Sunday, December 13, 2009

Class Warfare on My Way to Work

The last thing I want to do every morning while riding the subway to work is to ignite a class warfare riot. But I realized one morning last week during my commute that, if everyone on my subway car suddenly banded together into an impromptu posse, dragged me out into the street and beat me to a bloody pulp, I’d have to admit, in between kicks to my broken ribs and lashes across the destroyed flesh of my former face, that they had point. What was I doing to deserve such treatment? Reading a magazine that had this ad on the back cover:

“You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”

The Patek Philippe Annual Calendar 5146G and Calatrava cufflinks advertised here are, respectively, an $18,000 sport watch and a $4,000 pair of gold cufflinks. The story the ad is presumably supposed to convey is something along the lines of this: You are a powerful, powerful man who has arrived at the pinnacle of prestige and power. Your pectoral muscles are flawlessly chiseled, surpassed in beauty only by the impeccable cut of your custom tailored sport jacket. You are not balding even a tiny little bit. Your trophy wife is young and perky. Your dick enormous. Forget just being able to know what time it is. If you buy this watch, you will be transforming your capital into an object that will not only appreciate handsomely over time, but will demonstrate to the world your formidable level of success.

But wait! There’s more! Your personal success is so momentous that it can hardly be contained in a single human body. Thus the need to pass it along to your progeny - your flesh and blood, the fine young man who has been so fortunately endowed with your exquisite genes and an ample portion of your hard working capital. For a member of that next generation, so entitled yet so soft, it’s good to have at least one natural defense – a watch signaling to potential predators that the same $750 an hour lawyer who’s on retainer for dad (defended him during his insider trading suit? maybe brought an eminent domain case so dad could demolish the neighbor’s house on the vineyard to make room for a larger dock?) would have complaints served on said predators within thirty seconds of having laid a finger on junior. Just imagine how priceless the moment will be when you make that special trip to your son’s prep school to pass along your 5146G and Calatrava cufflinks so that he too can look after these items for yet another generation.

It’s enough to warm a man’s heart. Or, on the other hand, if he’s on the subway, possibly enough to make a man decide to get in on the action with the posse that’s kicking the shit out of me in the street.

Most of the people I ride to work with in the morning, myself included, are not merely looking after their watches for the next generation. They’re looking at their watches so that they will know what time it is. So they get to work on time. So they’ll get paid every other week. So they can afford car insurance and dog food. And while there’s nothing wrong with being rich and babysitting cufflinks for future generations, there is something very nauseating about aspiring to such pretention by parading around with an ad like this on the back of your magazine.

Ads are among the most truthful windows into peoples souls. Gazing deeply into a person’s eyes, watching him perform under pressure, talking intimately about his most deeply felt fears and convictions? All good ways of learning about his true inner being. But not nearly as market-tested as an ad. Advertisers understand us better than anyone out there. It’s their business. Ads don’t paint a picture of us as we are, but rather of us as we want to be.

And so, in a way, being moved by a tableau depicting such smug, unabashed douchebagedness is even worse than actually being a douchebag. There are a million reasons a person can be a douchebag – genetics, upbringing, bad day in the office, ring around the collar – and so, when you come across one, you can just write him off. Probably just came out of the box that way. But to want to be, affirmatively aspire to be, get turned on the by idea of being, a douchebag, then, well, good luck with that mob on the subway.

In my defense, the ad above was from the back cover of The Economist magazine. And while, granted, that publication can be a tad bit smug in its worldview, it’s interesting to read and has good commentary on the forces that make the modern world turn. And I read other stuff too. Good literature. Trashy fiction. Biographies. Rolling Stone. Seriously, I’m a well rounded guy. But until The Economist comes up with some other wares to hawk on its back cover, until I can feel confident that my neighbors won’t think that my idols include a douchebag-looking business tycoon and his equally revolting-looking son, I’m going to have to limit where I read it. No more taking the Economist out in public. The risk is just too great. I’ll just stare at the wall on the subway until The Economist comes up with a new idea. And hopefully put off the class warfare revolution to another day.


dfields said...

Excellent... a tranlucent watch for the Invisible Hand.

Unknown said...

I thought that was a pic of you as a kid and someone on the subway might have recognized you as the kid now all grown up. "Let's kick his arse!"

Unknown said...

I'd be interested to know when this campaign began (I think I've seen the ads for about 10 years now).

Leila said...

happy hanukkah to all and to all a good night :)

Anonymous said...

This ad stirs a swirling mix of emotions in me. But essentially, it makes me want to kill both that dude and his rancid offspring, take the watch and cufflinks from their corpses, and then give them (the watch and cufflinks, not the corpses) to my own sons. I wonder if this is what the ad agency was aiming for in terms of a reaction?

Sara said...

Spot on post. Reminded me of when I discovered my realtor had gifted (!) me with an unasked-for subscription to Town & Country. After perusing one issue, I was horrified. I now have to surreptitiously slip each month's issue into the condo recycling bin, hoping that my neighbors don't see.

veryfrank said...

saw this same ad in the NY Times magazine - actually has ran quite a bit. You put into words all the quesy uncomfortableness I felt seeing & reading the ad.
But you must give props to the excellent hair!