I thought I’d reached the point where I’d finally grown numb to the constant barrage of product placement that saturates and infests my viewing life. From Adam Levine’s Starbuck’s cup to the Dell screens on VEEP to the kick you in the balls with it stuff on shows like Top Chef where not just the products but the actions of the contestants themselves (“The Ziploc Quickfire Challenge,” “The Glad Family of Products Elimination”) are for sale. I mean, it’s a given now, isn’t it, that you will be sold to every minute of every day that you interact with media? And with the advent of DVR and TEVO, which allows viewers to simply fast forward commercials (not to mention the fact that regular TV totally blows and more and more people are getting their television from paid cable services, or just buying the shows or streaming them on Netflix), the traditional route for companies to sell you their wares through your television screen has largely been squashed, and the companies are getting desperate. I read the other day that the NBA is going to start allowing teams to display ads on the court itself, as well as atop the backboard so that when LeBron is going up for a monster dunk and you get that above the rim looking down shot, you can be reminded to drink RedBull while you appreciate his ferocity. And don’t tell me we’re not going to be victim to a whole hell of a lot more slow motion when those logos are on screen.
But where does it end? Does it end? It must end, right?
Call me naive, but even as its grown more egregious, even at it reaches the pitch of pornography, it always seemed like there was some kind of invisible barrier, some unspoken standard that we would bump up against to keep our souls from turning completely to dust. You weren’t sure what that standard was, or where the threshold lived, only that you would know it when it had been obliterated.
And I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but it appears that the hull has been breached and friends, there is no going back because, mayday mayday, we are going down. Observe.
I just watched that ad three times in a row and I feel so dirty I want to take a shower. And I just took a shower. Maybe it’s that it’s Superman that makes this feel so particularly wrong. When the staffers on The West Wing drink Starbucks it kind of annoys me because I feel placated to, but I can at least rest on the fact that the staffers on the West Wing, though made up, are supposed to be like real people. Not only is Superman a fictional character, he’s not even supposed to be real. And he’s not not supposed to be real in the way that George Costanza isn’t supposed to be real. Superman’s not real in the sense that his existence is not merely fictional, but physically and scientifically impossible, which of course, makes his interaction with everyday household products like razor blades all the more insane and insulting to ponder. We are really blending it up here. How does Superman shave? Are you kidding me with this stuff? I want to find the advertising team that cooked this up and find a way to make them feel as dirty as they made me feel. Wait, that’s impossible.
I know none of this is all that new. Celebrities and even fictional characters have been selling to us for a long time now. I’m sure I see it all the time and barely bat an eye. But it’s Superman! Superman! They’re commodifying generations of hero worship, trying things up together that should be living apart, I tell you.
What’s amazing, of course, is that it will work like a charm. Gillette will sell a ton more razors. And before you know it we’ll be asking what kind of underwear the Hulk wears (Hanes) and how Wonder Woman keeps her designer mascara (Cover Girl) so perfect all the time. And don’t be surprised to see Jay Gatsby shilling for Tanqueray any day now.
Engine room, we need more power.