Thursday, April 5, 2007

Robot Mental Health

It must be a comfort to our therapeutic age that General Motors has revised a recent ad spot which portrayed a robot committing suicide after making a mistake on the automobile assembly line. I happened to be reading a New York Times article about the terrible dislocation that continues to unfold among workers in Detroit and environs due to the collapse of the American automotive industry, preceded by an article on the imploding housing and sub-prime mortgage market around Detroit, when I heard the near-ubiquitous strains of Eric Carmen's "All By Myself" signalling that the revised advertisement was once again being run. The ad now portrays the robot being fired from GM and briefly holding a series of odd jobs, such as holding an advertising mortarboard for a retail store to passing cars.

Is this advertisement supposed to divert our attention from the actual impact and dislocation being suffered by automobile workers and America's blue collar labor force? One of the ironies, surely intentional, is that the robot is fired for a mistake while human workers return to the plant. The robot awakens from its nightmare and we're told that GM is obsessed with quality, but the commercial is a deeply cynical portrayal that cleaves closely to reality, except for the fact that it's not the robots who are suffering from the loss of jobs and taking on increasingly meaningless and low-paid jobs, and it's not a nightmare from which the human workers awaken. The advertisement is an insult to the workers who have and continue to lose their jobs, and would be an insult to the intelligence of the viewers but for the fact that decades of advertising and now years of "reality television" leaves us increasingly unable to distinguish reality from the flickering images on our screens.

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