February 17, 2019

The Technological Dread of This Year's Super Bowl Ads

“How many ads must a man look upon before he can truly see? Let’s start in the heart of Budweiser’s America, where the adorable ears of a Dalmatian flap in the breeze. The dog accompanies a beer delivery—a horse-drawn wagon rolling through waving wheat—that’s set to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The camera pulls back to reveal wind turbines, branded with the Budweiser logo, spinning above the scene. We read that the beer is “now brewed with wind power for a better tomorrow.” We wonder whether, since the brand is so committed to environmentalism, it might conserve further resources by making its beer less watery. We shouldn’t be surprised by Dylan licensing this song—a canonical protest anthem with a melody tracing to the black-American folk tradition—to lift the voice of the world’s largest beer producer. After all, it was only five years ago that he appeared in a Super Bowl ad for Chrysler while “Things Have Changed” played in the background. And yet I wonder how many of his hundred-million-odd viewers will be stirred, by this commercial, to think of another breeze wafting through his songbook—the idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves.

It has been thirty-five years since the “1984” ad for the Apple Macintosh, directed by Ridley Scott, opened a brave new era of Super Bowl advertising. Now the ads are reckoning, badly, with the dystopia our technology has wrought. A thirty-second Pringles spot conveniently captures the theme. The clip, titled “Sad Device,” features two dudes and their digital assistant. The dudes, looking twenty-four years old and seeming like a mature eight, sit in a loft apartment and compose Pringles cocktails by stacking different flavors. They wonder aloud how many combinations there are, in this best of all possible worlds, where flavors include Buffalo Ranch, Screamin’ Dill Pickle, and Butter Caramel. The device intrudes to tell them that there are “three hundred and eighteen thousand,” and, in a Biblical cadence, with despairing sentience, unburdens itself: “Sadly, I’ll never know the joy of tasting any, for I have no hands to stack with, no mouth to taste with, no soul to feel with. I am at the mercy of a cruel and uncaring—” The dudes cut her off with a command to play the disco classic “Funkytown.” The commercial seems to offer solace: our digital underlings may become our robot overlords, but they will transcend us, too, in the depth of their existential suffering.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"Have world leaders really got the will to bring peace to Yemen? We hear much about Yemen’s crisis, but far less about the hypocrisy of states fuelling the very conflict they condemn."

"No poll so far in our database has tested Trump against the relatively unknown Weld... Indeed, Weld seems like one of the weakest candidates that anti-Trump Republicans could put up in a national campaign. "

"An initiative by the mayor of Tiberias for the municipality to help provide public transportation on the Sabbath has caused the issue of the social status quo to the forefront of public discussion."

"Like “30 Rock,” “Kimmy Schmidt” obviously slanted leftward, but most always exhibited a similar eagerness to skewer politics more generally than just the GOP."

"Yes, we’re all overwhelmed with email. One recent survey suggested that the average American’s inbox has 199 unread messages. But volume isn’t an excuse for not replying."

"... platforms now have a stranglehold over publishers who, individually and even as a group, have little-to-no bargaining power when it comes to algorithmic changes, ad rates, and much else."

"[There's] a subgenre known as National Socialist black metal, which espouses neo-Nazi views and has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as aiming to recruit youth to white-supremacist causes."

"“The Ideas That Made America” by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen is an anomaly in the genre. Its brevity is a point of pride, yet it aspires to do a little of everything."

"My wish is to die in my own bed, cared for by people I love—clean, comfortable and relatively free from pain. I hope to have time to say my goodbyes and give my final blessings."

"A diet for fast weight loss is a pipe dream. Many of us want to lose weight without making permanent changes, because we view thinness instead of health as a success."

"Opportunity casts a long shadow over all subsequent Mars rovers, setting a gold standard of JPL engineering. Customized versions of its mobility software are used on the rovers Curiosity and upcoming Mars 2020."

"Biblical scholarship has deepened our understanding of the Torah and at the same time challenges us to consider the implications of our declaring the Torah to be emet. What is emet and what does it mean to say that the Torah is emet?"