Wednesday, February 04, 2009

6400: Trust Me, It’s Subliminal Advertising.

The truth is, TNT series Trust Me will probably be successful—albeit for most of the odd reasons that TV shows gain success. The program features popular and attractive actors. The writing is solid, although hardly stellar. And there’s a decent balance of comedy, drama and gratuitous sex.

At the same time, there are elements of Trust Me that could technically be categorized as subliminal advertising. Wikipedia posted the following definition:

A subliminal message is a signal or message embedded in another medium, designed to pass below the normal limits of the human mind’s perception. These messages are unrecognizable by the conscious mind, but in certain situations can affect the subconscious mind and can negatively or positively influence subsequent later thoughts, behaviors, actions, attitudes, belief systems and value systems.

So what’s subliminal about Trust Me? Well, it involves the hidden messages that the series’ creators might not even be aware of. In short, Trust Me broadcasts the advertising industry’s dirty little secrets surrounding workplace discrimination.

In the first episode, for example, new copywriter Sarah Krajicek-Hunter sought to get her old job back at the DDB agency. It had been established that she is an award-winning copywriter who nabbed Clios for her Bud Light commercials (it’s a bold stretch, incidentally, given the real-life account’s notorious reputation as a Boy’s Club). Yet when Krajicek-Hunter met with her former boss, he rudely proclaimed she was a pain-in-the-ass employee with high-maintenance tendencies. Did viewers perceive the sexist, misogynistic components? Hey, the male creatives provide indisputable evidence that high-maintenance personalities are the norm. Tom Cavanagh’s character, Conner, is a whiny prima donna who has seemingly zero trophies to justify his ego. The creative director who died in the premiere episode was a raging lunatic. And the brash Young Turk team has not displayed the skills to handle a standard FSI. Of course, the men are completely accepted in the business. An award-winning female, on the other hand, must be replaced by “someone I don’t hate.” Translation: The boss will bring in an insufferable dude clone. And let’s not discuss how Krajicek-Hunter’s demands for a window office—part of her employment agreement—are virtually ignored by management.

This week’s episode unveiled a second instance of cloaked reality. When Conner stole the tagline of an entry-level art director, Mason McGuire cooked up the “obvious” solution: Offer the cub creative a job. Now, it was clear that McGuire and Conner didn’t view the art director as qualified. In fact, they intensely disliked him, referring to the guy as a douche. Additionally, Conner’s boss stated the agency had freezes on salaries, which are usually attached to hiring restrictions. However, they didn’t hesitate to recruit the moron to simply avoid looking stupid. This demonstrates a different advertising industry crime that the creators might not have intended to reveal. That is, people are hired for all sorts of reasons, few of which are rooted in a candidate’s abilities. Madison Avenue executives love to boast about exacting standards of excellence when selecting staffers. But it’s just a bunch of bullshit. You can land a position for a variety of asinine excuses—and your chances of winning the gig are significantly improved if you’re a young, White male. Did the show’s creators knowingly inject the actual communication in the scenario? Doubt it.

The hot TNT series is produced by two male ex-employees from Leo Burnett in Chicago—a totally stereotypical shop in regards to diversity practices (i.e., it’s an Ivory Tower with Color Lines and Glass Ceilings built on a Culturally Clueless Foundation). Creative consultants include more adpeople. Hence, it’s safe to say the show reflects the visions, experiences and attitudes of run-of-the-mill agency executives. In contrast to NBC’s The Office or AMC’s Mad Men, Trust Me is not blatant in its biased depictions. Are the creators consciously exposing the industry’s ugliness? Is there calculated awareness of the disclosures? Bet on the likelihood they think it’s absolutely hunky-dory, cool and awesome.

Trust Me unconsciously pushes workplace discrimination as comedic entertainment. That’s as subliminal as erotic images on ice cubes, folks.

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