TV commercials have probably been creepy since the exact moment the first one was aired, but I feel like the ante has been raised lately. The disturbing subtexts are getting ever closer to the surface. And as they get creepier, some ads get more truthful.
I guess the logical extreme of post-modernism and marketing to the hyper-aware, super-jaded consumer really would be truth in advertising. “This product is of poor quality, and it will harm you.” Or maybe, “If you loved Toy Story and The Incredibles, you probably won’t like Recycloplot in Animland, but we hope you take your kids to see it anyway.”
Over the next few days, I’ll be discussing a few commercials that have really bugged me recently.
Let’s start with “The Dirty, Dirty Chicken Sandwich”, shall we? Or as I’ve come to call it, “Soylent Pink.”
I find meat product commercials disturbing in general, but I realize that’s a minority view. So I checked with my band members — my main barometer for normal guy responses — and was relieved to learn to learn that they thought “Soylent Pink” was memborably creepy too.
I don’t want to name the the vendor, the product, the popular jammy alternative singer of the annoying jingle, the half-clad b-list celebs, or the name of the scary adult film actress who some allege is featured in it. I’ve acquired the web-diarist’s tedious habit of reviewing the search-engine tags that lead people here, and I just don’t want to see certain keywords popping up in my logs.
Instead I want to dive right into exactly why it pegs my creep-o-meter:
And I realize (because I did research, like a diligent pseudo-journo type) that the blogosphere at large discussed this in March and moved on. But I think the extant writing about the commercial lacks a certain essential viciousness. Which is ironic, given its subject and its subtext — this is one time to really go for the jugular.
Combing the use of words like “chicks” or “birds” to refer to women with mention of chicken breasts and thighs has been a popular source of double-entendres for years. But fast food chains have usually stayed away from this area. I think there were good reasons for that.
For one thing, the fast food chains have a longstanding tradition of positioning themselves as promoting “wholesome” values. This is partly because kids are a core market for this slimeballs. I think it’s also a smokescreen tactic that helps divert attention from the fact that the food itself is rarely, if ever, wholesome.
But the other big problem is where the metaphor logically leads. Let’s be clear: the way chicken restaurants want you to “eat” those breasts and thighs does not lead to erotic gratification for the chickens in question. One of the fast food companies’ great triumphs is the degree to which they divorce their products from anything resembling actual animal flesh. (The “nugget” is obviously the jewel in this crown.) But using a “chick”’s breasts and thighs to sell chick(en) breasts and thighs re-establishes the connection to something that once had feathers and squawked. Something that could even conceivably (at least in the movie Chicken Run) be considered “cute.”
Worse, if you follow the chick-chicken metaphor in the other direction, it acquires a decidedly cannibalistic aspect. You could certainly argue that the public ultimately chews up and spits out most celebrities. But this is pretty dark territory for an outfit that basically wants to sell you a meal that is “happy” or “fun.”
continued. . .