The sponsors of Super Bowl LIV are manipulating you.
Late stage capitalism is a scourge that commodifies everything, including the self.
Most major companies range from questionably amoral to downright evil (we're looking at you, Walmart). Commercials are designed to manipulate us into connecting human emotions, humor, and our favorite stars with non-human entities that just want our money. As such, on the Super Bowl—the biggest day for advertising of the year—there is no shortage of blatantly emotionally manipulative and hypocritical ad spots. From the NFL creating an ad that protests police brutality (despite refusing to support Colin Kaepernick for doing that very thing) to Google making us cry despite historically using loop holes to pay taxes that could help millions of people, here is the ranking of the most manipulative, hypocritical ads from Super Bowl 2020.
5. New York Life Insurance—Love Takes Action
New York Life, an insurance company specializing in life insurance, sponsored an ad that explored four different Greek words for love: Philia, Storge, Eros, and Agape. It describes the latter as "love as an action," and then, over moving shots of families in various moments of struggle, happiness, and companionship, equates this kind of love to a life insurance policy. Emotionally manipulative, sure, but it's not a baseless claim to say that leaving behind a life insurance policy for your loved ones is an act of love.
Unfortunately, once you begin to read reviews of New York Life, it becomes clear why the company worked so hard to create an ad that presented them as caring stewards of money. Customer complaints on the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Affairs alike outline a company that is intentionally opaque about their policies, offer little customer service, and avoid actually paying out policies by almost any means necessary. While it's impossible to know for sure to what degree these claims are true, it's certainly not a great sign that they worked so hard to create an ad spot that uses such strong pathos to erase a reputation of immorality and money grubbing.
4. Microsoft—Be The One/Katie Sowers
It's a fantastic (if overdue) step towards equality that Super Bowl 2020 included the first female and LGBTQ coach to ever appear at the Super Bowl. Katie Sowers is undoubtedly a talented and hard working individual, and it's excellent that her story is getting more exposure. But considering that Microsoft has a history of suppressing claims of sexual harassment and discrimination from female employees, the ad comes off as a disingenuous face-saving measure. Real change does not come from ads that do lip service to equality; it comes from actively working to solve issues of inequality, something Microsoft has repeatedly failed to do.
3. NFL—Inspire Change
This one came off as so deeply hypocritical that many living rooms across America let out a collective groan when it became clear the NFL sponsored the ad. The spot is a decidedly moving look at the murder of Corey Jones, cousin of NFL player Anquan Boldin, by a plain clothes police officer. It features Corey's parents lamenting his death and a voice over from Boldin explaining the foundation he set up in Corey's honor.
All of this is moving and poignant, except for the fact that in 2018 the NFL did just about everything in its power to suppress the efforts of former player Colin Kaepernick, who famously kneeled during the National Anthem before a game to protest police brutality against black and brown bodies. As the Washington Post puts it, "The league can always be trusted to pounce on a sincere effort to raise awareness of an issue, then fine-tune and focus-group it until the corporate-friendly result barely resembles its original form."
This is an admittedly heart wrenching commercial. It features a voice over of an elderly man asking his Google Home to remind him of things about his wife who has apparently passed. As old pictures and footage of the couple plays across the screen, the Google Home reminds the man of moving details like, "Loretta had beautiful handwriting." It intentionally plays on our heart strings and seeks to humanize the massive company; it's an ad that positions Google as a force that wants to help people.
In reality, Google has proven over and over again how little they care for people, including their own employees. They lied to employees about the amount they would make from a contract with the Pentagon that would help create technology designed to kill enemies in war; they placed an individual with "vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant" views on their AI advisory council; they secretly created a heavily censored search engine for use in China that would block all access to things the government deemed "unfavorable"; and they pushed Andy Rubin (a high level executive) out of the company in 2014 due to a inappropriate romantic relationship, but not before giving him $90 million. If that's not enough, Google has also been under heavy investigation for violations of antitrust laws, constantly use tax loopholes to get out of paying into the communities in which they operate, and have even been repeatedly accused of manipulating search results to spread inaccurate and biased information.
1. Walmart—United Towns
This Walmart ad is such blatant propaganda that it's frankly insulting to any well-informed American. The commercial paints Walmart as a kind of missionary initiative, saying they "see America from the ground" and implying that the presence of Walmarts in small towns across America is some kind of unifying force for good. But Walmart is anything but a force for good in small town America; it has been firmly proven that Walmart's business model is to go into small towns, offer such low prices that they ultimately run all of the small, independent businesses in the town out of business, and then to jack up prices once people have no alternative but to shop at Walmart. In fact, Iowa State University professor Dr. Kenneth E. Stone found that some small towns lose up to 47% of their retail trade after ten years of living with a Walmart store nearby. If that's not enough, Walmart might choose to relocate its store to another location, but the impact of its initial arrival continues to last well afterward, leaving the citizens of a small town with almost no options for groceries, pharmacies, and other necessities.
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"I was in the studio in a bad mood that day, then I got inspired and went to a corner and I wrote the lyrics and the melody in 10 minutes. The image of the she wolf just came to my head, and when I least expected it I was howling and panting," Shakira said.
11 years ago, on July 10th, 2009, Colombian singer Shakira released the first single off her third studio album.
"She Wolf" is a synth-pop banger built on a B minor progression. It was, in many ways, an insane song, born out of the singer's own frustration and ennui.
Though the music was composed by John Hill and Sam Endicott, lead singer of post-punk band The Bravery, the lyrics were all Shakira's own. "[Shakira] contacted him (Hill), asking if he had any stuff," said Endicott. "We never had her in mind. We just made the thing independently of her, and then she liked it a lot, and she sang over it. She used some of the melodies we put in there and then wrote these crazy lyrics about being a werewolf. And that's how it happened."
Shakira - She Wolf www.youtube.com
Since Bill Murray's 1993 classic, time loop narratives have somehow become a genre unto themselves.
Andy Samberg's record-breaking Sundance hit Palm Springs is the latest entry in the storied genre of time loop movies.
These now-familiar stories involve one or more characters becoming trapped by mysterious forces that cause them to relive the same stretch of time (usually a single day) over and over and over again. The phenomenon was made iconic by the 1993 film Groundhog Day, in which Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a jaded TV weatherman who becomes trapped in the small town of Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania for an endless recurrence of the titular holiday.
Watch out for that first step. It's a doozy.
It's such a bizarre, nonsensical premise that it's hardly surprising it took until 1993 for someone to give it a feature film treatment. What's much weirder is the fact that the trope has since become such a mainstay of TV and movies. It has appeared in recent years in Before I Fall, Edge of Tomorrow (AKA Live Die Repeat), two Happy Death Day movies, the Netflix series Russian Doll, among countless lesser-known works.
Each new approach tends to add its own twist to the formula, with Palm Springs trapping two people (Andy Samberg's Nyles, and Cristin Miloti's Sarah) in the same time loop at their friend's wedding in Palm Springs, California. Beyond that, the characters are largely guaranteed to go through much of the same process we've seen in every other iteration of a Groundhog-style loop—trying to convince others of what's happening, learning from their mistakes, taking advantage of their knowledge to manipulate people and events. It can begin to feel like we're watching the same movie over and over and over…
And yet, Palm Springs just broke Sundance's sales record. So what is it about this premise that keeps drawing us in?
For a start, the formula is a good one. Groundhog Day is a classic movie, one of Bill Murray's best, and I could personally watch it every day for at least a decade or two without getting sick of it. Adding some variations and some new characters while treading the familiar, satisfying path that Harold Ramis established for us isn't so bad. But there's definitely more to it than that.
For a start, it exaggerates the absurd and empty repetition of modern life—in which the routine of each day, each week, each year tends to blur and blend into the next in a uniform mass of cyclic mundanity that slowly wears us down until we're too old and decrepit to be of value to our capitalist overlords. By magnifying the drudgery of carrying on, a time loop has the potential to become the sort of prison and punishment that the ancient Greeks loved to imagine for the afterlife. Every day, Ned Ryerson—Needlenose Ned, Ned the Head—is going to try to sell you insurance. Every day, the radio replays the same drivel. Every day, we are doomed to repeat the mundane tortures.
And yet there is something about the time loop that is also freeing. You can say whatever you want and do whatever you want without consequence. One of the first things Bill Murray does when he realizes that he's trapped is to get wasted and get into a high-speed chase with the police, all with the assurance that he'll wake up in his bed with no hangover and no criminal record. The idea of speaking your mind and acting on impulse—of courting danger, excitement, and casual sex without risk of lasting consequences—is a potent fantasy.
But that still doesn't quite cover the explosive appeal of this new genre. It is tapping into a broader addition to media and culture: video games.
In the early 90s, the video game industry was in its adolescence. SEGA and Nintendo had brought it more fully to the mainstream, and facile attempts to convert that success into box office sales were already underway. But what movies like Super Mario Bros. overlooked was what people actually liked about video games. It wasn't so much about a character with a mustache fighting lizard people—or a drunken Bob Hoskins hiding his broken hand—people liked the experience of incremental improvement—of getting to try the same task over and over again, getting slightly better with each attempt, all in an environment in which the fear of failure was reduced to a transient concern. As the phenomenon of Let's Play videos has proven, people can even enjoy that experience vicariously, and that's what these time loop movies tap into.
The most obvious example of this is Edge of Tomorrow, which draws on many of the aesthetics and objectives of a sci-fi action game. Fight the aliens until you die. Figure out how to fight them better. Eventually make it to the boss alien and save the day with a climactic explosion. The centrality of the death-respawn mechanic is the most common alteration these stories make to Groundhog Day's original formula. While Phil Connors could live or die and still wake up to Sonny and Cher each morning for unexplained reasons, most of the newer versions—Russian Doll, Happy Death Day—have embraced a clearer narrative goal of not being killed. The loop resets each time the character dies, and they only need to survive/defeat their killer(s) in order to escape. Just like a video game.
There is a more frightening way in which video games have altered our culture, which these movies also point to: the gamification of life. While Groundhog Day doesn't specify how many times Phil Connors relives the same day, there's reason to believe his temporal captivity lasted multiple decades, if not much longer. That explains how Connors achieves a godlike knowledge of every person and event in the town—though not how he manages to maintain any semblance of sanity. He also becomes an accomplished pianist, a talented ice sculptor, a fluent French speaker, a practitioner of various life-saving skills, and really good at flicking playing cards into a hat.
The concept of having all the time in the world to develop those skills is alluring, but there are far too many influences telling us that this is how we need to spend the little bit of free time we have. Until you actually get stuck in a time loop, you are not a video game character, and you should not feel compelled to optimize every aspect of your life for some imagined future success. Just as you are never going to compete with a 19-year-old from South Korea who plays League of Legends professionally, you will probably never speak as many languages as Pete Buttigieg or learn as many household skills as Martha Stewart. And that's okay.
Whatever the message of Palm Springs or any of these other time loop stories, Groundhog Day makes its message clear: All those skills Phil picks up are not the key. It's not until Phil Connors engages authentically with his life and finds love that he is able to escape the prison of mundane repetition. Skill and success are both nice, but they cannot be goals themselves, because life is not a video game. All that work is empty without human connection. Love is the only real goal… Which is probably something Andy Samberg should have kept in mind before he decided to rip off the concept of his wife's fourth studio album.
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