NFL Ad Report
We Control the Grid
GE Warns Us that If It Can Score, It Will
ast year I published picks of every regular season NFL game. I did so by never looking at any advanced metrics, employing the worst tropes of pop pseudopsychology, and indulging every gut feeling I had that was actually just indigestion. The result? I had a better record than every one of ESPN’s supposed-NFL experts except one, the great and untouchable Ron Jaworski, who beat me by a few games. The further result? I can no longer pick NFL games. I proved something everyone already knows and no one cares about: that the field of sports talk is so rife with charlatan bullshittery as to be a total waste of every thinking person’s time. I lack the heart to continue. I shall pick no more. (Psst: Professional atheletes’ and coaches’ psychologies actually do operate according to the worst tropes of pop pseudopsychology, so just pick based on that.)
But I am not done proving things people already know. This year, I’ll be reviewing advertisements that run during NFL games, with an eye on discussing the degree to which the field of advertising is so rife with charlatan bullshittery as to be a total waste of every thinking person’s time.
I’m aware no one cares. Um, that’s why I’m publishing this on the Internet?
pening week of the NFL is always the funniest week. The teams aren’t ready, half their players are serving suspensions for offseason crimes and/or shenanigans, the players who are on the field run into each other, the old coaches don’t understand the new rules, the new coaches don’t understand the old rules, and no one can remember the kicker’s name. (Pro tip: it’s usually either Rolf Benirschke or Matt.)
Week One is also the funniest week for advertising, because at least one massive megacorporation decides to go big, and ends up unleashing some kind of two-minute long advertisement that aspires to come off like the trailer for a Robert Zemeckis movie except with heart, but then just ends up seeming like a conceit that makes less sense the more you think about it, like a Robert Zemeckis movie.
America, I give you...The Boy Who Beeps.
In this provocative film, Jessica Chastain’s stand-in gives birth to a child who burps the sound made by the “alien” setting on my 1986 Casio keyboard. The father finds this concerning, since it suggests one of two things: that either he or his wife carry a Radio Shack gene that may result in his child being sadly limited to a future in which he can offer the world only AA batteries and obsolete rabbit-ear television antennas, or that his wife had an affair with one of the aliens from *Batteries Not Included and this is how he’s finding out about it.
The details of this backstory are smartly ignored, however, as our filmmakers focus not on the genetic issue, but instead on its result. What is rapidly revealed to us is that, thanks to his lack of complete humanity (keep in mind that this is very different from a complete lack of humanity), modern-day Casio-boy has the powers of—I don’t know, seems like a roughly mid-1980s remote control. He moves toys, changes channels on the television, turns off his alarm clock, and starts the classroom slideshow, and get this...he does it wirelessly. If only we could do that!
Allow me to point out that many of us watching NFL games this weekend were sitting slack-jawed on a couch with a television remote in one meaty hand and a cell phone in the other as we watched The Boy Who Beeps (Criterion Collection). In other words, the Boy Who Beeps is not really the embodiment of the amazing future GE will be bringing us. Beep Boy is actually the sentimental retro-ego-ideal of my own fat ass as I sit failed and depressed on the couch, mindlessly watching the Western BroncHawks take apart the Midwest ColtPack to the sound of network trumpet fanfare.
Look at how cleverly GE flatters us as we quietly break wind in the family room. Were you ever a boy who, when he opened his mouth to speak, just blurted a bunch of garbage no one could understand, because you had absolutely no awareness of audience or the fact that speech acts are successful only when they are constructed to make sense to someone outside of your own head? Don’t worry, Beep Boy is the same way, and it’s great, it’s beautiful, it’s pure. He doesn’t need to learn to share his thoughts or feelings in a way that other people will understand. He just needs to hack the city grid so that Mom gets all the greens. If he can do that, she’ll love him. (Keep in mind that if we de-project Beep Boy from male viewer avatar to just male viewer, “Mom” is probably your wife. Hey, Sigmund! I didn’t know you were going to show up to NFL Week One. Come on in, the chicks are hot. I mean the chips are hot! What did I say?)
Beep Boy quickly becomes famous, it seems—and it’s not exploitation, he’s happy to offer his services, because we need him. (The ad does not address Beep Boy’s compensation for fixing the lights or putting an end to flight delays, nor does it mention the fee he requests when appearing on French television, but I bet he does it for free, because Beep Boy is pure and innocent. He’s clearly the smartest guy in the room.)
This gets even better, because in accord with the grandest of our narrative traditions/fantasies, Beep Boy’s solution is simultaneously a reward: successful heterosexuality. You see, Beep Boy could only beep. But he pines for a girl, and at first, as we Beep Boys know, he is limited to expressing his love by stealing from vending machines. (At least that’s what I told my parents when I got caught short circuiting the soda machine bill receptor by spraying water into it—that was about love, not free Pepsi.)
The end of this advertisement, in which Beep Boy turns off the city lights in order to impress his girlfriend, is daring and fantastic. GE narratively admits that if an industry that exists for the public good is controlled by just one entity, the entity will inevitably manipulate that industry for personal gain. I cannot remember another occasion on which a massive corporation bought two-minute chunks of prime ad time during multiple NFL games in order to self-implicate. Is it truly a new day? Are corporations ready now to admit that they will put us all in the dark if they think it might help them score?
But wait. What has happened at the end of the ad? Beep Boy has spoken in a human voice. So turning the grid into a pitch-black nightmare as preparation for making a tween move on Curl Girl has humanized Beep Boy? The manipulation of the public is an instance of cute personal growth?
Wait. “When you speak the language of industry, the conversation can change the world.” So the “alien” setting on my Casio keyboard was the language of industry? And Beep Boy has “changed the world” by introducing screwed-up traffic light timing, random power outages, and the ability to change channels on the television?
The second-person is a misdirect there, isn’t it? The entity suggesting it speaks the “language of industry” is not “you,” it’s GE/Beep Boy. Beep Boy’s “conversation” is control. And in this ad, the images of “the world” are the city traffic grid, the power grid, and the air traffic grid. So the slogan, decoded, is just “GE: we control the grid.”
Oh, okay. Got it, GE. Thanks for the warning.
Pete Tothero works in finance but is somehow also this magazine’s Sports Editor. He is not contractually obligated to have watched advertisements he later knowingly references.