Spectacle fodder

McDonald’s/Cineworld, Ipswich

Yesterday I took my grandson to see the Lego Batman Movie at a cinema complex in town. It was great fun, even if much of the film was a little over the head of the 7 year old boy.

Such cinema complexes aren’t my usual choice of venue for movie going. Several people had warned me about the price of popcorn prior to the visit, and I expected to be marketed at from all angles, so I didn’t think I was going with any illusions. But as much as I enjoyed the film, the experience was sullied by coming away feeling that the boy and I had just been fodder for a slick and well organised advertising industry.

Obviously I knew there would be advertisments before the film, and clearly a Lego movie is just one big advert for its own product. But I didn’t expect the blatant iPhone product placement throughout the film itself. Product placement is nothing new, but what shocked me was that it wasn’t even trying to be discrete. I pity children and teenagers going through playground battles about who has the coolest mobile, just as sneaker wars have affected other generations. With a predictably young audience for such a film, this wasn’t just insidious behaviour on the part of Lego and Apple, but irresponsible when considering the price of such devices. During the film, in an act of self-acknowledgement postmodernism, Lego Batman visits an orphanage to shower the children inside with Batmerch. As funny and honest as this was, the joke rang hollow by the end of the movie.

Lego and Apple have nothing on McDonald’s though. Advertised prior to the film starting was the obligatory McMarketing Lego Batman tie-in, clearly aimed at the captive child audience. On leaving the cinema after the credits rolled, it became blatantly obvious that it is no accident of town planning for there to be a McDonald’s restaurant right outside. Thankfully my grandson knows that pester power doesn’t work within our family, so it only warranted a passing comment on his behalf. But as critical of Lego and Apple as I am, at least they haven’t built stores right outside Cineworld, (yet).

Although clever, complicitous and contemporary as this all seemed, I was surprised that much of the pre-screening commercials were aimed at ‘traditional’ family set-ups. There were plenty of lone adults with children in the screening I attended; some of whom, statistically, must have been single parent families, or even in same-sex partnerships. Yet without fail, every single advert prior to Lego Batman starting replayed the ‘nuclear family‘ ideal as if we were still stuck in 1950s ad-land.

I didn’t expect to come away from taking my grandson to the Saturday morning pictures with a ‘society of the spectacle’ critique running through my head. Thankfully we didn’t opt for the 3D screening, otherwise replicating the cover of Debord’s book would have fully completed the experience.


Published by Nigel Ball

Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design

%d bloggers like this: