For some reason, in between finding as many outlets as I can to plug my upcoming books and posting a backlog of short stories to some other sites, I found myself watching a marathon of old commercials which I found strangely soothing. However, I was also trying to reflect on what Phil meant by his comments on the “trash layer” and how that related to the intrusive ad bumpers that began every chapter in “Ubik.”
The first batch of commercials I watched a bunch of McDonald’s commercials from the late 60s. The whole thing seemed so innocuous back then. A fun place to bring the kids. Sure, why not? I don’t think anyone back then was anticipating that there would be families whose children eat there every day and become horribly obese. If anything, I think we were anticipating a Malthusian catastrophe that may take a few more decades to materialize. As an aside, the interior of the McDonalds toward the end looked terribly familiar.
This montage from 1977 caught my attention the most. That was the year of Phil’s last divorce, and I seem to remember spending a lot of time with the TV on trying to analyze the content just to have something to do. Also, the cat chow commercial looked really familiar.
One thing I noticed from the get go is that the commercials back then worked differently. For the last 15 years or so, commercials have traded more in the shame category, and tend to be more negative and paint the product as a way to deliver you from being something revolting. Case in point, this Lubriderm commercial from the 90s. By contrast, the commercials of the past tried to paint their product as a way to make your already splendid day even better, as in this Tickle deodorant commercial from 1977. Suddenly, the idea of finding God in the “trash layer” of commercials and product placements makes a lot more sense in the context of mid-century ads with their more upbeat tone. A book like “Ubik” wouldn’t make much sense if it had been produced in the last decade and a half, when commercials began to focus on making us afraid, ashamed, and self-conscious.
One thing does remain the same: these commercials exist in their own bubble of reality, divorced from our own. They’re a layer of the idios kosmos of the merchants and ad agencies that bring them to bear, intruding, as it were, into our own reality. This realization coupled with the negative, invalidating tone of today’s media makes that intrusion that much more insidious, not a divine invasion, but an invasion of something more base and destructive. I am making a note of this as much for the benefit of my readers as for my own benefit for future projects.