Ease back, Poncho, let me finish.
At first the commercial didn’t register, as it was just another blur in an already blurry background. But, a few moments after it passed, some odd subliminal ohrworm awoke, snapping me back into this reality, and causing me to sit up.
The commercial was for Hamburger Helper, and after seeing it for a second time, I know why it caused me to snap into consciousness. It was more chilling than anything I’ve seen on TV in a long while.
No, I don’t mean that the concept of HH is chilling (well, it is, but for different sulfite, sodium, and preservative filled reasons), but the semiotics of the commercial itself caused me to genuflect for protection.
It featured a typical working-class, god-fearing, salt-of-the-earth, patriotic American family. You knew this for several reasons:
- They spoke with a slight, undefined but noticeable accent that can only be described as a vague amalgam of Appalacian, Southern, and
- They wore the sort of “regular” clothes one stereotypically associates with Red States (think ill-fitting off-brand jeans, frumpy blouse, generic plaid work shirt, and other things you would typically find at a Wal*Mart)
- They were all a few steps past portly, as we all expect Red State Americans to be
- The kids had fucked-up haircuts that can only be described as unprofessional, likely given by mom or some other close relative
- They were white
Anyway, the script for the commercial went on about how great HH is, and mentioned that since both mom and dad work (mom on day shift and dad on night shift), and with a passel of hungry boys, dinner was the only time the entire family could spend together. Luckily, HH not only was something they all loved to eat (yum yum, gimme some!), but it was easy as hell to prepare, was ready lickety-split, filled all of their already distended stomachs with a sickly paste of carbohydrates and gristle, and helped stretch their dollar!
Okay, nothing bad there, right? Gross, maybe, but certainly not frightening.
The images for the commercial were the typical montage of a happy family working, playing, and loving really hard. There were shots of mom fiddling around in her tiny kitchen, of dad and junior playing basketball, of dad hard at work in a fiercely industrial setting, and of the entire family smiling the saccharine smiles of ignorant contentment in the belief that they sleep under a blanket of freedom provided by George W Bush, the General Mills corporation, and God (in that order, by the way).
“So,” you ask, “what is so chilling about that?”
Here it comes.
And that is what is chilling. That this is the face of contemporary American society. Be happy you're working, Cletus ... the alternative is worse. And don't bother to strive for more, because you sure as hell won't ever reach it. Now shut up, eat your HH, and just count the days til your inevitable heart-attack sends you to the local Free Clinic for some aspirin and a pamphlet on planning a bargain funeral.
At this rate, you have to wonder what is next? A retro-commercial showing scenes lifted from Birth of a Nation meant to placate the nation regarding the plight of black people? Or, possibly (in the not too distant future), a new version of this pseudo-food called Soylent Helper. After all, if American corporations aren’t seeing windfall profits from all that oil, maybe they can squeeze a few pennies out of all them dead Iraqis.