Thursday, February 28, 2013

Space Jam: Propaganda Machine

           If you were born in the late eighties or early nineties and enjoyed cartoons and sports then Space Jam was the movie for you. Released in 1996, Space Jam utilized two of the most recognizable icons at the time, Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan, to propel itself toward "cult film" status. Even though the film is entertaining in its own merit, it has also gained a lot of attention due to the gross amount of product placement throughout. From McDonald's to Hanes to Nike to the NBA and Looney Tunes themselves, Space Jam hits on nearly every major endorsement the producers of the film could get their grubby fingers on.

            Certainly, we have grown accustomed to having big names such as McDonald's and Starbucks shoved down our throats at every opportunity. What makes Space Jam unique is that it doesn't have products "appear like the full movie [with the] label always facing the camera (Short 17). One of the more notable attempts to promote products in the film comes from Stan Podolak  as he urges Michael Jordan to get ready for his casual golf game with friends: "C'mon, Michael, it's game time. Slip on your Hanes, lace up your Nikes, take your Wheaties and your Gatorade, and we'll grab a Big Mac on the way to the ballpark (IMDb quotes)." The names of big products are merely mentioned. At no point in the movie do we see an actual McDonald's, a box of Wheaties, or a Gatordade bottle. It is a possibility that Warner Brothers decided to downplay the actual placement of the products as a joke -- Jordan was a sponsor for all of those products at the time of the film (IMDb trivia). However, it is more likely that the refrain of the physical products was to account for the barrage of other endorsements throughout the film. After all, the movie is about Michael Jordan and Looney Tunes.

            While the product placement in Space Jam is rather blatant, it works for the film's demographic. You may ask: "What demographic did Space Jam target?" Who else but boys and young men alike? Any male from the age of eight to eighteen wanted to be exactly like Michael Jordan and had an appreciation of Looney Tunes. You may also ask: "Why is it important to target young people with your film?" The truth is that product placement was essentially invented for impressionable, young minds. When a child goes to see a movie, or watches the TV, they are exposed to all kinds of ads that have a built-in pathos system. In the case of Space Jam, Jordan himself is a symbol of what it is to be cool and successful. After the child hears that Jordan is wearing Nikes and Hanes and eating McDonald's and Wheaties, they begin to crave these items (Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz 30-40). They "need " them. They beg their parents -- who usually give in.

            Space Jam is effective at gaining the attention of the youths, but what of the adults? When a film markets itself toward a young audience, someone has to drive them to the theatre and sit through the movie with them. While kids fantasize about being Michael Jordan and using the products that he uses, the attempt to persuade the adults proves less effective. Parents know that they don't need heavily endorsed products to make them "cool." Instead, the ever aging protagonist, Michael Jordan, is able to make a name for himself. Throughout this film, Michael Jordan is portrayed as a.) a good guy, b.) a proud competitor, c.) a hard worker, d.) a family man, e.) a humble man, f.) the greatest talent in the entire game of basketball, g.) a superhero, and h.) the savior of an entire sport. He's a walking, talking PR department. This taps into the parents ethos and logos and assures them that their children have a positive role model (Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz 42-67).

            When a film is widely recognized as one of the greatest propaganda films of all time, it has to be doing something right. Space Jam persuades parents to allow their children to crave products promoted by one of the most highly touted athletes of all time. However, it doesn't actually persuade the parents themselves to indulge in the products as well. This is why I am giving Space Jam two awkwardly placed endorsements out of three.

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