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February 11, 2007


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My first reaction is to simply quote Jon Stewart on this one: if you want to complain about something, complain to GM about the 35,000 non-robots they've laid off.

I think NAMI really took the wrong tactic with this one, for the very simple reason that the anthropomorphized robot is really endearing. And for better or worse, that does make an effect when watching something. They created a very sympathetic character that you actually feel really sad for, and they did it in a way that many people can empathize with - fearing what will happen to you if you lose your job.

I think claims of suicide contagion are stretching just a bit - I'm pretty sure there's no correlate between robotic suicide and human suicide, and since the robots haven't risen up yet...

I think that, all tongue in cheek aside, Stewart (and others) actually have the right criticism for this advert: GM is portrayed a fictionalized universe of a Turing test positive machine, where it can feel what humans feel when they get laid off, and react in similar ways. ...which is the way that, in theory, 35,000 of their former employees, in our world, have felt.

Suicide contagion? Eh, frankly, it makes NAMI look like they're jumping at shadows. If they had just ran with the latter critique, of "oh really, this is what people feel when they're laid off and how many of those 35,000 are watching this advert during the Super Bowl?" I think they'd have been much more successful in their critique.

I disagree. The fact that there may be an issue over GM's termination policy really has little to do with the question of whether NAMI was justifiably upset over the suicidal robot.

Why do you think the claims of suicide contagion are stretching a bit? In Japan, people form suicide communities; groups of people who help each other in carrying out their suicide. The evidence there is pretty convincing that this results -- in terms of outcomes -- in more suicides than if they attempt suicide on their own.

The implication of the "contagion" is not any kind of reductionist perspective that someone who has suicidal ideation will immediately go hurl themselves off of a bridge after watching the commercial. Rather, it is pretty easy to me to imagine someone with suicidal ideation who has just lost their job, watching the commercial, and having it reinforce their prior thoughts that maybe life is no longer worth living. In short, the commercial doesn't help such people, and it's not unreasonable to suggest it may exacerbate the problem.

And again, I'm not sure I understand why Stewart's criticism is "the" right one rather than simply "a" legitimate one. I don't see how it has anything to do with the substance of NAMI's critique.

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