Lawncare season is in full bloom, if the television is any indication. More and more, I’ve been noticing advertisements for riding mowers, hedge trimmers, and all sorts of products targeting the green thumb. But one popular subgenre of these gardening ads have been employing the medium in a way that is undeniably uncanny: commercials for weed killer.
This funny TV commercial for Resolva 24H really illustrates something that they all do: the seemingly “unstoppable” problem of weeds — represented as “relentless little blighters” — or cute little monsters that keep popping back up with malevolence no matter how hard you try to “repress” them using organic methods:
What’s interesting to me is, of course, the uncanny “animation” of plant matter, through the aesthetic conceit of anthropomorphism. They are not just plants — they are tormenters, represented almost like juvenile little children who taunt with their raspberries and child-like antics (as their cartoon “voices” make clear).
But on another level, this cute animation technique in some ways serves to mask or distract us from the identical animation techniques that imbue the pesticide with an equally implicit supernatural agency. Notice how we get “time lapse” photography that can break the laws of time and space to show us a sprayed weed in extremis, dispatched and sent to its grave in a 24 hour period that lasts no longer than a few seconds on screen. We take this for granted as a sort of scientific evidence, but the media is used in a “stop motion” method that is identical to that which grants the “little blighters” life in the first place: animation. Yet the humorous interaction with the human who “battles” the weeds rhetorically distracts us from this appeal; while the “death” sequence featuring the weed is strangely absent of human agency altogether.
Weeds are like monsters: they just won’t die unless you bring a magical force to the rescue.
The poison is doing the work here, not the human. In fact, it’s labor-free.
Lest you think this is just some quirky little ad from down under, I offer another example to illustrate just how widespread these techniques really are, even in commercials that don’t have a single element of “cuteness” to them whatsoever. Here we have a potent ad for Roundup Extended Control weed killer that is sober perhaps to the extreme:
Here weeds are weeds, not cute little creatures (like they are in Roundup’s “weeds won’t play dead, they’ll stay dead” ad campaign), but they do move of their own accord and therefore have a sort of magical “life” and intent all their own. And I dare say it is a relatively pretty one, blooming in a beautiful yellow flange before they are swiftly shot dead. The ad serves to show the power and long-lasting function of the product, but we are given the same pitch as before. We also see the product itself magically split in two (splitting into a sort of doppelganger, or double) before the spray nozzle autonomously does its job on the weeds and the driveway — all set the subtle “Western movie” music — and ending with a stylistic “holstering” of its gun. So again there is no human agency, just an implied magical power, one that literally is delivered by a “gun” that shoots weeds dead.
Now, normally I’d say “good riddance” and anyone who has been frustrated by overgrown patches of weeds on their property will likely be won over by these ads. But what I want to call attention to is the way that “magic” circulates in these ads, often by masking the human agency behind the product, which gives these consumer goods more power than perhaps they ought to be given. And perhaps they also, in the process, mask a vague irresponsibility (or at best suspended critical faculty) regarding the “shotgun” use of chemicals to combat the environment. What we’re really given here are fantasies of wild west gun-slinging to combat the “frontier,” and this reinforces a myth that power should be wielded against the environment through violence. It may very well be a war, and these products may very well be safe weapons, but the fantasy here is that these weeds are inorganic monsters that must be murdered by inorganic means and that’s just, well, weird when we’re talking about organic life to begin with. The organic weed must be reconstructed as an uncanny Other to make this weirdness seem psychologically rational if not normal.
I won’t go on and on about the role of the uncanny in all this, except to say the obvious: death is also everywhere here, and it’s about our death (our own inevitable “battle with the weeds”) as much as it is about burning up the root system of a dandelion with a god-like force.