Lou Reed died last month. But this story isn’t about Mr. Reed. This is about one of his songs. Sort of.
If you watch much television, you are aware that end-of-year holiday advertising is in full swing. This means releases of video games, movies, music and millions of retail items. Pre-positioning is no longer pre-positioning — it’s just positioning.
Nobody waits for Thanksgiving to kick off Christmas advertising anymore. Particularly when Hanukkah starts early this year. Nope, the barrage is in full effect.
One of the more remarkable advertising campaigns dominating the airwaves is PlayStation 4’s ads for their new game platform, set to Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” song. If you haven’t already seen it dozens of times, it contains two young, handsome friends who are opponents within the series of games the PS4 offers. It features them making their way through the games as characters in those games half-smilingly and detachedly singing the lyrics to “Perfect Day” as they lay waste to each other in simulated futuristic and Elder Scrolls-ish combat or in high-speed supercars. You get the idea.
Let’s violate something
Despite the high-stakes activities the two participants engage in, they maintain cool, bemused demeanors and wry smiles that are wholly unnatural to the situations they are engaging in. The intention is clear: it’s harmless fun.
You don’t have to agree with that.
It’s disturbing. To watch two persons lay waste to each other in violent ways while singing and smiling is fundamentally disturbing to sentient humans. Don’t think that the makers and the advertisers don’t know this. The presentation of the two players in such a manner is cleverly making clear that this is a game — not real — and that no “real harm” will come to the players.
That’s great for those two guys. But does such repeated disassociated violence acted out on screen cause harm — possibly even create or inspire developing personalities and developing neurological systems to not learn real consequences? Are we feeding psychopaths?
That would not be good. Many studies show that this is precisely what is happening. The human brain is shaped by the activities we engage in. Many gamers get lost for hours at a time in their screen lives.
To be fair, the effects video games have on the brain is not all bad. They do teach in ways that no book, movie, presentation or even real-live activity (you can’t actually kill zombies, raid WWII-era German soldiers or race Lamborghinis through the European countryside) ever could. Some studies indicate no harm is done to young brains.
Who plays video games, anyway?
Video games are not just for teens. Far from it. According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the average age of a gamer is 34. Women may be bigger gamers than you think, as well: Forty percent of all gamers are female. A recent study by Dr. Jason Allaire, a developmental psychology professor at North Carolina State University, found that 60 percent of seniors sampled reported regular or occasional video game use.
So — surprise — this is not a screed about video games. I’m not a gamer. But I do admire the artistry and complexity involved in creating these entertainment masterpieces. They are hugely complex, beautifully rendered and do huge business. They’re here to stay. They are as much of an artistic and commercial achievement as a movie or a TV show are.
I note the instance of this particular new game platform because the advertising is clever. I had a conversation with my 69-year-old father who was struck by the video game ads. Not surprisingly, he found it disturbing. He is not a gamer, either.
Understand that the advertiser’s point is strongly made by demonstrating each character’s bizarre lack of concern for the bad/violent/dangerous things that are happening to themselves and that they are causing to each other. You may or may not like it or feel comfortable with it. It may have long-term deleterious effect. It will, almost certainly, move millions of copies of the game off the shelves and into your child’s or grandchild’s living room or laptop.
To gamers, the TV ad’s characters’ reactions is, I’m sure, quite appealing. They get it. Blow each other up. Shoot lasers at robots. Ram each other off the streets at high speed. No harm will come to you. It’s just a thrill ride.
The ad cleverly creates a dividing line: either you get it or you don’t. (I consider myself to be straddling the line — I’m not comfortable with the portrayal, but I get how it appeals to its audience. I’m not their demographic, so they’re not too worried.)
For those that get it, this is powerful advertising. Kudos to the ad makers. For those that don’t get it, you weren’t going to buy their product anyway. The game makers and advertisers are happy if you’re just entertained or a little bit outraged — make some noise about it, please. They are happy to benefit from the buzz your complaints may make.
You won’t buy it
Unless, possibly, you were hooked in by the use of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.” The song may not cause you to purchase, but I bet it managed to grab your attention to hear how this paean to a lovely day (on its surface) which is actually a description of how Reed felt seeing a warm sunny day while he was coming out of heroin addiction (makes a little more sense now, right?) is juxtaposed with extreme and largely unrealistic violence.
The use of classic rock/pop songs to market to all ages is common. To those that would decry the use of Reed’s song in such a way, I say “stop.” He licensed it. He had his reasons. Secondly, the original song is still there to be enjoyed in whatever way you may wish to enjoy it. You don’t have to associate it with the video game.
A song is a gift to the world. The lyrics of most songs are so obtuse that one can create meaning that lasts and shifts in our hearts, minds and souls over the years. New understandings can come to us. Most songs are palettes on which we can imprint our own understanding in vivid colors. We don’t own someone else’s song. The creator of the song has their own idea of what a song “means” but we get to decide for ourselves what it means to us. It’s not our fault if we didn’t tap in to the song creator’s subconscious with 100% accuracy. In fact, it’s not possible to do so. Every song is an opportunity to meet.
They can tell us we misinterpret their songs. We can accept their guidance. But once it’s out there, it’s ours to devour.
And devour, we do. We consume songs. We, as consumers, have adapted to the practice of cherished songs being used to worm into our brains with advertised products and services. The best way to get an emotional reaction to trigger a buy response is to reach deep inside to our subconscious. Does anything do that better than a song? On a mass scale?
If there is such a thing, Madison Avenue will be using it soon. Now that he’s gone, Lou Reed, R.I.P., may have run out of things to sell to them to sell to us. But don’t count on it. We just keep hangin’ on.
Julian Rogers is a contributor to WiseTribe, Oregon Sports News, OregonLive (the Oregonian), Comcast Sports Net, ProFootballNetworks.com, Androsform.com, and other websites. He is a native Washingtonian who spent six years in Alaska. He still does not understand the appeal of hockey or dog sled racing. He has made an uneasy peace with social media and can be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and WordPress. He has two beautiful children and one tolerant wife, who is also beautiful.
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