I've been away from this blog for a few weeks to get other writing projects done. Now that I'm back, I thought it would be interesting to look at a few TV ads and videos that are related -- directly or indirectly -- to Occupy Wall Street and/or our current political culture.
First, one from the Right (specifically focused on a Democratic candidate) that slams OWS and everyone associated with it.
Negative Political Attack Ad on Elizabeth Warren
This Karl Rove production associates Warren with the anachronistic sign of Communism ("radical redistribution of wealth"), with a little 60s era "hippie druggie" stuff thrown in for good measure.
But what interests me more here is one of the other reasons the ad offers as to why this rising Democratic star is "dangerous" -- she's an intellectual theorist. This sort of "accusation" is partly a recycling of Cold War-era anti-intellectualism. But it also points to another cliche about intellectuals: they're supposedly ineffectual, i.e., "all theory and no practice."
This can also be related to a common criticism of Occupy Wall Street. Some commentators have complained that the movement is indefinite as to its demands. At the heart of their irritation is the implication that OWS is all ideals, no "getting down to brass tacks" -- a variation on the theme of all talk/protest, no (effectual) action.
The next ad, produced for OWS (funded through an online crowdsourcing site), does a lot to answer both the criticisms of radicalism and impracticality.
Occupy Wall Street TV Ad
This ad seems designed to answer the question of "what do they want?" head on. Every person who makes a cameo here begins their statement with "I want..." Some demands/desires are more general -- but others are quite specific.
Additionally, the mosaic of faces presented in the ad is from a wide enough swath of U.S. society (and the people look "normal" enough) to prove that OWS, rather than a radical "them" is a home grown "us". You might call the spot a representation of representativeness -- signifying not "dangerous foreign collectivism" but U.S. democracy with a capital D.
"Diesel Island Is Going Down!" (Video Ad)
In the context of the argument about the need for change that you see in the first two ads, the new video ad below for Diesel Jeans (though not directly about OWS) is all the more fascinating.
A few months back, this blog covered a Diesel campaign in which the brand created a wacky kingdom called Diesel Island, "the least fucked up country of all". It was an imaginary nation, made up of a kooky community of young idealists who all, of course, wore Diesel Jeans.
In this new video, we find out that this utopian experiment in (heavily-branded) democracy, alas, has succumbed to corruption and scandal:
Looking at this clip now, it's hard not to think, by coincidence at least, of that other locale where utopian impulses are springing up: Zuccotti Park. And though neither of the first two spots touches on it directly, the utopian element of OWS is what actually excites some commentators Here is Matt Taibbi, reporting for Rolling Stone:
"...Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It's about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one's own culture, this is it."
Is not the original message of Diesel Island (and other imagined brand communties such as the Republic of Corona) exactly the sort of thing that Taibbi sees OWS as rejecting? That is, the offering, say, of brand images and experiences as simulated stand-ins for more actual sorts of freedom.
Some scholars claim the ideological function of consumer culture is precisely to provide such consolation prizes as substitutes for our own insurgent impulses. William Davies put it this way, in a recent article in New Left Review:
"Advertising, like management theory, is fuelled by a critique of the dominant normative-economic regime within which it sits, facilitating safe acts of micro-rebellion against the macro-social order."
In this light, the dissolving of Diesel Island seems almost honorable. It's as if consumer culture's unconscious is saying (in video dream-speak): "hey, when you've got real utopian experiment in the news, who needs a simulated one?" (Though what Diesel's ad folks really intend is probably to just to promote the brand as cool, by way of joking around with the political zeitgeist.)
In any case, this all makes you wonder: if experiments like OWS persist, what will it mean for consumer culture as we've known it? Thoughts?