Monday, September 17, 2012

Just Don't Look

 Directed By Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksander Dulerayn

"Branded" follows in a long line of anti-corporate science fiction, but unfortunately it follows rather blindly.
 Many have complained that "Branded" is a text-book example of false advertising (ironically also the film's subject) since its trailers made constant use of vibrant mutating and indeed fascinatingly designed living brand-names that appear to be laying siege to a city in a cross between "They Live" and "Attack Of The Fifty-Foot Eyesores" from one of The Simpson's "Tree house Of Horror" episodes.
These creatures do not appear until about an hour into the film, and calling them creatures is a bit of a stretch.
They are real in so far as our protagonist can see them, and they create for him at least real responses in an equal mix of fascination and repulsion.
But they are in fact advertisements and nothing more. In one telling scene our hero, confesses his horrified discovery of the conspiracy by fast food companies to make fat sexy by sending a reality tv weight loss finalist into a coma so they can then push a cynical "be yourself" campaign at all their restaurants, and of realizing that products now shape humans toward their desires, to which his girlfriend replies, "Ok, but what are you going to do about it?".
A question that could have allowed the film to enter into some kind of dialogue with the real world, which it comes tragically close to.
Our hero decides or is lead by a rather clunky dues-ex-machina, to run negative attack ads for all the products he represents.
Vegetarian fast-food against beef, personal computers against cell-phones,Pepsi versus Coke,  etc.
This causes consumer confidence to drop in all products, and makes the masses of Russia (the third world country the villainous Max Von Sydow is using as an experimental testing ground) rise up and demand an end to advertising.
The people go about achieving this through with acts of terror and angry mobs of looters and rapists. But it works and Russia leads the world in banning ads.
Russia who according to the film produced the first advertiser, apparently none other than Vladmir Lennin in 1910 when he invented communism, its colors, slogans, etc.
It's true that Soviet artisans and marketing advisers were invited by general electric and American companies, who wanted to learn from them, but the idea that Russian communists invented advertising is an interesting but totally inaccurate one.
The film opens with a flash of famous names on screen of individuals who saw things no one else saw and changed the world, it sadly misses the opportunity to add they are also now all brand-names of a sort.
All ideas have to be sold, and all are in competition with each other and with other ideas in our minds. 
Instead of probing memetics, history, or philosophy the film contents itself to take swipes at fast-food and body image hysteria.
Like "Generation P"(which Branded burrows from liberally), "Branded" features a young intellectual who works at a kiosk after the fall of the Soviet Union, until by chance he becomes a wealthy marketing expert, who through a series of mystical visitations, becomes disaffected with modern capitalism and the alienation it creates. 
Similarities end there, where "Generation P"(short for Pepsi) fully integrates its mysticism, political, social, and economic philosophies into a plot both comically and intellectually satisfying, "Branded" loses track of its multiple ill conceived plot threads. 
The burning of the red heifer and the spy back story, hang so loose of the bones of the plot, they might as well not be there.
The performances do not tighten any of this up, as every actor seems to be running through rehearsals. 
Especially the central couple whose relationship is as thin as the ads they despise; they even have a child who appears as easily, as characters disappear in flashes of lightning (which also literally happens).
 "Generation P" shows us a world of interconnections that no longer correspond to simple ideological answers, and that was its point.
 "Branded" just insists advertising is evil no matter what product it sells.
Like the parasitical creatures growing out of our necks, our desires for products are unnatural and disgusting. 
Ads are demonic and marketers are the shepherd of the devil, and the closest thing to God hates them. 
Treating complex socio-economic issues in simple good versus evil terms is a doomed project from the start.
I appreciate the film for its bravery in at least being able to imagine a world without ads, however stupid and sloppy its execution in getting there. 
I sympathize, and do believe as Slavoj Zizek has often repeated, that it is easier for the masses to imagine the extermination of all life on earth than it is for them to imagine a world beyond our current modes of capitalism And communism. 
 So for having some Utopian balls I applaud "Branded", but all of the ideas and execution of the film in nearly every other way, could have used some additional thought in how best to market this utopia to the masses. 
The film struck a nerve in its depiction of gelatinous ravenous monkey's on our back, but sadly never truly advances beyond the scene where our hero discovers the conspiracy and his girlfriend asks him as if exhausted at his naivete, "ok, but what are you going to do about it?". 
Neither his character nor any other in the film can provide a more nuanced idea than Paul Anka's jingle/maxim from that classic Simpson's episode, and the direction that DVR's are now naturally pointing us toward in our age of information overload, "just don't look."

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