Critical Approach: There Are No Ads On Elysium

by Michael Lyons

Secretary of Defense Delacourt, Elysium's power-hungry though ultimately ineffective secondary villain, would shoot down aircrafts for less than a condescending advert.

Secretary of Defense Delacourt, Elysium’s power-hungry though ultimately ineffective secondary villain, would shoot down aircrafts for less than a condescending advert.

I am simply trying to cope with the unsurprisingly jarring experience of holiday air travel as I scroll through the movie options on the seat-back before me. I find explosion-filled, dystopian sci-fi movies relaxing, so I end up choosing Elysium. The first ad of the interminable sort that populate pre-flights/pre-movies aboard “economy” flights begins, though thankfully as the advert-actors chatter away, I’m offered a “skip” button in the middle of the screen.

My finger hits the screen, in perfect timing with a voice in my earphones that sneers, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have control?”

The skip button is fake, the ad’s a trick, the control referring to whatever car feature, from whichever car company, is being hocked off on poor, shell-shocked travelers. I take off my earphones in disgust and scowl out the window at the de-icer, waiting for the ads to finish so I can watch my damn movie.

Robert W. McChesney’s claim that the “new trend is ‘bus wraps’ and ‘building wraps,’ where entire vehicles or building walls are covered with a vinyl advertisement” (41) seems quaint compared to the amount of advertisements we’re subjected to on a daily basis. His now 15-year-old Rich Media, Poor Democracy describes the growing trend of hypercommercialism, the lengths advertisers will go to force their wares onto the public.

Beyond the level of ad saturation McChesney foresaw (“over one-half of the twenty-seven thousand U.S. movie screens now show advertisements before films” (40) … if he only knew the horrors to come…) he also describes the kinds of horizontal marketing that occurs. For instance, McChesney explains, “The 1997 James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, for example, had global promotional tie-in deals with Heineken, Avis Rent a Car, BMW of North America, Ericsson Corp.’s cellular phones, Heublein’s, Smirnoff vodka, L’Oreal, and Visa.” (39) A trend that certainly didn’t change a decade on with the new Bond.

A 2011 Gallup Poll found advertising and public relations as one of the most negatively overall viewed industries in America (37% of those polled viewed the industry negatively, note the airline industry follows soon after at 39%). Marketing community site iMedia, who are unsurprisingly pro-ads, list dishonesty, greed and contrivance as three of four ills of the advertising industry. Writer Chloe Della Costa lists “condescension” as the last: “Consumers don’t appreciate being treated like idiots. But advertisers seem to think people are too stupid to notice all of the aforementioned issues.”

Clearly, I am not the only one who feels resentful of being talked-down to by ads I had no desire to see in the first place.  People hate ads, and advertisers, and yet we’re subjected to it constantly, and allow ourselves to be a part of it. You mostly can’t watch YouTube videos these days without seeing the same ads (or the same first five seconds of ads) over and over again. Targeted advertising has been collecting browsing habits and other data, and viral marketing makes consumers complicit in the campaign. This goes beyond proudly paying for and displaying a patch of advertising on a t-shirt in the form of a brand name; viral marketing generates the material, and often leaves distribution up to the public.

I'm sure people just love staring at signs like while they're trapped in a traffic snarl.

I’m sure people just love staring at signs like this piece of viral marketing while trapped in an L.A. traffic snarl. (Source: firstshowing.net)

Promise me that there’s no marketing industry on Elysium and I’d face any number of evil Jodie Fosters to get there.

That ads are almost always heterosexist, cissexist, racist and classist on top of all of the iMedia ills are secondary. Worst of all, to me, is their coercive nature. Even scarier is how people are duped into them, and literally have no control over stopping ads.

Incidentally, the movie was awful. No amount of viral marketing can change that.

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