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April 29, 2012

I recently watched Super Size Me. Back when it came out I worked for McHell myself and was yet to grow bitter and resentful about it, so I had the reaction of “Oh golly, you get fat by eating trash food? This is new information!” I assumed it was one of those documentaries that are more about confirming a view than finding one. Since then I’ve seen The Greatest Movie Ever Sold and bits and pieces of that show Spurlock had where he lived like someone else (sort of) for thirty days a time. They left me with the impression that Spurlock was rather more humble than I had given him credit for.

The thing that struck me the most (except the completely off-the-charts, the-fuck-are-you-thinking sizes of fries and sodas) was how utterly drenched in brands America is. Or perhaps or much their culture is based on commerse. Or commercialism? Capitalism?

It’s difficult pinning it down without sounding  like every left-leaning politician in Sweden for the last 40-something years.

But by God, they seem to have been on to something here. I mean, the adverts they have over there seem so fucking ridiculous it’s hard to believe they win anyone over.

Sweden was rather late to the game in terms of televised adverts. We had just two TV channels up until 1987. Both those channels were state-run. Several of the new networks popping up broadcast from Great Britain to circumvent laws forbidding airing of commercials aimed specifically at children.

Even back then, I remember finding foreign, dubbed commercials to be just plain silly. I assumed they were made by people bad at their jobs. I couldn’t see how anyone would be fooled by them. Because that’s what I assumed commercials were all about – tricking you into buying their stuff. Or at least make you like them, even if the reason was a stylish or funny commercial.

I’ve always liked commercials that are self-aware or at least funny. If it’s not entertaining, it’s just annoying, which surely can’t be good to be associated with for the brand in question. I don’t get those silly bits that you can tell are 100% earnest in their effort to convey happiness and warmth or some stuff like that.

I don’t know if those kinds of self-aware commercials are more common in Sweden than elsewhere, but there seems to be a genuine cultural difference between countries in this, which is interesting but completely obvious. My favourite kind of insight.

I’ve reflected on this brand fetishism before, when reading pretty much anything by Douglas Coupland, but I more or less assumed (hoped?) it was just a way of conveying some sort of cool I couldn’t quite understand. Brands in his books seem to be some sort of referential points by which to navigate non-embarrassment, or perhaps just a way of making sure you’re hipster enough.

Watching Super Size and Greatest Movie… I came to realise perhaps it was some sort of truth he was telling all along. Guess I just couldn’t believe the incredible fuckload of different brands they have there. How for some reason important they are. I’m not sure I could function in such a society. Choice is hard enough already.

Or maybe the real difficulty would come from my not having been soaked in the same culture as them, so I would have no way of sensing bullshit and spotting quality. Which brands are generally trusted and which are not.

What am I trying to get at here? Well, that Americans seem to take commercials seriously which is such an incredibly baffling notion to me. I mean, they’re commercials for fuck’s sake. They want your money and they want your loyalty. They care about nothing else. Oh, the invdividual people might be nice, but the laws of commerce more or less guarantees that the most heartless entities are the most successful.

Oh fuck. I feel myself slipping into politics.

Panic!

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