Episode 240: The Amateurs Will Be Out

Matthew Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather overthink the ads from Super Bowl XLVII and Beyonce’s halftime show.

→ Download Episode 240 (MP3)

Want new episodes of the Overthinking It Podcast to download automatically? Subscribe in iTunes! (Or grab the podcast RSS feed directly.)

Tell us what you think! Leave a comment, use the contact formemail us or call (203) 285-6401 to leave a voicemail.

25 Comments on “Episode 240: The Amateurs Will Be Out”

  1. cat #

    Sorry, guys, 140 characters is not my ideal format.

     
    • Gab #

      Ditto.

       
  2. Gab #

    Alright, I must hang out with a bunch of hippies. I kept my mouth shut the first time it aired (having seen it beforehand), but a bunch of the people at my party thought the VW commercial was borderline offensive. Because the accent the successful white dudes are faking is soooo stereotypical, plus there’s the whole token-Asian thing. A friend of mine said it well: “German car turns Asian guy Jamaican. What’s there not to get?” And the implication they came up with was, of course, that getting in the car was equivalent to smoking pot. So like you get a legal hotbox if you buy the new VW. Sorry, obviously I didn’t know if you’d discuss it or not.

    Audi Commercial: I’m with Mark, it was rather off-putting. I think the one that upset me the most in that regard was the one where the woman is asleep and the guy is trying to get the shirt she’s in off, since it’s his. It was for Gildan shirts. Just the whole setup is pretty horrible- that something went on the night before, causing the guy to go home with her, use handcuffs, and then regret it later. Like she’s just a crazy kinky thing to avoid. And there’s a cat in the room, about to make noise- crazy cat lady implication? Or am I overthinking it?

    Also, the whole series of Century 21 ads seemed to promote selfishness. Someone has something bad happen, and someone that should be concerned asks about a Century 21 agent being around instead of seeking help for them. As in, forget everybody else, the housing market is doing better now, so call us and get a house! Yay economic recovery!

    I’ve never been impressed with Beyonce, but I think what Fenzel and Wrather were saying was pretty spot-on in how I feel. And I’m going to push it further. It’s not just a “Support me because you benefit from my success” thing, but also an, “I work really hard to help you, so do your part by financially backing me.” Like investing in those celebrities helps you in the end.

    God, as an actual football fan, I was so enraged at that power outage. The bottom line was the players were too wussy to play without their gorram microphones. Their professionals, they should have a system and know how to call plays without a friggin’ headset. ::grumbles obscenities::

    Watch Cat’s video, it’s good- it breaks down a football game by percentage of the time taken up by various things, like ads, replays, milling around, etc. It’s Hank Green of the Vlogbrothers/Nerdfighters. Link again:

    http://youtu.be/ZsyoNU0NZHw

    Also, I made a lot of guac. ;)

    Wait a second, Fenzel, can I take you to task a little? I’d agree that Beyonce isn’t the ubermench, sure, but the reason she politicks and the Ubermensch doesn’t is because the Ubermensch doesn’t have to, right? It’s about structure and where one is in relation to it. Or are you looking at it in terms of who sets values?

    My friends and I ranted about the same thing you said toward the end about ads being available, Fenzel. Most of the ads are around online before the game, and then they still spend a crapton of cash to have them on during the broadcast. Seems kind of pointless now.

    I kind of thought all the space stuff has to do with the pulling of NASA funds lately, but that’s me being political. So I’ll not rant about it. Just throwing that out there, though. :)

    Did none of you watch the Puppy Bowl??????????

     
    • fenzel #

      The Ubermensch is a tricky concept that is never entirely spelled out with certainty, but I tend to resist Hitler’s take on it and see it as less as primacy through strength and more as progress through moral independence.

      While the Ubermensch isn’t an ideological construct, it is idealized, and while there are physiological and practical components to independent thinking, I still see the salient point in its articulation to be the Ubermensch’s perspective and mode of thinking and speaking, not the Ubermensch’s practical ability to do stuff, gain money and power, and boss people around.

      Nietzsche isn’t Machiavelli — Neitzsche wants to see strength vincidated against demonization by the weak because he thinks that there are desirable (if not good) things about being a strong person. Machiavelli, on the other hand, wants to see strength vindicated because it is _effective_ — and because he is in pursuit of other goods defined in other ways toward which strength is a necessary means.

      The Ubermensch transcends politics not because he crushes his enemies without effort, but because the way he creates and articulates values transcends the way people try to boss him around. Beyonce doesn’t transcend these efforts to boss her around, she defeats them by being good at art, politics and messaging.

      I tend to think the Ubermensch idea falls apart when confronted with notions of discourses of power and the collapse of structuralism. The idea that you can somehow transcend or get out of the way people influence each other by being just so awesome that ideology around you becomes irrelevant seems to have been adequately refuted by the last hundred years or so of politics.

      Nietzsche was very fixated on Christianity and not liking it because he was caught up in his own era’s hegemonic discourse. From an historical distance, it is pretty easy to see that the opposition between Neitzche and Christianity is not diametric, but fluid and changes over time. The Ubermensch becomes something more like Wallace Stevens’ Supreme Fiction — not an ultimate goal, never an ultimate goal, but just an especially full identification of a way the current moment is realized.

      So, Beyonce is smarter than the ubermench, because she knows that claiming total moral independence from ideology is impossible, and that strength does not come from being right at what you say, but instead from being good at what you do.

      Anyway, the basic difference is that if it’s raining, and the Ubermensch wants to stay dry, he redefines what it means to be dry such that the rain itself stops being a problem. Whereas Beyonce makes a really awesome umbrella.

      Although maybe that’s Rihanna who does that.

       
      • Arden #

        I wasn’t exactly serious in my question about Beyonce being the Ubermench, but I am happy to have my question read out on the podcast and that it has promoted the above discussion. I offhandedly made used “Ubermench” in a sentence at a Superbowl party I attended here in Australia, which thus lead to me attempting to explain some of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

        No worries about assuming I was a female. I am frequently assumed to be either a woman or somebody who isn’t White Australian based entirely on my name. I guess that is the cost of parents wanting unusual names for their children.

        Also, congratulations on five fantastic years of overthinking.

         
  3. mags #

    Here is a thoughtful critique of the VW commercial from an actual Jamaican, courtesy of Racialicious: http://tinyurl.com/bgsgp65

    Yeah, it’s racist.

     
  4. Rambler #

    3 thoughts

    1 – I’d say that the actual game beat out all the trappings this time. Anecdotal proof: I know nothing about Beyonce or Audi that I did not know last week, but my wife actually was intrigued enough to finally learn what the First Down Line was for.

    2 – I think the overall narrative theme from last year carried over to this year. “It’s half-time in America and the lights are about to go out…”

    3 – The VW commercial. This commercial had no real reason for being, but I laughed out loud at the sudden appearance of “Chill Winston!” and no one else got it… That phrase didn’t exist before Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels, right?

    Oh and is it racist? {shrug} You ever notice that people point that finger faster at things that are mediocre?
    Bland exoticism is racist, well done exoticism is art.

     
    • Gab #

      Eh, I think it’s more that either exoticism is racist. But bland is done badly, well done is not.

      Take Disney’s Peter Pan. “We’re out to fight the Injuns!” and “What made the red man red?” At the time, and now even, it’s somewhat comical and done well, but still blatantly racist now. And it isn’t meant as social commentary.

      So I think that the purpose also needs to be taken into consideration, and this leads to the discussion of successful versus failed satire. Because an advertisement taking advantage of a culture isn’t meant to be satire, so it being a bad idea is pretty much a given. But satire, when done well, points out the flaws in some structure or institution, be it in the distributive aspect, power, method, etc., and shows how those flaws are wrong in the normative sense. Badly done satire shows the flaws but doesn’t do a good job of showing how they’re wrong. And this is why well-done satire doesn’t get the same reaction as badly done (bland) satire.

      So the thing about the commercial is it’s not satire, even though one could make the argument that it’s well-done. And even if it was supposed to be satire (which I really don’t think it was), it didn’t show how the post-colonial bind Jamaicans are in is bad, nor how the previous colonization was wrong.

       
      • Rambler #

        I’m not going to fault your take on it, after all how you react to something is how YOU react to it.
        Any more than that and we’ll wind up debating things like: “Do you mean ‘Racism as a choice’ or ‘Racism as an expression of the existential state of individual isolation’?”. Trust me we’re better off not going there.

        My thought really regarding the hypocracy of our internal monologue over what’s racist and what’s acceptable. (Based, of course, on our status as “Right-thinking Intellectuals one and all”)

        Perfect example: Is this commercial more or less racist than 30 Rock?
        Remember the episode where Liz impersonates a receptionist with a “Hey Mon!” accent and sprinkles in the word “Bobsled” and then later it cuts to the Jamaican receptionists conversing as they use the word “Bobsled” like punctuation?

        I can’t be the only one who’s happy to laugh out loud and give 30 Rock a pass for “Artistic Irreverence” but would have been troubled to see that same scenario play out in a blander medium.

        There’s no quantifiable or qualitative difference. Yet it’s easier to point to a commercial and yell “Flawed!”.

        If I haven’t managed to erase that bit of hypocracy in myself then I’m pretty inclined to be forgiving of others who sin mildly and without malice.

        None of this validates or invalidates anyone’s personal reaction. It is cultural observation. In the act of overthinking anything we should always be overthinking our selves. Bobsled!

         
  5. Mike Gleba (That's L and then E. Also it's a long E.) #

    Yay! They read my facebook question!
    Boo! They said my name wrong

     
  6. Chris #

    I left a comment already, but I guess it did not take. Anyway, my tweet was more about comparing the notion of an outdoor Super Bowl in winter in New York, when usually a Super Bowl won’t be held outdoors north of Dallas, to the Qatar World Cup, because the World Cup is held in the northern hemisphere’s summer which, obviously, is a concern in terms of weather.

    Although, that being said, the Qataris have plans to build ridiculously elaborate stadiums to deal with the heat. Also, to Pete’s comment about Qatar hosting a World Cup and the surprise thereof, FIFA is a notoriously corrupt organization, so the prevailing assumption is that Qatar , as well as Russia who won the 2018 World Cup, may have greased the wheels in some fashion.

    I could not provide any questions about the commercials or the halftime show, because I did not watch any of the ads and I gave up on halftime when I realized that I didn’t know any Beyonce songs and what I heard was not any good and also Edward Scissorshands was on SyFy at the same time.

    In conclusion, Detroit Lions in 2013!

     
  7. Andrew #

    I think it was Pete who said the Dodge “God made a farmer” ad was his least favorite. Being disappointed that the ad wasn’t as cynical as you expected sounds even more cynical and despair-ridden than the ad you expected. We hardly relate at all to the daily hardships experienced by that sector of society, and it’s disappointing that you took Dodge’s simple tribute to it as shameless self-promotion. Oprah was shamelessly promoting herself in the Jeep ad, but this was more like Dodge’s genuine appreciation of people who might use their product. It’s not “bad things happen to people who use our product”, and it’s not “Dodge=virtuous hard work, buy a Dodge because God made a farmer”, instead it’s “Dodge thanks those who work hard for a living.”
    Treat it as such.

     
    • fenzel #

      Strongly disagree with your conclusion about what I said. I thought the commercial was crass and cynical, and it turned out to be _more_ crass and cynical than I thought, not less. It was not sincere — it was over-the-top to the point of being grating and borderline farcical. And it was definitely even more of a shameless piece of self-promotion than I had originally anticipated.

      Why? Because the end goal was to get people who aren’t farmers to fantasize that they are farmers and buy giant trucks they don’t need.

      There are only about 1.2 million farmers in America — people with managerial or leadership roles on a farm who could conceivably afford a Dodge Ram. There are also about 760,000 agricultural laborers in America who make an average of $9 an hour and $18,000 a year (meaning it would take a year and a half of their salary to afford even the cheapest Dodge Ram).

      Last year, Dodge sold about 360,000 Rams total. So unless a third of the farmers in America bought new trucks last year (which seems really unlikely), and that they ALL bought Dodge Rams (which seems exceptionally unlikely), Dodge isn’t selling this product to farmers.

      Instead, they are exploiting the reputation of the work of farmers and the emotional insecurity of other people to sell their product to people who don’t need it.

      I looked it up, and the speech was an actual speech the late Paul Harvey made in 1978, and he did not make it to sell trucks to random suburbanites — especially not Dodges.

      As for your last claim, the commercial is exactly what you claim it isn’t — I can guarantee you that the Richards Group (or somebody else if Dodge didn’t use their agency of record) focus-grouped the heck out of the concept and tracks, in cooperation with various internal and external market researchers, how using farmer-related imagery has moved very specific brand favorability metrics for Dodge Rams. They probably even tested it in black and white vs. color and with different clips to see how it affected the way people think about Dodge Rams. If they didn’t do this, they wouldn’t be an ad agency.

      I sincerely doubt Sergio Marchionne and the other Italians who own and run Chrysler give two craps about American farmers except as a very small target market and as cultural mindshare. It’s possible the Richards Group does and are using Dodge as a mouthpiece. But the amount of blind faith you put in the motives of a multinational manufacturing corporation confuses me.

      Perhaps people who haven’t seen how things like this are made don’t truly understand how deeply calculated things like corporate philanthropy and branding are behind the scenes.

       
      • fenzel #

        I’d also add that brand focus-grouping against their target market (not agricultural workers, but people who can afford new trucks) and targeted favorability metrics (conservative radio personality, no immigrants in the commercial) is probably the only way the agency decides to portray almost all farmers as white. But the Atlantic article does that better than I could.

         
      • fenzel #

        Oh, and for the triple post, it’s not entirely fair to identify Sergio Marchionne as Italian. He was only born and raised in Italy. He’s also nominally from Toronto.

        But his penchant for Ferrari racing, his love of classical music and his position as former Vice-Chairman of UBS lead me to think that perhaps his company’s public embrace of the American agricultural sector is strategic in nature.

         
        • An Inside Joke #

          Strangely, the farmer ad is currently the #1 ranked ad on Hulu:

          http://www.hulu.com/adzone/452839#i0,p0,s2013v

          I didn’t like it either, but for a more underthinking it reason: I wanted funny ads, and the farmer ad struck me as bland. However,it certainly seems to have struck a cord – almost certainly due to the heavy amount of metrics fenzel mentioned above.

           
      • Gab #

        And as the article I posted points out, the depiction of farmers is in itself a fantasy version- they’re idolizing the White Farmer As Laborer in the commercial, when the vaaast majority of actual farm laborers are people of color (namely Hispanic). And, as you point out, unlikely to be able to afford a Ram in the first place.

         
      • Andrew #

        Thanks for the detailed response and sorry about the tone. After I read it, it seemed pretty sanctimonious. You brought up a lot of good points and provided serious insight into the advertising process. I guess what I was trying to say is that whoever was doing the advertising (probably The Richards Group in this case) might actually care about recognizing American farmers (at least for a minute), as you very fairly acknowledged as a possibility. It might not be a strong possibility, especially for the reasons you and Gab pointed out, but the advertisers might be worth a little bit of trust, especially given their track record. My cursory wikipedia research revealed that they have the Salvation Army and the U of Texas Cancer Center for clients, and they’re responsible for the fairly innocuous ads with the Chik-Fil-A Cows and Motel 6′s Tom Bodet. I share your distrust of advertisers, but there seems to be a better chance of sincerity from these people than we’re giving them credit for.

         
        • Andrew #

          Correction: after reading my own post, it seemed pretty sanctimonious.

           
  8. Worst. Commenter. Ever. #

    Well, actually, pistachios are not nuts. They are seeds. Check your facts, NEEERDS!

     
    • Lee #

      That, sir, is an excellent “well actually.”

       
    • Gab #

      Which is kind of funny, since their ad campaigns have emphasized their health benefits as “lowest calorie-” or “lowest fat-” “-nut” before.