Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Greatest Taste Around

If the fire sale of free love taught the music group Negativland anything it's "don't sell!" Some people still talk about it, "when did the hippies die?" David Bowie even weighed in during his earlier career (see the clip at the end for the song, Memory of a Free Festival, no real video but the best quality song I could find). Peace & Love got sold for money and somewhere along the way thought stopped being a part of the process, no matter how drug addled. The money eventually goes where people are having fun and where those involved will let them. Negativland has always probed the motives of those clearly seeking monetary value over substance. In this montage of clips and in the words of the song the jabs of the little guy, the average Joe, the consumer, you, me, and us-- we can all be heard responding to the companies representing our wants and desires as they deform the market as well as our sense of decency.

Negativland is a post-structuralist musical group with the penchant for recycling clips of media to reiterate their meanings. This can be seen throughout the entire video. The very first few actions are a tray of ice cubes being dumped downward and a man in a boardroom telling us "The condolences of every person at Pepsi Cola are with you." In fact, the entire song is about Pepsi Cola being a big, slick company of lying hot-shot money-men; the title "The Greatest Taste Around" is in regards to Pepsi soda and is used sarcastically. The ice cubes in the tray are like us; they're given personalities, voices, and movement for the sake of their use in a Pepsi commercial but it's clear in Negativland's use that they represent us, the people, who are then dumped out of our trays to be awash in Pepsi-- drowned in Pepsi. And if we don't like it then Pepsi is sorry and wishes us the best but doesn't really care. It's hegemony on hegemony action in this battle of Anarchism/The Little Guy v. Capitalism/The Big Guy!

The Greatest Taste Around is a showcase of argument. The argument has a namesake grudge against Pepsi in particular but Pepsi is also acting as the name of other overwhelming economic forces that boast their services, supplies, and creations when they are in fact marketing their own control of the society they claim to serve, supply, and create for. The grudge with Pepsi stems from the infamous Cola Wars of the 1980s and 1990s where it seemed as though Pepsi and Coca-Cola were battling over market share via commercial enterprise. Sadly, this was found to be a diversion to the fact that they were mutually advertising their products; The two biggest names in soft-drinks were helping sell their product as well as their "competitors", duping a nation 30 seconds at a time.

Throughout the song, however, the company name "Pepsi" can be easily replaced with whatever monotonous company you can muster: Wyeth, Comcast, Macintosh, News Corp., Viacom, Nestle, Nike, etc. The juxtaposition of the company name (Pepsi) with terrible things implies that they (the company) are the cause. Get fired by your boss? Pepsi. Do you have powdered mashed potatoes in your cupboard since three years ago? Would you have them without a big company like General Mills? These products-- Pepsi, boxed mashed potatoes, Puppy Mill puppies-- are all gifts from The Big Guys to us Little Guys. Negativland wishes to communicate how unenthusiastic they (and how they think we should) feel about these Grate™ products. But these uglinesses are also used by the big companies to sell us even more of their products! "Get fired by your boss? Grab a Pepsi! Know what's great about powdered mashed potatoes? They can last three years! Puppy Mill puppies are great because once they're not cute anymore, they die! And then we can just mill you out another cute little buddy in a day or two!"

Throughout the song we can hear Negativland use choice clips of commercial visuals to make these points accompanied with chopped sound bites: "We", the faces selling you crap, "have look great for Pepsi Cola." Later in the song, we can see that "The sword cuts both ways" in that while these companies have such wealth and power they don't use it to do any good; they just reinvest in selling us more of their same old stuff. They could use their megatons of cash and do something beneficial for others (like "children dying of disease" or a "poor old widow" whose "house burned down") but don't. They just keep finding ways to resell us the exact same product that gave them that money in the first place; "everything still tastes the same."

You can take this message either way, that it falls upon the individual to help his/her/itself and that capitalism is progress-- but maybe it's only progress that it brings. Unfortunately, if that is true, then it has plateaued and perhaps even fallen . We, as a society, have gone far beyond modern times (see: Chaplin) and maybe even beyond post-modern times.