Politics as Product Placement

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Melvin Butterworth
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Politics as Product Placement

Post by Melvin Butterworth » Tue Apr 02, 2019 12:45 am

If we must do politics (and I think a good question is "Should we do 'the politics of X' in this particular story?") in art, then as a purely practical matter it should be integrated into the narrative. It should feel organic. The craft work should be seamless. When imposed on the story, it should feel natural. The best art is hidden. Politics in film should be evaluated, at least in part, in the same way that product placements is evaluated in film, because it is a species of product placement.
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Oxnard Montalvo
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Oxnard Montalvo » Tue Apr 02, 2019 2:20 am

what would you say are some good examples of politics integrated into a movie, both seamless and non-seamless
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Melvin Butterworth » Tue Apr 02, 2019 3:41 am

Oxnard Montalvo wrote:what would you say are some good examples of politics integrated into a movie, both seamless and non-seamless
"Seamless" is tough to establish, as another observer may always rejoin that the politics emanate directly and innocently from the subject matter itself. Just as a skillfully veiled threat carries with it the plausible deniability of an innocent warning, expertly conducted product placement is like good product design (it just seems natural and intuitive and fitting) and good persuasion (we are never so open to being sold as when we do not feel that someone is trying to sell us on something). The most easily identifiable examples perhaps come to us from science fiction and fantasy tales that were politically moralizing but still made it past their censors (e.g., Star Trek and The Twilight Zone), but these too occasionally hit a wall of resistance (such as when southern TV markets refused to air Uhura and Kirk's interracial kiss).

On the other hand, non-seamless stands out. The Mary Sue, the jingoistic war film, the xenophobic thriller, the revenge fantasy/moral outrage rabble-rouser (e.g., Birth of a Nation, Dirty Harry). Blunders are probably most perspicuous when they lean in the opposite direction of our confirmation bias.

A lot depends on perspective and whether or not you are part of the historical and/or intended audience of the artwork. If you're 12-years-old in 1955, it seems less like politics that the guy in the black hat gets his comeuppance at the end and more like "the way things should be in a good story" and less like the censorship code at work (which required that baddies be shown to not prosper from injustice).
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Oxnard Montalvo
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Oxnard Montalvo » Tue Apr 02, 2019 4:07 am

is this a good example?

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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Thief » Tue Apr 02, 2019 1:18 pm

I'm not sure if this is what you were going for, but I disagree with the premise that "the best art is hidden". There are art expressions that are in-your-face, bold, and daring and the same applies to films. There are times when subtlety works, and there are times when the filmmaker hitting you with a sledgehammer is a good thing.
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Melvin Butterworth » Tue Apr 02, 2019 4:34 pm

Oxnard Montalvo wrote:is this a good example?

Not quite what I am thinking of, but arguably. If you go into a film knowing that the subject matter of the film is political, then politics is in the foreground (not something added via clever placement in the background). If I click on a clever advert from the most recent Super Bowl, for example, I expect that I will be "sold" something as well as amused. Just as I have no issue with advertisers engaging in advertising, I have no issue with a political film getting political (if it didn't, if wouldn't be a political film). What I am speaking of are those forces which come the outside and which are impressed upon the artwork. For example, the change of the baddies in Red Dawn from China to North Korea to get access to the Chinese market or the sudden inclusion of Lando in Empire Strikes Back, after the original Stars Wars was criticized for having everything but a person of color on the screen. In the case of the former, the plausibility of the premise (thin as it already was) was made ridiculous for anyone who knows anything about North Korea. In the case of Empire, however, Lando appeared as just another character and Billy Dee had enough charm and smarm to rival Han for the affection of Leia.

Costa-Gravas has been praised for the way in which he brings politics into the narrative indirectly;
Wikipedia wrote:Costa-Gavras has brought attention to international issues, some urgent, others merely problematic, and he has done this in the tradition of cinematic story-telling. Z (1969), one of his most well-known works, is an account of the undermining in the 1960s of democratic government in Greece, his homeland and place of birth. The format, however, is a mystery-thriller combination that transforms an uncomfortable history into a fast-paced story. This is a clear example of how he pours politics into plot, "bringing epic conflicts into the sort of personal conflicts we are accustomed to seeing on screen."


In this sense, he abides by the dictum that the best art is hidden. By playing with genre and compressing the big picture into the personal perspective, we might say that he expertly plays politics. Even so, I still take politics to be his target, so I do not take it that he is engaged in the phenomenon to which I am referring. Moreover, I do not know how one would tell a good political story without making it personal in some way or without working in formal structures like film genres.

A rough (and incomplete and imperfect) test of the thing I am speaking of is, if you were to change element X in the film, would it still basically be the same story? If, for example, we made Lando white or Latino, would Empire basically be the same story? If we were to take Z's military murder and then cover-up of a leading politician and changed the premise into a mundane example of murder (a Law & Order procedural where a husband was covering up the murder of his wife, let's say), would Z lose its power as a narrative? If it would, it is because the politics are organic to the story and are part of the essence of the tale.

That stated, I don't know that I can rigorously defend the distinction I am invoking. There will be borderline cases that cross the conceptually porous boundary I am invoking. I am only speaking "more and less" here. At best, I merely offer a rule of thumb for the assessment of the occasional intrusion of political coding into film (e.g., don't lay it on thick, don't deform the narrative upon which your are encoding your message, don't directly lecture the audience) as by comparing it to the intrusion of paid adverts into our films (e.g., some of the cars should not be GM, let us see the logo without centering it in the frame for three seconds, resist the urge to directly talk about the merits of the device or product our heroes are using). At worst, I am merely repeating advice that applies to all story telling (e.g, show don't tell, make it feel natural, play by the rules of your universe, respect the intelligence of your audience).

I'll stand by it, however, at least for now, because there is a special challenge in such messaging. You want your product to be conspicuous enough to be noticed (Dr. Strange drives a nice Lambo!), but not so conspicuous as to disrupt the narrative (e.g., shots of a Lamborghini key chain, Dr. Strange talking about how awesome his new Lambo is and it's performance, a physician amazed that Dr. Strange survived his accident commenting on how remarkably safe the Lamborghini is "You're lucky you were driving your Lamborghini, Dr. Strange!"). Just enough to register, not enough to provoke the anti-bodies of conscious resistance. This is a challenge that goes over and above regular challenges of story telling. To the extent that we can conceptually defend the idea of politics coming in from the outside in a given case, I think we can analogize it to product placement and apply standard relevant to these cases as, at least, a practical criterion of such messaging (regardless of whether you agree with the politics or the product).
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Melvin Butterworth » Tue Apr 02, 2019 4:48 pm

Thief wrote:I'm not sure if this is what you were going for, but I disagree with the premise that "the best art is hidden". There are art expressions that are in-your-face, bold, and daring and the same applies to films. There are times when subtlety works, and there are times when the filmmaker hitting you with a sledgehammer is a good thing.
There are few absolute rules for art. Context is king (and yet universals seem to persist in spite of this). With regard to literal product placement we could note that one of the best examples was the "hang a lantern on it" approach of Wayne's World which mocked the product placement as it engaged in it conspicuously. This, however, is more of the exception than the rule. Our general rule of thumb for persuasive messaging is that we should not appear to be selling something.

And for any excess "in your face" aspect of artwork that draws attention to its status as artifice (such as all the self-referential stuff in Synecdoche) we must have a corresponding versimillitude in other aspects (e.g., telling folk-psychological "truths," offering compelling emotional interactions). Tolkien speaking of the need for his characters to walk and ride horses as a way to ground all the fantastical elements in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is an example of this, although his problem is less that of reminding us that his story is just a story (the artist pointing at the seams of his/her art - "Look at these seams."), but getting us to swallow such a massive "fish tale."
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Thief » Tue Apr 02, 2019 4:57 pm

Melvin Butterworth wrote:
There are few absolute rules for art. Context is king (and yet universals seem to persist in spite of this). With regard to literal product placement we could note that one of the best examples was the "hang a lantern on it" approach of Wayne's World which mocked the product placement as it engaged in it conspicuously. This, however, is more of the exception than the rule. Our general rule of thumb for persuasive messaging is that we should not appear to be selling something.

And for any excess "in your face" aspect of artwork that draws attention to its status as artifice (such as all the self-referential stuff in Synecdoche) we must have a corresponding versimillitude in other aspects (e.g., telling folk-psychological "truths," offering compelling emotional interactions). Tolkien speaking of the need for his characters to walk and ride horses as a way to ground all the fantastical elements in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is an example of this, although his problem is less that of reminding us that his story is just a story (the artist pointing at the seams of his/her art - "Look at these seams."), but getting us to swallow such a massive "fish tale."
But that's the thing. I don't think we should lump "product placement/selling" together with art intent, which can include political motivations. They're not the same thing and shouldn't be measured by the same principles.
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Melvin Butterworth » Tue Apr 02, 2019 5:09 pm

Thief wrote:
But that's the thing. I don't think we should lump "product placement/selling" together with art intent, which can include political motivations. They're not the same thing and shouldn't be measured by the same principles.
I agree, which is why I exclude from this analogy those films which are organically political. If the intent, function, purpose, and/or content of the film is political, I don't propose evaluating it in the way that we consider, for example, the inclusion of dozens of SONY products in the background of "protagonist HQ." If, however, we have grounds to infer that the politics intrude from the outside (e.g., China's demands for changes, the codes of film censors), then we have a different phenomena.
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by wigwam » Tue Apr 02, 2019 6:11 pm

censorship like Hays code and digitzing DPRK into the Red Dawn remake isnt "product placement" (which is already politically symptomatic of capitalism) and is also (probably?) not "hidden art" (which I dont think is even a thing)? what inspired you to make this thread and were you possibly misunderstanding it? I'm baffled by your perspective and/or (mis?)use of terminology
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Melvin Butterworth » Tue Apr 02, 2019 6:19 pm

wigwam wrote:censorship like Hays code and digitzing DPRK into the Red Dawn remake isnt "product placement" (which is already politically symptomatic of capitalism) and is also (probably?) not "hidden art" (which I dont think is even a thing)? what inspired you to make this thread and were you possibly misunderstanding it? I'm baffled by your perspective and/or (mis?)use of terminology
Metaphor is, by definition, a "misuse" of literal language. In my analogy, I suggest that externally imposed political coding is like product placement and, therefore, can be evaluated, from a practical point of view, in the same way.

The notion that the best art hidden is an ancient truism about artistic production--the phrase is not my own. It's on a par as saying "the best special effects are the special effects that don't look like special effects, but reality" or "the best prose reads the way real human beings talk to each other."
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Wooley » Tue Apr 02, 2019 7:00 pm

Thief wrote:I'm not sure if this is what you were going for, but I disagree with the premise that "the best art is hidden". There are art expressions that are in-your-face, bold, and daring and the same applies to films. There are times when subtlety works, and there are times when the filmmaker hitting you with a sledgehammer is a good thing.
True.
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Jinnistan » Tue Apr 02, 2019 8:57 pm

I liked the subtle use of Reds and Dr. Zhivago posters in Spies Like Us.
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by DaMU » Tue Apr 02, 2019 8:59 pm

I loved the close of BlackkKlansman, which is about as far from "organic" and "hidden" as you can get.
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The above-written is wholly and solely the perspective of DaMU and should not be taken as an effort to rile, malign, or diminish you, dummo.
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Melvin Butterworth » Tue Apr 02, 2019 9:24 pm

DaMU wrote:I loved the close of BlackkKlansman, which is about as far from "organic" and "hidden" as you can get.
Didn't see it. I am hard pressed, however, to think of "a Spike Lee Joint" which isn't political in intent, function, and content. Politics are as organic to Lee's films as fish are to water.

Feel free to explain your interpretation, but Spike Lee is an unlikely candidate for my analogy from what I recollect of his body of work.
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by DaMU » Tue Apr 02, 2019 10:15 pm

Melvin Butterworth wrote:
Didn't see it. I am hard pressed, however, to think of "a Spike Lee Joint" which isn't political in intent, function, and content. Politics are as organic to Lee's films as fish are to water.

Feel free to explain your interpretation, but Spike Lee is an unlikely candidate for my analogy from what I recollect of his body of work.
Nah, I'm good. The fact that you haven't seen it but decide to doubt me on principle gives me a sense of how valuable the conversation would be.
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by wigwam » Wed Apr 03, 2019 1:32 am

Melvin Butterworth wrote: Metaphor is, by definition, a "misuse" of literal language.

imposed political coding is like product placement

"the best prose reads the way real human beings talk to each other."
godspeed mr buttersworth :fresh:
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Melvin Butterworth » Wed Apr 03, 2019 4:02 am

DaMU wrote:
Nah, I'm good. The fact that you haven't seen it but decide to doubt me on principle gives me a sense of how valuable the conversation would be.
No offence intended. I am not doubting you on principle, but on experience. I am quite familiar with Lee's oeuvre, which makes me suspect not so much that you're wrong about Lee, but rather the point that I am making. I did read an article about the end of the film, but what I found did not lead me to suspect that Lee was in any way out of control or impressing material from the outside or caving to convention or yielding to demands from producers (e.g., the "happy ending" of the theatrical cut of Blade Runner) or pandering to audience expectations. I suspect, therefore, that we're probably disagreeing about the operation of the term "organic."
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Oxnard Montalvo » Thu Apr 04, 2019 4:25 pm

Melvin Butterworth wrote:
Not quite what I am thinking of, but arguably. If you go into a film knowing that the subject matter of the film is political, then politics is in the foreground (not something added via clever placement in the background). If I click on a clever advert from the most recent Super Bowl, for example, I expect that I will be "sold" something as well as amused. Just as I have no issue with advertisers engaging in advertising, I have no issue with a political film getting political (if it didn't, if wouldn't be a political film). What I am speaking of are those forces which come the outside and which are impressed upon the artwork. For example, the change of the baddies in Red Dawn from China to North Korea to get access to the Chinese market or the sudden inclusion of Lando in Empire Strikes Back, after the original Stars Wars was criticized for having everything but a person of color on the screen. In the case of the former, the plausibility of the premise (thin as it already was) was made ridiculous for anyone who knows anything about North Korea. In the case of Empire, however, Lando appeared as just another character and Billy Dee had enough charm and smarm to rival Han for the affection of Leia.
oh I wasn't talking about Costa Gavras, I meant the Esther Williams movies.
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Melvin Butterworth » Thu Apr 04, 2019 6:48 pm

Oxnard Montalvo wrote:
oh I wasn't talking about Costa Gavras, I meant the Esther Williams movies.
As they are referred to in the clip, we have a utopian idealization of American success (replete with giant swimming pools and pink cars). Costa Gavras reports that he was, for a time, misled by these films ("so they did the political thing on me") because they implicitly carried the message "this is America." The films made him feel, but not think about the implicit political coding he was being exposed to (I can hardly think of a better way to persuade, which is why art may be the best propaganda machine ever devised).

But does this fit the pattern I am speaking of? While I can certainly agree that every film is political (to even show something in the center of the frame reveals an implicit judgment of what is worthy of being seen), not every film does politics as product placement. So, what to make of Esther Williams, as referred to in the clip? They did do "the political thing" on Costa Gavras. If this was an intentional addition to these films, something over an above the main narrative that was infused into it, then that takes us back in the direction of the "seamless."

I suspect, however, that this sort of politicking was an organic feature of these films. Just as a romantic comedy from old England would unthinkingly embrace (and therefore endorse) ideals of "courtly love" we're likely speaking of cultural coding so ubiquitous that it was just "in the air" at the time. What I am thinking of is the conscious choice try to get culture to change direction, seizing upon traditional materials (tropes, genres, icons) to push the rudder, steering the ship in the direction of our activist's preferred politics.

On the other hand, if these films were consciously produced with an eye to "Winning the Cold War" and if there were external requirements imposed on these stories to win the hearts and minds of those who might choose "Team Communist" over "Team Capitalist," then yes. But again, it seems to me that America was so in love with itself at the time, having won the great war, having the great economic boom that followed, having advances in modern conveniences, that it would seem perfectly natural to offer opulent visions of material wealth as a sort of utopian ideal.
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Oxnard Montalvo » Thu Apr 04, 2019 7:32 pm

gotcha
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Re: Politics as Product Placement

Post by Stu » Sun Apr 07, 2019 2:24 am

DaMU wrote:I loved the close of BlackkKlansman, which is about as far from "organic" and "hidden" as you can get.
Absolutely, and it proves that you don't have to be "subtle" for political statements to work in your movie, you just have to be effective in one way or another, and Lee's coda there was a refreshing contrast to movies like Green Book, aimed to comfort white audiences with the message that "American racism was more or less defeated decades ago, so give yourselves a collective pat on the back, and don't worry about it anymore!". Argh.

And on the subject of subtlety versus effectiveness, despite me liking How Green Was My Valley (and honestly not minding it winning Best Picture over Citizen Kane), I don't feel that the problem with its ridiculous caricaturing of its "upper-class" characters as being excessively stiff, aloof, or pointlessly sadistic lay solely with how over-the-top those characterizations were (although that didn't help), but also with how it felt like needless, redundant overkill on Ford's part, considering how the film's depictions of slashed wages/lost jobs, deadly conditions in the mine, and its continual pollution of the valley makes all the implicit criticisms of the wealthy any one movie could ever need, completely negating any need to pile on even more; Ford, I like your work in general, but you should've taken it a bit easier on that front, okay?
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