“It’s not a journey... Every journey ends. But we go on. The world turns and we turn with it. Plans disappear. Dreams take over. But wherever I go... there you are. My luck... My fate... My fortune... Chanel No.5 ... inevitable.”
These are the ostensibly erudite words of newly crowned fragrance deity and prophet Brad Pitt.
You can watch Chanel’s latest glossy, advertisement campaign and dismiss it as the cynical, insipid rubbish we have come to expect, or you could not watch it at all (good luck avoiding it in the UK) and dismiss it as cynical, insipid rubbish anyway. Either way, there’s no escaping the fact that above and beyond its contemporaries, it has seriously transcended the parameters of utter, unparalleled stupidity.
Perhaps you disagree? Perhaps you detect a heavily, heavily concealed underscore of profundity to Pitt’s discourse? You’re wrong. There isn’t one.
But what does this cultural artifact indicate for the trajectory of western culture?
Shameless celebrity endorsement campaigns are nothing new. In fact, they are a staple in the archive of financial propaganda. They’re so banal, so pervasive now that it’s no more out of the ordinary in the viscous zeitgeist of marketing to witness athletes advertising unwholesome liquids they would never drink than actresses publicising unethical cosmetics they wouldn’t likely stoop so low as to use, but who are nevertheless content pretending they “designed” them.
The familiarity of the often clumsy, incommensurable marriage of celebrity and product invites cultural disarmament. It's completely reasonable that Robert Mugabe, for instance, is now the face of a lucrative brand of powdered baby milk. Why wouldn’t he be? There’s nothing at all absurd or invidious about that. I’m buying it. And I don’t even have a baby.
But then came Hollywood megastar millionaire Brad Pitt’s bizarre turn as Chanel No.5’s mumbling, grizzled middle-aged mascot. And I armed myself. And I recoiled in a revulsion beggaring description.
This is arguably worse than the fictitious, facetious example of fascist murderers advertising baby products I offered previously. Alright, perhaps I am being hyperbolic, but nonetheless. It does hoist the aforementioned phenomenon to a higher plinth of wanton hyper-reality and general inanity than I have ever been victim. In short, it makes absolutely no sense.
Notably, it irritates me to mention the phrase ‘hyper-reality’ because this relates to the kind of postmodern strand of media theory that I have always despised and dismissed, laconically, as seductive, tautological drivel. But this phenomenon is so utterly farcical, is such disjointed nonsense that no modernist argument can really offer an adequate explanation of what, on god’s green earth, it is. (This is aside from the obvious political-economic dynamic; the content means nothing, whilst the form exists, simply, to sell a product). Postmodernists are welcome to it.
The overall familiar modus operandi of the latest in the long line of Chanel’s deliberately retentive arsenal of want-me-buy-me vanity pitches seems to be to exploit the philistine notion that shape, price and paucity are indicators of value. But that is in itself a relatively casual vapidity. It is Pitt’s monologue that evokes the most bewilderment.
Pitt has developed to be quite a reputable and serious actor in the latter years of his career. See his recent turns in the films of Andrew Dominik such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford or Killing Them Softly.
This is why it is such a shame that, whatever his reasons, presumably and hopefully charitable, he has chosen to discredit the relative integrity he has earned by putting his name and face to what is fast becoming, with good reason, the most parodied advertisement of all time.
Perhaps culturally this farcical display is telling us is that, as a world-system, the West is now so entrenched and lost in its own consumerist, celebrity fetishism that marketers no longer feel the need to attempt to appeal to their subject’s reason.
So cynical have they become that they seem to be quite confident in their conviction that it takes no more than meaningless, sepia images garbed in empty, incompatible phraseology in order to convince us that they are peddling something we really, really need. Of course, we’ve been duped into buying things we don’t really, really need for longer than many of us I imagine care to remember, but that is an over-familiar territory.
I think this latest trite enterprise that Chanel, and Pitt by association, has flogged us with here is an alarm and an aesthetic atrocity to which heed should be paid. This is because it goes a long way towards showing us how little respect the modern day capitalist has in the consumer subject. Whilst the ad can be construed as a parody of itself in some form, by way of its barrenness it is also unwittingly a mocking parody of the vacant whorishness of the modern day consumer consciousness.
Then again, perhaps Chanel’s marketers are simply morons. It’s inevitable.