Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I Owe My Soul to the Company Store

Sometimes, you see something on TV so ludicrously gross that you think it must be a parody, something dreamed up by Montgomery Burns, because how could ANY real, live human being be responsible for it? Last night, as I was watching NBC, I saw a house ad for General Electric--part of their "ecomagination" push to make us think that they're a conglomerate with a heart. I'm going to describe the ad to you, but I know you won't believe me, so here's a link. The ad I'm talking about is the bottom one on this page, called "Model Miners." So, the whole ad is a bunch of half-naked sexy people digging for coal in the bottom of a mine shaft that resembles a Britney Spears video. These people are strong, because, apparently, working in the bottom of a hole is a great way to keep in shape. These people are sexy, because coal comes from America, where we all look like supermodels, even those of us covered in coal dust all day. And they're very healthy, because of all the exercise. No black lung here. Okay, so if you see it with the sound off, it's a very visually enticing ad. I'm not going to deny that. But, but, America, they use Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons" as the music. Yes, yes, I know, it's inconceivable. At the same time they're trying to make you believe that coal is safe and sexy and environmentally friendly, they use a song that has as its central theme how the miner is exploited by the evil coal companies. Without any apparent sense of the irony of it, they have, playing over these hotbodied post-modern miners, the lyrics "You load sixteen tons, and whattaya get?/ Another day older and deeper in debt/ St. Peter don'cha call me, cause I can't go/ I owe my soul to the company store." It's such nonsense that it makes my head hurt, using songs about the evils* of an industry to promote the industry. Why don't we just use "8 Miles High" to advertise for nuclear power? Why don't divorce attorneys all use "Goin' to the Chapel" in their ads? Shall the IRS promote their new, more personable face with "Tax Man" playing in the background? Have words no meaning?! Have we really gotten to the point where pretty pictures and catchy tunes can be thrown together on screen without regard for their content? Don't answer that. I can't bear to know. * Even if you aren't a big environmentalist and don't care if coal companies blow the tops off of Appalachian mountains, take a minute to ponder what losing, say 66 men in a mining disaster means for a town like Powhatan Point, OH, which had, according to the last census, only 515 families. Thank god mining has gotten safer, but when you look at a list like this, it doesn't make you feel all warm and fuzzy about the industry. But who knows, maybe GE sees things differently, and we can expect to see that in their next ad campaign: "We don't kill as many of your loved ones as we used to!"


Anonymous JonesRXS said...

That ad is absurd. If mining weren't so devastating I'd be laughing my ass off. I wonder if they even bothered to read the lyrics when they picked THAT song. It IS somewhat ironic, I think. Isn't that what "the company" wants after all? Our very souls?

5/10/2005 02:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you not seen Zoolander? After failing out as a model, Zoolander returns to the coal mines of West Virgninia and tries to make it in the family business. You know that some young pup from some ad agency was making this connection. Tennessee Ernie Ford was chosen because how many recognizable songs about coal mining are their really. And if you are a 20 something adman, do you really even know what a company store is?


5/10/2005 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Well, there's Coal Miner's Daughter... And, I, like the rest of America, skipped Zoolander, though, I may have seen parts of it on VH1. So, if GE is hoping America will say to itself "Oh, reference to corny movie" and not "why the hell are they promoting an industry with a song critical of that industry?" they are hoping for a miracle.

Anyway, ignorance of what a company store is is no excuse. Google is available even to 20-something adfolks.

I still say it's got to win for the most bizarre use of music in an ad this year.

5/10/2005 03:41:00 PM  
Blogger Peggasus said...

It's all about the sound bite. Nobody really listens to shit anymore.

5/10/2005 04:54:00 PM  
Blogger Twyla said...


5/11/2005 07:03:00 AM  
Blogger jenniebee said...

Ah, Zoolander is not to be missed - it's an intelligent movie about dumb people. I'm not surprised that it didn't last in theatres, but it's one of our staple dvds.

I didn't see the ad as absurd as much as I did as a Clockwork Orange sort of association, not only between coal and sexy, but between wage slavery/free market capitalism and sexy. Maybe it was taking the color out that turned the figures into something closer to automatons, but was I the only one who began to feel a sense of ownership, looking at those beautiful bodies who owe their souls to the company store?

5/12/2005 08:52:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Oh, jenniebee, I don't think you're wrong at all about the ad working to make the viewer feel some ownership of those bodies. I think that's what they're hoping it will do.

One of the things that this ad reminded me of of is Jean Ritchie's "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore," which is as complex and damning a discussion about coal mining as one can have in three and a half minutes.

It also reminded me of Diego Rivera's "Detroit Industry."

My point being that we certainly aren't supposed to identify with the miners--they are just beautiful bodies posing for us on screens illuminated through the miracle of electricity on a channel owned by that same company.

But the reason the ad doesn't work for me is that the song makes me identify with those miners, it puts me in their place. I'm not just looking at them, I'm wondering what their labor is doing to them.

All this is to say that I'm not disagreeing with you at all. I think you're right and I think that there's so much going on in this ad that it's hard to get at all the things and do it justice in such a small place.

5/12/2005 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Y'all will be amused to know that according to sitemeter someone from GEpower.com just spent a good twenty minutes pondering this post.

Thank god all my power comes from the TVA and to cut me off, they'd have to cut off part of a small city.

On the other hand, I hope they don't call Comcast and have me cut off from NBC. I'm not sure I could live without Law & Order.

GE, I am but one lowly person and you are a large conglomerate with assets like Conan O'Brian, please don't retaliate against me by taking away my NBC! Or my lightbulbs. I love your lightbulbs.

And I even love your new ad campaign, because I love to snark on it!

Feel the love, GE, feel the love.

5/13/2005 03:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a good song leave it alone.

5/17/2005 08:03:00 PM  

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