The marketing genius behind “Don’t look up”

Some thoughts on the popular film, which some consider to be controversial.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a debate that brought so many people together while also causing divisions in various groups. Everyone seems to be shouting “don’t look up!” on social media.

The film appears to be a rather clever satire. Many people, particularly in Romania, where I live, regard it as a ‘Marxist manifesto.’ Given that this production is being produced by one of the most profitable global corporations, Netflix, this opinion is more amusing than anything else. Whatever the case may be, for the sake of argument, let us assume that it actually is a ‘Marxist manifesto.’ That it is, like in the minds of those preaching this interpretation, a propaganda exercise attempting to incite criticism of a just and equitable society.

According to this theory, the envious script-writers decided to portray the US president as a perfect combination of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump — both being the embodiment of the corrupt Democratic-Republican oligarchy eager to place their spoiled and ignorant children in positions of great responsibility. Of course, in their minds, it has nothing to do with reality, even though in the United States Trump was appointing his relatives to paid or unpaid positions in the White House all the time, and Biden elevated his progeny to the board of Ukraine’s largest energy firm. Right-wingers like to refer to ‘facts,’ but in a very selective manner. Things like the ones described above don’t count for ‘facts’ in their understanding.

Out of envy and malice, the writers decided to portray businessman Mark Rylance as a cross between the eccentric Elon Musk and the capitalist church’s idol, Steve Jobs. Frustrated as that they are, the producers have admittedly borrowed from the very speeches and speech tics with which Musk ‘delights’ us and transformed him into the contemporary apostle of salvation destined to lead mankind to new heights of progress while enriching himself beyond imagination.

And the venom of the producers of this film has also caused the US media to appear portrayed in a totally negative light. In the film, people don’t seem to interact normally on television. They need media training! Everything has to be wrapped up in an appealing package, the audience has to be pleasantly tickled at all costs, audience metrics even dictate which lines to use. Don’t we know that in reality, American television conveys the truth, and interest in the facts dictates, even when viewership drops!? No, there is no continuous popularity contest, no interest in the issues that attract, and the media machine is aimed only at the truth, however raw it may be. Isn’t it so?

Likewise, US presidents are perfectly concerned with the good of the people and react responsibly to a crisis. The fact – ah, those wonderful facts that right-wing stars like Ben Shapiro worship – the fact, then, that US President Donald Trump has been hiding from the American public for months the fact that a deadly pandemic is stalking the population is totally coincidental. President Orlean, the one in the satirical film, learns that the earth is about to be hit by a huge asteroid, and life on earth will be torn apart. Her first instinct is to calculate how this affects the outcome of the elections in three weeks time. She decides it’s time to sit back and assess. That Trump reacted in exactly the same way to the pandemic is one of the facts that obviously, an accident!

The notion that the voice of science is unimportant and that scientists are forced to compete in the media arena alongside highly trained actors who smash them to smithereens in two moves is, once again, a movie plot. In reality, this does not occur! Or does it?

At minute 5:18 of the documentary Merchants of Doubt, we see a famous TV personality taunting the doctor Stanton Glantz in a TV studio, telling him that he smokes every day and looks twenty years younger than the doctor! The audience erupts in applause! This is based on reality. It’s only the beginning of a massive scandal that has revealed how tobacco companies have actively undermined doctors and scientists. The tobacco industry did not write the post-truth book, but rather Donald Trump. In 1953, when John Hilton, the founder of the largest public relations firm, Hill&Knowlton, met with the owners of the major tobacco companies at the New York Plaza Hotel, he told them: “You have a problem as well as an adversary. Scientists are the enemy!” Then began a sustained campaign to smear the image of doctors and rational tobacco information. Of course, anyone who is unwilling to accept these facts will quickly dismiss them as exceptions.

What is the cost of a life?

Joel Bakan published one of the most important works on corporate history in 2004. The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. One of the episodes he describes is particularly useful as a framework for comprehending Don’t look up!

Patricia Anderson, the owner of a Chevrolet Malibu, was stopped at a stop sign on December 25, 1993, just before Christmas. She’s in the back with her three kids. A drunk driver collided with them. The car immediately caught fire. Three of the children had burns covering more than 60% of their bodies, and one had his arm amputated as a result of the accident. Anderson filed a lawsuit against General Motors, the company that manufactures her model of car. She appeared to be some sort of resentful Marxist. The court, however, ruled in favor of the plaintiff. Furthermore, the company was the subject of more than 25 such lawsuits. The company made the payment. You see, right-wingers and ardent supporters of the United States will exclaim, “See, justice works!”

No, not at all. What happened to get it there in the first place? So, a calculation was performed. General Motors wanted the tank to be as close to the passenger seats as possible, and the protective materials to be as cheap as possible. Obviously, this would result in unnecessary deaths. Engineer Edward Ivey was asked by General Motors to answer the question: “How much does human life cost in terms of money we would have to pay in the event of an accident?”

The engineer, a methodical man, did the math: he multiplied the 500 or so fire cases by the $200,000 or so it would cost the company, then divided that figure by the 41 million cars. The division was $2.4 billion!

But the calculations didn’t stop there! The engineer demonstrated that if General Motors did not follow the tank placement safety rules, it would save $8.59 per car. So the solution was straightforward: the company saved $8.59. It lost $2.4 billion because more people were killed in fires. 8.59 – 2.40 = $6.19.

As a result, it was more efficient and profitable to stick to the previous fuel tank placement rules 1.

Logical and coherent. We can calculate to the millimeter how much it costs the company to place the tank in a position that would endanger the lives of passengers even in a minor accident! In the end, even the judge, who was summoned to rehear the case, stated that this is how corporations operate. That is entirely natural!

If it’s natural, it’s also natural for business people to completely buy scientists, engineers, doctors, and geophysicists and tell them what to do.

But, of course, that’s an exaggerated interpretation of the frustrated individuals behind Don’t Look Up! In fact, the fossil fuel industry hasn’t spent a lot of money trying to downplay the importance of climate change; isn’t it? For decades, we have been told that scientists are alarmists and that there is no problem.

Politicians have not told us that the pandemic does not exist, that we should not be concerned, or that it is a hoax. And pharmaceutical companies did not see the pandemic as an opportunity to make money by patenting vaccines that should have been available for free!

So the message is clear: don’t look up! Don’t question society and put your trust in the US government and corporations. It’s obvious that the film’s producers are simply lying and propagandizing you into Marxism!

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  1. Bakan, The Corporation. The Pathological Pursuit for Profit and Power, 2004

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