We have turned into hanging judges laughing all the way. As evidence I offer a response to a new ad on TV. It’s a minor example, but it will do.
In this commercial, a narrator caught in an uncomfortable close-up describes being depressed as feeling like a wind-up doll needing constant attention. She spins the key in the doll’s back, and it stoops and fades. She winds it up again, it lurches forward a few steps and dies, its head turned slightly in hope of another fix of kinetic energy.
On YouTube you’ll find a version where someone has inserted snarky speech bubbles saying things like, “Oh great. This pill makes you walk like a total loser with a load in their pants” and a number of other comments LOLing and deriding the original as just as lame and just as funny. One featured comment says:
Thank you [insert drug name here] for making me laugh my ass off all day. I haven’t seen anything this retarded on TV in a long time. This is one of the world’s worst commercial’s [sic] ever, in my opinion…
I understand. The tight focus on the doll’s pained expression is a little creepy and weird, and her constipated walk would never remind anyone of any toy a child would want. I understand why someone who has never experienced depression could find antidepressants and toys laughably dissonant. The advertiser tried to make the doll depressed but instead may have turned depression into a toy… a profitable toy apparently.
Yet equally troubling is the reaction to the ad because—though I disapprove of direct advertising by pharmaceutical companies and have never been sure what to think about antidepressants—the metaphor seems apt. The prop may be funny, but the idea that a depressed person requires constant winding, that being depressed means vigilance and a perpetual application of will to move forward, all that is vividly true.
And even if the ad is odious (and I can think of many ads no one notices that seem worse to me), the judgment of it is disproportionate. Clicking on the “more info” line for the comment above reveals more observations:
If you are clinically depressed enough that this commercial is appealing to you, maybe there is nothing left for you, but to have a creepy wind-up doll version of yourself to cart around to family picnics and wiffleball games. Seriously, if this drug makes you this messed up, maybe you were better before. Now you have to worry about some Puppetmaster, Chuckie, voodoo doll homicidal doll action on top of your depression. This will surely lead to paranoid schizophrenia. So please people, do not take this pill.
In its appeal to humor, the extended comment transposes the figurative and literal. The commercial isn’t really suggesting depression is a doll you have to cart around to family picnics. But that isn’t my issue with it, nor are the pop allusions, nor are the mechanical errors in the comment or the quite unmedical and irrational advice to avoid the drug because the ad for it is dumb.
I may place myself at the dock for judgment, and I don’t want to answer disproportion with disproportion by using one comment on YouTube to indict modernity but, to use our ubiquitous expression, WTF?
Our world abounds with judgment. Town Hall attendees equate Obama’s plan to help the uninsured with Nazis who systematically slaughtered millions. A senator shouts “You lie” before the president has even has his say. And, as funny as John Stewart and Steven Colbert are, we watch their sarcasm in place of actual journalism. Their targets, the “news analysts” on other networks, may be even worse.
You can say I’m overreacting and that the extreme judgment of our age is more public than new, but I wonder if more is at stake now. When judgment takes the place of deliberation—when humor trumps empathy and wit passes for reason—we may suffer a much worse fate than being subjected to silly ads.