A Critical Review of Smartphone Ads

Jonathan Gourlay analyzes the latest smartphone commercials and finds perversion, misogyny, anger, and circles.

Verizon’s new smartphone is called a Galaxy Nexus, a name they came up with by throwing Star Trek episodes at a wall and seeing what stuck. (Next up: the Samsung Gaseous Anomaly.) There’s one phrase that troubles me in the Verizon Nexus commercial: “Organize your contacts into circles, like you do in real life.” Is there a real life, somewhere, wherein an actual person organizes their fellow human beings into “circles”? You know who organized people into circles? The Nazis, that’s who. (Satan too. At least if Dante is to be believed.)

My life seems to contain no shapes within which to eternally pen the people I meet — perhaps I could organize them into overlapping rhomboids, but what would be the point?

What this commercial is actually about is not the activity of classifying human beings. The commercial is about changing the mask one presents to the world. Look at the way in which the protagonist (I call him Sir Douchyhair) code-shifts depending upon whether he is facing his grandmother or the girl he just dumped. His soul is a Kierkegaardian shattered mirror upon which he casts a reflection into the world. Yet, he is so distracted by his fucking phone that he fails to realize that he has no core, no center, no hook upon which to hang his essential being. He must continue in this sad, frenzied activity until he dies utterly alone, fingering his touch screen in some dark alley somewhere, crying out to the universe that he never got a chance to take the first step inside himself because he chose to bide his time on Earth in a Google+ hangout rather than exploring the gorgeous tapestry of life that sped around him, unnoticed.

Rating: After viewing this Fascist fever dream, one craves a starry night, a long gaze into the eyes of one’s true love, and, for some reason, cinnamon toast. For that: A+

A man making love to a rubber alligator is bidding on a Dukes of Hazzard lunch box. He uses a Verizon 4G LTE to make these bids. As a member of the Dukes of Hazzard lunchbox demographic, I wish to inform Verizon that in grade-school I preferred a lunchbox with Cold War-era submarines. The bottom panel showed the cramped living quarters of the crew. The front depicted a gorgeous, breaching steel phallus as it erupted into the air. It was a beautiful, violent place to store a PBJ.

I am not a member of the demographic wherein one makes love to rubber animals. If I were, I’d probably go for an ocelot. Those things are cute as hell.

Rating: Santorum-drenched man-on-alligator humping is exactly what is threatening to destroy the traditional American family: A+

The man in this AT&T commercial is attempting to guy-talk with his one black friend on his smartphone while changing a diaper. Then, his laundry-doing wife eye-scolds him and he cuts off contact with his friend while flaccidly waving a diaper in the air like the white flag of surrender. Look, it’s none of my business but from an outside perspective this is emotional abuse. The point seems to be that AT&T’s super fast speeds will hasten the arrival of the day that this couple realizes that they never really loved each other.

Other doomed relationships depicted by AT&T: A cold-hearted crone brandishing testicle-shears regrets her marriage because her husband signed up for instant messaging, a passive-aggressive young harpy calls her boyfriend to give him the silent treatment, a romantically dead couple suffers through dinner, the man watching a phone hidden on his pant leg while the woman tries desperately to connect with him. AT&T’s 30-second Bergmanesque bullion cubes depicting hateful, draining women in dead relationships are designed to rouse a masculine craving for freedom from the bitter yoke of female companionship. Why can’t those screeching harridans just leave us alone with our phones? Indeed! I need the “scores” from sports-thingys to share with my “Brosters” or “Brosketeers” or, um, “Bro-bdignagian Brolicious Bro-busters.” Guy-friends, dudes, men’s men, of which I have any number listed on my smartphone. There’s, um, Dan, with whom I write musicals. And, you know, James the poet. Mark, who collects old-timey radio shows. What do transvestite lounge singers count as?

Perhaps these commercials just don’t appeal to happily married metrosexuals who aren’t afraid of diapers. We use iPhones.

Rating: Nothing better than post-modern sexism to fire-up the under-girdle of our Media Studies undergraduates! The misogyny disguised as misandry on display here will generate countless five-page essays amongst our youth: A+

In the previous examples, the hatred and bile is directed inward at the hapless consumer and his or her close relations. The hopes and dreams of human beings are petty, small things compared to the vastness of the Samsung Galaxy, the Verizon Network, the AT&T free, unlimited data plan.

But what about directing anger outward upon the world? This Samsung commercial depicts iPhone users as clueless hipsters who line up lemming-like to get the latest crapware defecated out of the rarefied genius assholes in Cupertino. Upon seeing a Samsung touchscreen pen, one of these dunces proclaims the immortal line: “It’s got a pen? This is awesome!”

As stylus-averse Steve Jobs famously said to his biographer Walter Isaacson: “Pens? God gave us eleven flesh-pens right here. Wakka wakka wigggle wig!”

Yes, hipster-man, pens are awesome. In the commercial, Brian Urlacher wraps his meaty paws around the thin, plastic nubbins and scrawls his very name across a screen! Other shit happens too, like marching bands, guitar solos, gospel choirs, swinging, swaying, dancing in the streets. All of this because smartphone users have their precious pens back. Once more, they may scrawl mighty black strokes upon a tiny screen and push buttons more precisely; they are human again. But why stop at pens?

The Samsung Scrivener:

“It’s got a goose quill and inkwell?!? This is awesome!”

The Samsung Sky-God:

“It’s got stone tablets?!? This is awesome!

The Samsung Sumerian:

“It’s got a stick and quick-drying mud in which to tabulate my purchases?! This is awesome!”

The Samsung Dawn of Man:

“It’s got a bone to bash in the skull of my enemy who is hoarding the tapir-meat!?! This is awesome!”

Rating: Somehow an industry has monetized minutes, stolen our friendships, and made cheap the essence of life by placing a screen between us and the world. We are unwitting slaves in the fields of focus groups. Our worth is measured by stylus strokes and finger swipes. Don’t panic. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, we should all rejoice. Our smartphone overlords are the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human beings I’ve ever known in my life: A+. A+. A+. A+.

Jonathan Gourlay is an editor at The Bygone Bureau and author of the ebook Nowhere Slow: Eleven Years on a Micronesian Island. He lives in the quiet corner of Connecticut where he is a vicarious goat herder. Follow him on Twitter.