The Corporate Conscience; Cultural Crimes
Author: Dom Rottman
There are some days on which, if we step back, we can realize how dominant and invasive commodity fetishism and capitalism at large are in today’s society. Black Friday is one. Superbowl Sunday is another. As the most viewed program on American television yearly, companies will pay millions of dollars for mere seconds of time to fill with their propaganda as they see fit, such that a spectacle has been created around such commercials and advertisements that now even rivals the athletic spectacle that precipitated it. While during the Superbowl the honest and good value of the sport of American football is especially buried, I nevertheless watched the Superbowl passively while doing other work on the chance that something horribly ironic, spectacular, or absurd would happen on account of someone’s blind greed or stupidity. That, and it was also heavily implied that “Sweet Victory,” a song now made famous by an episode of the beloved by me and many others cartoon Spongebob Squarepants, “Band Geeks,” would be played during the halftime sh–pardon me, I mean the Pepsi Halftime Show (all hail our corporate overlords, may their stocks be high and their profits great).
The fulfillment of one came at the sharp disappointment of the other. On November 26 2018, Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Spongebob passed away after being diagnosed with ALS some time ago. Not long after, a change.org petition was created asking the NFL for “Sweet Victory” as a tribute to the cartoonist. The petition received over 1.2 million signatures. Nine times out of ten, I’d have rolled my eyes at the thought that a change.org petition would actually do anything, especially since, remember, under capitalist entities (The NFL is non-profit you say? My ass it is) owe consumers nothing. Yet every now and then our corporate masters throw us a bone, and this, to the surprise of many, appeared to be one of those times. Multiple tweets emerged teasing the song’s appearance prior to the Superbowl, including one from the Superbowl performers Maroon 5 themselves. “Sweet Victory” was all but confirmed.
Capitalist entities, while deceitful, usually know better than to blatantly lie to (or jebait, as it were) their consumers. But perhaps I still shouldn’t have let childhood nostalgia break my usual cynicism towards circumstances that are left in the hands of profit-motivated entities. Were it merely the case that “Sweet Victory” was not played and the halftime show was yet another eye-roll-inducing bore, I could see the fault of disappointment falling on the usual quaint naivete of consumers as matters like these usually do. Yet it was not just so. With “Sweet Victory” having been teased so heavily by the parties involved, not playing it would have already been a dick move above the corporate average. What actually happened during the halftime show, however, was worse than even that, and a cock tease of the highest order. After a song or two from Maroon 5, the face of Squidward Tentacles, a curmudgeon to whom Spongebob fans are growing increasingly sympathetic, graced the millions of television screens in a marching band uniform as three seconds of “Band Geeks” were shown–only for the audio to cut out to “Sicko Mode” and then to the surprise–the unfortunate and unwanted surprise–performance of Travis Scott alongside Maroon 5.
A three-second dick move, certainly, but it speaks volumes. Those who grew up watching Spongebob know its place in the cultural memory. It transcends race, class, gender, sexuality, and all of those stupid high school and college cliques. Make a Spongebob reference to a group of late teens to twenty-somethings and odds are at least one person will chuckle or continue the relevant bit. By merely recognizing Spongebob, the capitalists are already treading on sacred ground. The late Stephen Hillenburg will forever live on in the cultural memory through his happy-go-lucky, buck-toothed square yellow creation that has touched the hearts and minds of many. Spongebob is ours.
Or so we thought. Or so it ought to be. But in capitalist society art and entertainment cannot exist for its creators, an audience, or for itself–or if they do exist for these reasons, never is it only just, and it is always secondary. And capitalist society has no regard for art, for what consumers actually value, for any true inherent value, when artificial value reigns supreme. It has no regard for the living or the dead, for custom or tradition. To use Spongebob as he was in the halftime show, in such an irreverent fashion, is to proudly drive a stake through the beloved character and claim him for the culture industry, not a character that exists for us or for itself but an object that exists only because it was permitted to, and whose functional purpose is only profit. In those three seconds we were reminded that we are at the bottom and they are always at the top and in control, that creativity, art, comedy, and anything we value, and what is valuable, is meaningless to capitalist society and therefore meaningless to this world. In case we forgot–but honestly, who could–this was never about a celebration of athletic achievement, nor a celebration of culture, nor was there a responsibility to honor the dead, it was always, always about the numbers, how high the numbers can grow; the number of viewers, and especially and ultimately the number next to the symbol of the almighty dollar.
Was it naive to think that a hallmark day of capitalism would be for the millions of Superbowl viewers and not for the Capitalists and Corporations (I guess they are people too, as we were told)? Perhaps. But how cruelly we were reminded of our powerlessness–on a dead man’s grave no less! And how perfectly did it seem that the dark gods conspired to make this flex, this bold statement of power and domination, the main event of the evening! The fact that the game was already a dreadful bore with the viewers praying for something exciting to watch, and that the song that played after the tease was a song that has become emblematic of the mindless white bourgeois consumption of hip hop, and that it was insufficient for the cultural memory to be defiled, but the dead had to be as well. Shameless bastards. I knew they always were, but in that moment particularly I felt the stranglehold grow tighter around my neck, and I know I was not the only one.
Keep twisting that knife. These are the things that aren’t forgotten. Art and the dead will be honored by those with conscience. For “people,” corporations have a noticeable lack of one.