Black & White

The oreo. Naturally, my first post would be about a cookie (because that's what all literary geniuses think about and because I have a raging sweet tooth). Specifically, I found myself fascinated by Oreo's Superbowl Commercial. In it, we witness a "whisper fight" in a library. The central premise: choose a side, creme or cookie. Of course, it goes without saying that the creme is the better half; though I say this warily, for fear that such a presumptuous assertion will incur the wrath of critics who note that this statement certainly reflects decades of entrenched white privilege and other sundry connotations.

To get back to the point - something about the commercial struck me as particularly compelling and effective, and it wasn't until I was discussing it in class that I could begin to articulate it. In my persuasive writing class, I thought it would be interesting and "fun"(I'm trying to be a "cool teacher," so bear with me) to analyze the rhetorical strategies of several Superbowl commercials as advertisements in many ways epitomize methods of persuasion. In doing so, we dissected the "pathos" (or, emotional appeal) of the Budweiser Clydesdale Commercial, the irony and humor inherent in the Taco Bell "nursing home" commercial, and the cringe-inducing and rather problematic assumptions at play in the now-infamous Go Daddy commercial. But what is different and intriguing about the Oreo commercial, as I tried (perhaps inarticulately) to convey, was its approach. As all ads, it attempts to sell a product, but it also evokes a deeper sense of investment on behalf of its consumer. It invites not just a response, but a stake or a claim: choose one, pick a side, take a stand, have an opinion. More importantly, it seems to suggest your opinion matters.

The tact, to be sure, is not new. In fact, it is not even a novel approach this year. Twix and Mike & Ike, for instance, have launched similar advertisements in which the brands invite their viewers and consumers to make a choice. In doing so, they open up space for extra-diegetic conversations: the debate (cookie or creme, left or right twix, mike or ike) transcends its original media and "plot" and likely extends social media platforms. Indeed, the Oreo commercial ends with the whisper voiceover "Choose Your Side On Instagram @ Oreo." Similarly, a search for the hashtag #oreo on Twitter produces tweets in which viewers have argued for their own favorite part.

That the commercial inspires this sort of transcendent, participatory experience is not incidental. In fact, I believe it fundamentally speaks to a generation and an era in which people's opinions about and commentary on seemingly trivial matters are circulated instantly and widely through social media (something I mention briefly in my blog introduction). Certainly, the Oreo ad and similar campaigns capitalize on and speak to our increasing and sometimes overwhelming desire to have our ideas become public fare and our individual voices to be heard (or our pictures to be seen) and, more than that, to be important.

On another level, the ad perhaps unconsciously (though likely not) speaks to an increasingly polarized social climate, an era of extremes - a conclusion that dawned on me only recently after reading Frank Bruni's sharp and insightful article in the Sunday NYT. If we are in fact living in a world of extremism, as Bruni suggests, then an advertisement which invites you to see an issue in (bad pun intended) black or white is, quite simply, smart marketing. And, because my mind works in mysterious and uncontrollable ways, I began to wonder if this is indicative of our inevitable  movement beyond postmodernism. Deconstruction, to put it too briefly, is a postmodern gesture that seeks to move beyond or to break down binaries between things and ideas. Though it is not the only, it is one of the driving forces in postmodernist theory and one of which I am particularly enamored. But if Bruni is correct in saying we've reverted to some kind of state in which extremism is the norm, perhaps we as a society have moved beyond the impulse to deconstruct (if it's fair to say there was ever such a widespread impulse) and rather have begun to reconstruct binary oppositions, to startling and sometimes stagnating effect.

So at last the Oreo leads me to the quite counterintuitive, and probably overblown question about the possibility that we've found ourselves in a post-post-modernist era. I'm not sure what to make of it, or if I've made a mountain out of a cookie (I have), but this is where I find myself: lost in an abyss of cookies and creme.