Critique, Brought to You By ___________

Curator's Note

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s new film premiered at Sundance in January. Titled “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” it is a “sneaky investigation into the nefarious world of sponsorship, product placement, marketing and advertising in movies and television” (Honeycutt 2011). If you recognize a product or brand in a film or television show, scripts were adjusted, camera angles and dialog worked out, and deals cut to be sure you did.

True to form, Morgan puts a new twist on exposing the extent of product placement. His film on product placement was itself funded by product placement, thus doubling back upon itself in a reflexive, ironic, “meta-heady trip” (Morgan’s words) of an exposé of its own making.

Yet, despite the many advertisers who declined to be part of the film, the fact that some advertisers gleefully joined suggests not only how compelling publicity via product placement is. It also suggests the marketing value of social critique. And here is where the larger dilemma lurks. The very society held to be the source of problems is at the same time the sole source of resources for its critique and challenge. Where is the critical perspective if all you can see and work within is the inside?

As Tom Frank (1998) has suggested, “cool” has immense market value. And, if critique is cool, then it’s a sure bet for monetization. I made the snarky comment in a recent book of mine that, given this value, we’ll soon see on our cable-TV schedule a “Protest Channel comprised of on-the-street video footage shot by global-justice activists with running commentary, interviews and analysis, sandwiched as it would likely be between a channel devoted to home improvement and one to golf” (Hamilton 2008, p. 2). Morgan’s film suggests we’re closer than you might think.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Morgan. My spouse and kids like him—this buffed big bear of a dude with twinkling hazel eyes, a Fu Manchu ‘stache, a social conscience, and a zany sense of humor. But his latest project reminds me that what I really like—and all I know—is his brand.

Works Cited/Points of Entry

Frank, Thomas. (1997). Conquest of Cool; business culture, counterculture, and the rise of hip consumerism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hamilton, James. F. (2008.) Democratic Communications; Formations, Projects, Possibilities. Lanham: Lexington.

Honeycutt, Kirk. (2011). “Sundance Review: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”

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