—he is very nearly the beginning and end of this column, THE D.M.T. of our time.

Disquietude KingAnd so we must say that for a major corporation to choose him as their brand’s central image and primary marketing icon is simultaneously appalling and—natch—utterly brilliant. We loved the gorgeous showgirls dressed as tomato slices and pickles, and we found the latex-esque costumes and general “sandwich building” pile-on to be the closest thing all evening to a Marvin Gaye song. We eagerly anticipate what this twisted team of advertising types will continue to persecute us with in the coming months as the most-resilient big-headed King finds himself in ever more incongruous circumstances. With Bono, sticking it to the man as part of a delegation to address international debt relief effort through “Have It Your Way” repayment plans? Perhaps as Buddha, bending over a supplicant bodhisattva with a barrel of chicken fries vindaloo? Will he—gasp—replace Dan Rather?

The mind boggles. We say only this: Shine on, you crazy bigheaded corporate symbol made flesh. We wear our paper crowns, prostrate in the predawn twilight, awaiting your advent and further instructions. Speak, for your servants heareth.