Monday, January 30, 2006

Czech Dream or Nightmare?

I'm a documentary film nut. I'll line up in freezing cold at the most obscure film festivals just to see a film about unemployed Latvians drinking vodka and staring out the window. Okay, I exaggerate, there are no long lines for most documentaries. With the exception of the 'new documentarians', i.e. Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock--who point their critical fingers at a very large and easy target--most documentary filmmakers are unheard of.

I came across a gem of a film, "Cesky Sen" (The Czech Dream) while here in Prague. It was part hype, part prank and part social commentary. Two Czech film academy students created a completely artificial hypermarket (a really huge supermarket) in a field. It was just a facade wrapped in rainbow colors. The filmmakers created the thing from scratch: ad campaigns, slogans, logos, theme music, everything. They plastered Prague with the little 'Czech Dream' logo and flooded the media with hype--just to see if people would show up in droves at the opening of the made-up market.

As a former media student and a longtime resident of the Czech Republic, I have a strong interest in the effects of the megalithic media machine on former communist countries. Imagine a country before 1989 wherein 'consumer hype' consisted of randomly joining a long line of people outside of a market in hopes that they 'just might' have tropical fruit. Like an orange or a banana. Now imagine the same country today, crazed by consumerism, wherein people knock down barricades to get to the newly built mall. Where a new 'hypermarket' (something I've never seen in America)--a supermarket the size of a football stadium--has opened every year for 7 years straight. And the people can't get enough. I live in the Prague suburbs near one of the largest supermarkets in Europe, open 24/7. It scares the Bejesus outta me, and I come from a consumer country.

This film explores one of my favorite themes: the effect of mass media on the average person. As an American, I have probably been exposed to more advertising images, jingles, commercials and sales pitches than most. I qualify as one of the most manipulated media guinea pigs in the world. As we grew and became more 'discriminating', the ads became more clever. Modern marketing is 90% psychology and 10% product. I believe that the reason market campaigns work is that they convince us to take something out of a 'want' category and place it into a 'need' category. They get into our brains and move the synapses and gray jelly around a bit. I felt this effect so strongly that I boycotted all commercial media for several years. No television, no radio, no newspapers. It felt great. Maybe that's the reason people go camping: to get away from the mass brainwash.

So imagine my interest when somebody decided to take a country relatively new to the whole mass marketing concept and bombard them with a fake ad campaign. Just to see the reaction. Naturally, opinions on the film were divided: many people hated the idea of people being duped on such a massive scale. Others, like me, saw it as chance to witness the effects of the advertising media from a different angle. It's about empty promises delivered in rainbow wrapping. I mean, you need a shirt, but does it absolutely need a designer label?

The film 'Cesky Sen' (Czech Dream) explores and explains the themes of advertising and consumerism in a post Communist country brilliantly. And it was a couple of Czech film students who pulled it off. Coincidentally, the field in which the filmmakers erected their Potemkin village - Letnany exhibition grounds - is a few hundred meters from where I live. Just about the length of the real Tesco hypermarket that was built around the corner.


Blogger An Enlightened Fellow said...

I was in Prague when they were doing their media blitz and the grand opening. I remember people being very upset about it. Others were just amused. I was amused.

3:47 AM  

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