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.