November 26, 2010
The latest Target ads show a woman (comedian Maria Bamford, whom I will refer to simply as ‘the crazy Target lady’, as I’ve seen her called in some comments on YouTube) ‘gearing up’ for the approaching Black Friday sales. There are several commercials portraying ‘the crazy Target lady’, most often dressed in red and exhibiting physical strength which she’ll no doubt need to trample on other people while running maniacally through the aisles of Target, maybe for an XBOX Kinect™ for her husband, a Fisher Price Imaginext Bigfoot the Monster™ for her son, or maybe Disney Princess and Me Dolls™ for her daughter. These commercials seem ‘cute’ and ‘funny’, but the subtext is clear: We, the consumers, are insane—and that’s what corporate America is counting on.
Here we see ‘the crazy Target lady’ marking off days on the calendar in red marker, dressed in a red jumpsuit doing sit-ups on the Target ball outside Target, weightlifting a Target basket full of items, and timing her gift-wrapping speed. We see her screaming maniacally at Target’s 2-Day Sale ad while searching for other things she ‘has to’ buy. We see her racing maniacally through the aisles of Target, then back home looking at herself in the mirror saying “You will win this.” She’s telling herself “Faster” while gift-wrapping, marking days off, doing sit-ups, beating her previous gift-wrapping time with a stopwatch, now weightlifting two Target baskets full of items, back home circling “4am” on the calendar, and again running maniacally through the aisles of Target attached to one of those parachutes dragsters deploy to slow down after crossing the finish line (not sure why she’d want to increase drag if she’s seeking speed). The music we hear is the training soundtrack from Rocky IV written by Vince DiCola (he also did the music for Transformers: The Movie, 1985). ‘The crazy Target lady’ is ‘gearing up’.
Here we see ‘the crazy Target lady’ well-dressed (in red), jittery, sleep-deprived, frosting a cake in the shape of a Target superstore, obliviously spooging frosting from a caulk-gun-looking thing onto the kitchen floor. Several blenders are going in the background. She lives in what appears to be a nice-sized house, which she has no doubt decorated alone because her husband is too lazy and her kids are shitheads. She’s reciting things that will be on sale. This representation doesn’t seem to affirm or promote any socio-political progress women have made over the last 50-60 years. All ‘the crazy Target lady’ thinks about is shopping, baking, decorating the house with ‘pretty’ things, and she’s willing to violate her circadian rhythm’s need for a good night’s sleep to prepare for the continuation of this lifestyle. She will have to clean up the spooged frosting.
Here we see ‘the crazy Target lady’ lying on her couch, surprisingly not dressed and ready to fly out the door when all those alarm clocks sound—she’s just, in her pajamas, and they’re not even red. At first it seems like she may be a terrorist mentally preparing herself to suicide-bomb Target, but then we remember the commercial above: She’s probably so sleep-deprived, she’ll need the cacophony of all those alarm clocks going off at once to actually wake her up. She’s singing to herself, seems like she’s hoping to stay awake and has strapped the clocks to herself ‘in case’ she falls asleep (echoing A Nightmare on Elm Street).
Here ‘the crazy Target lady’ is telling us a joke we’re maybe too stupid to figure out, so she urges us to watch the commercial again because “sometimes it takes a second to get it.” The joke, unlike our inability to delay gratification in our race to buy everything we want (or, more accurately, what’s made available to us, what we’re trained by corporations to want), takes time. The logic, then, is we’re too dumb to get the joke and certainly not smart enough to realize the joke is on us.
Here ‘the crazy Target lady’, again dressed in the red jumpsuit, is hauling two Target shopping carts loaded with cinderblocks uphill. She is again ‘gearing up’ to purchase as much shit as possible, working her legs out, strengthening them for a shopping spree which will no doubt involve maniacally shoving past people who happen to be in her way because, as she says, “that’s how you win Christmas.” Win Christmas. I’m assuming she’s Christian (as many people like to claim America is ‘a Christian nation’), so the idea that her [l]ord and [s]avior’s celebrated birthday is a competition between her and other impressionable bottom-of-the-rung capitalists existing in opposition to their own self-interests (which is actually anti-capitalist) is delightful.
(Speaking of rungs, we learn in a Target commercial that was removed from YouTube yesterday that ‘the crazy Target lady’ is perfect and we are not. She is gesturing wildly as if using sign language, as if we’re deaf to her superiority. She then climbs a ladder, further proving her dominance, and taunts us. This ladder seems to symbolize the economic ladder which most of us watching the commercial will never successfully ascend. She mockingly states that Black Friday [here metonymically representing our lives as stuck in a cycle of earning only enough money to replenish corporate profits—as the money corporations spend producing these shitty ‘goods’ is so miniscule compared to the amounts they charge for them—, and therefore ultimately lacking in socio-economic upward mobility] is not a competition, as she condescendingly giggles at us, we who are unable to follow her up the ladder from the prison of our fourth wall, hence ‘beat’ her to the front of line [surpass her in socio-economic status].)
Here we see ‘the crazy Target lady’ standing outside Target’s automatic doors, the very first person in line, a long line of other shoppers slithering out into the predawn darkness. She’s staring manically through the glass and into the store, waiting for someone to unlock the door so she can run maniacally into Target for two Target shopping carts full of ‘goods’. (Surprisingly, the shoppers behind her seem ‘normal’, in that they aren’t staring maniacally through the glass—in that they, unlike ‘the crazy Target lady’, apparently have other people to talk to.) Her facial expression here never changes, just remains frozen in the sub-zero meat locker of her excitement. The guy speaking at the end of the commercial urges us to “get there first,” just like ‘the crazy Target lady’ has. It’s a race. It’s how you “win Christmas.”
Finally, here we see Target’s marketing strategy for ‘the crazy Target lady’ (Maria Bamford, who apparently played ‘the crazy Target lady’s sister, too, both of whom are meant to be ‘polar’ opposites—the maniacal overachiever and the frustrated failure—creating a false dichotomy, which Americans love because it’s much easier to categorize things as binaries rather than ambiguous or inconclusive because Americans [all humans, really] can’t handle uncertainty). It’s kind of endearing, almost admirable the way Target comes clean and admits it’s been using such gimmicks to trick us into buying more shit.
I’m familiar with some of Maria Bamford’s work. She’s done voices for the animated shows Home Movies (Cartoon Network) and WordGirl (PBS), even did a guest spot on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Comedy Central/SciFi). I think she’s funny, but I was at best disappointed in her role in these commercials. These commercials are not funny—they appeal to and reinforce the worst aspects of our consumer culture. They promote insane kinds of behavior, a dangerous competitive mentality which only serves to further divide people and indoctrinate them with an inflated sense of entitlement under the guise of economic necessity, and because of this people get hurt—even killed.*
‘The crazy Target lady’ is insane, and this is how Target and Wal*Mart and every other superstore we’ll shop at this holiday season views us—mindless consumers willing to harm ourselves and others for a chance to save miniscule amounts of money on things we don’t need to survive. Target and Wal*Mart and every other superstore think the American people are insane, so this is how they portray us in their commercials. And this is in no small part due to the fact that their commercials have pumped this idea into our brains for so many years that this is exactly how we behave. We are insane.
The modern human survival instinct, the need for a parent to protect its offspring, has, out of lack of any real threat to its existence, mutated into the desire to prove/exhibit superiority in socio-economic status and consumer efficiency. Who decides what the most popular anything is, or what factors determine a product’s popularity, seems ominous. Is the consumer the determining factor, or are the corporations pumping our heads full of commercials which promote false realities featuring insane characters who ‘represent’ us (who are, therefore, more relatable?) the reason we flock like lemmings to the precipice of Target’s or Wal*Mart’s or any other superstore’s automatic doorways?
Watching the news, when an anchor reports that a certain subject or issue is being talked about, it’s only because other anchors in the media are talking about it, too. It’s part of the networks’ script, and they must stick to the script: Keep the consumer aware only of what corporations who own the news companies deem necessary and accurate information. After all, Christmas is right around the corner. If they can’t scare us into buying things, they’ll pander to our immature sense of humor. As our ids balloon, fueled by the promotional helium of their ads this holiday season, I imagine them floating up into the cold air. They have targets painted on them in white. I just want one dart.
*This incident occurred at Wal*Mart 2 years ago.