What Really Rankled People About Those Groupon Super Bowl Ads

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I was struck by the uproar Groupon's Christopher Guest-directed ads caused. Both ads begin like public-service announcements for causes before mutating into ads exhorting us to "Save the Money." People responded to the company's commercials with a kind of, "How dare they!" sort of outrage.

But really, who are the outraged kidding? People are willing to spend a lot more disposable income on themselves than they are on causes like, you know, whales and freeing Tibet. While you might question Groupon's wisdom in running ads that lampoon their own customers, it's not as if what they implied wasn't true.

Still, they hit a nerve with the American public. And I think rising star blogger and Berkeley graduate student Aaron Bady has identified what it is. Here's a series of his tweets from earlier today:

Reading people's complaints about Super Bowl commercials, I'm struck by the feeling that what people are really upset by is the basic fact that the capitalist profit motive is an amoral drive. Yet since that can't register as a scandal -- capitalism, you see, is good! -- we instead use vague, almost meaningless sentences like "in poor taste." The joke of the Groupon commercials, after all, is the foolishness of people who think commerce can be a form of social good. The joke makes no sense unless you accept the disconnect between selfish-desire (purchasing) and social good (charity).
This is actually not unlike

the argument that Robert Reich makes in Supercapitalism, but stripped of all pretensions to any kind of proscriptive morality.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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