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Critics have been more than a little down on Bob Dylan’s Super Bowl spot: it seemed like a sellout and an embarrassing one at that. As a recovering Dylan-obsessive I can’t help thinking there was a bit more to it than that, and not just because Dylan likes to confound expectations. To begin with, the song that’s playing in the background has its lyrics suppressed until the title line appears at the end: “Things Have Changed.” If you don’t already know the song, the point would therefore appear to be that Detroit has changed, that it’s back on the world stage as a serious producer of cars. But if you recognize the song from the start, you’re likely to view the whole ad in a different light. For “Things Have Changed,” written for the film Wonder Boys, is in fact a song about the waning of youthful ambition and the loss of meaning that entails. The title is obviously an allusion to “The Times They Are-A-Changin,’” the angry hope of that folksy but caustic 1963 song—“The line it is drawn/The curse it is cast/The slow one now/Will later be fast/As the present now/Will later be past/The order is rapidly fadin’/And the first one now will later be last/For the times they are a-changin’—now replaced by music that echoes the weary rock of Chris Rea’s 1989 “Road to Hell” and a refrain fit for the year 2000: “People are crazy and times are strange/I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range/I used to care, but things have changed.” This is, in other words, the perfect song for a sellout. It’s the song of a man and a generation for whom things just stopped mattering as they used to, for whom the prospect of actually resolving anything, personally or politically, grew further and further away right as material comfort made it all seem less pressing. Somehow he and they were both locked in tight and out of range. The song reflects the heartbreak of this cynicism and in doing so evokes a yearning that still beats. “I’ve been walking forty miles of bad road/If the Bible is right, the world will explode/I’ve been trying to get as far away from myself as I can/Some things are too hot to touch/The human mind can only stand so much/You can’t win with a losing hand.” The order did not rapidly fade. The first one then is not now last. And the human mind can only stand so much. But if Dylan’s commercial activity in the last few years—Cadillac, Apple and Victoria’s Secret—seems like an attempt to get as far away from himself as he can, the Super Bowl ad was actually a little different. Because for all that the execution was clunky and idiotic, the idea itself—patriotic protectionism—is one that Dylan has flirted with for a long time, from 1983′s “Union Sundown” to the Farm Aid concerts of 1985 and 1986 and 2005’s “Workingman’s Blues #2” (“They say low wages are a reality/If we want to compete abroad”). And this should come as no surprise. It may be simplistic, both economically and morally—why exactly is buying American better than buying Korean?—but then again it’s also more or less all that the American left has been able to suggest in response to the economics of globalization. It’s a confused response to a confusing situation, and in that sense Dylan is the spokesman of more than his own generation. You can’t win with a losing hand.

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Apple’s advertisements usually promote Apple as an alternative (such as the think different or mac vs. pc campaigns), exude feelings (such as the itunes ads where silhouettes vibrantly dance over bright colors) or demonstrate product features (such as the iphone and ipad ads where flicking fingers get a lot done). However, the company’s most recent ads have focused on how we constantly and routinely use Apple products, appealing to their popularity and ubiquity (ironic considering their iconic “1984” super bowl ad). Each of these ads, a montage of beautiful and  happy people of all races and places, all caught in a feel-good moment enabled by an Apple product, concludes with “every day, more people ________ on the iPhone than any other phone.” That they don’t try to impose some sort of narrative on our routine use of their technology makes them feel a little more honest than Google’s sentimental ads, but there is also something sinister in them. The altogether creepy “Our Signature” ad highlights this terror. “This is it. This is what matters: the experience of a product,” the voice-over begins, as the camera, in slow motion, voyeuristically pans in on varied scenes of people using iPhones and iPads. Later the voice tells us “we spend a lot of time on a few great things,” almost as if the un-royal we, like Apple, spend a lot of time with their products, so much so that everyday existence, everywhere, is unimaginable without them. But while Apple’s products have indeed inserted themselves into our lives (or at least the lives of those around us), there is nevertheless something extremely unsettling about their cold companionship. They’re supposed to help connect us with the world, but even when we aren’t feeling very connected, we’re still with our smartphones. Apple revels in this intimacy. By the end of the commercial the voiceover asserts, “you may rarely look at it, but you will always feel it,” as a girl joyously rolls over in her bed, caressing her iPhone. “This is our signature, and it means everything.”

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I have an aggregator I turn to while the coffee drips. Look, it suggests, at this recent act of human tastelessness. Not violence this time, or government-sponsored disgrace. Now it’s the Halloween costumes, the blackfaces and recent victims of race-based killing. Now it’s the pair of English women who went as World Trades North and South. Blame, obviously, the women. Stupid women. Blame the costume contest and the club who threw it. Onward. Did you read about the huge athlete racist who made the grave mistake of letting someone record his racism? It’s because the NFL is full of disgusting aberrations like … look here, they tag this stuff so we don’t miss it during our morning laps. Let’s pull up another take on that appalling photo of those evil bitches from the UK. Here’s an aspiring young writer who really nails what’s so wrong about people like this. This guy gets it. He had that other sharp post about how the baseball teams are boring because they’re white. Very charged headlines. Heavy circulation. Wait, I am sorry, are those people falling from the Sharpied windows of South’s costume? And here they are out of costume, the sluts. Over here’s a bit more about the fat cornfed NFL fuck who embodies racial hatred. And what about these teammates standing up for him—how idiotic can you get? How bamboozled? I am wholesomer already and haven’t even breakfasted. Yes, this culture of invidious masculinity has indeed got to change! Now I can face the day. Now I can move nobly through the outside world, with its colorful people I do not even remotely hate while walking safely around them, and its women I can empathy onto and consider official equals while appreciating their lovely curves, yes, purely aesthetic, tights-as-pants, what a world, so flat, so equalized. There is no pesky topography for content—all clicks are equal, the currency’s value is set. Question: Is trafficking terror with warnings and explications a moral approach to trafficking terror? Answer: we still fear brown people and want to destroy women. Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: this is an argument for men who wonder why she won’t smile back. This is an argument for reading more novels.

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