In the Popped Wheat Thins Commercial, happiness is equated with more than just buying and consuming a "delicious" food product. The commercial is short, but its overall theme is complex, and reveals a lot about society. In this television advertisement, attaining happiness is coupled with law-breaking -- a theme that has pervaded pop culture for many years, including music, film, and television. In this television commercial, happiness is attained by getting away with something -- something illegal, happiness and freedom.
In the commercial, a man is fiendishly eating from his box of "new" Popped Wheat Thins while speeding in his hot air balloon. Two actors dressed as police officers use their police radio to ask the man to stop and hand over his Popped Wheat Thins. After the man refuses to relinquish his Wheat Thins to the police, the police become more demanding, as one officer demands that he "share" his "light and airy" Popped Wheat Thins. The other officer in the pursuing hot air balloon becomes even more demanding, as he tells the defiant snacker to pull over, saying "Stop! We want those ten grams whole grain." The "law-breaker" emphatically says "no", and fires up his hot air balloon. Finally, one of the cops in pursuit suggests that they ask for back-up. Another police hot air balloon arrives, and the older officer within the cart says, "I'm here". The dog next to him barks, and the cops are in hot pursuit of the law-breaker, who is only satiating his appetite for snack crackers.
However, the snacker is on the run, and the commercial suggests that he is sating more than just his appetite for Nabisco food products. Clearly, the man, like many of us, derives a thrill from indulging in guilty pleasures -- some of which happen to be illegal. Simply put, he is exercising his right to pleasure, a type of civil disobedience. Exploring the meaning of happiness in the commercial, one finds that the only two "animals" who are happy in the advertisement are the crazed snacker -- an anti-social, anti-authoritarian animal, and the German Shepherd dog -- a highly-social authoritative animal. All three police officers are grim and stolid. As Thoreau (1849) stated, "How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also" (Thoreau, 1849). Thus, from this perspective, the deranged snacker on the loose is pursuing freedom -- an American inalienable right, the pursuit of happiness.
Thus, the Nabisco commercial's appeal lay in its depiction of Americanism as rebellion against authority. Embodying this theme is the hero, or more accurately, the anti-hero -- the freedom-chasing crazed snacker. The police are, of course, agents of the government. Evading unjust authority -- or just authority in general -- has been a long-time obsession with Americans, bordering on the romantic. American history has a folkloric aspect, and its law-breakers have been enshrined as heroes. For instance, there were the revolutionaries -- Ben Franklin, George Washington, Paul Revere, etc., the Old West "bad guys" such as Billy the Kid and Jesse James, as well as newer, more exciting law-breakers such as Bonnie and Clyde. Popular television shows such as Sons of Anarchy extol the virtues of vice, and how lawlessness is the path to happiness, and more importantly, freedom.
In the commercial, the cops are the only entities that stand between the law-breaking snacker and his happiness, his right to liberty. The producers of this commercial have coupled happiness with lawlessness, or anarchy. As the state calls upon its obedient dogs (literally speaking), the man gets away with his crime of happiness. It is important to note that the authorities want what the man has -- his snack crackers. Thus, they want to indulge in happiness as well -- represented by the Popped Wheat Thins.
It is important to note that the man is not working, that his crime is having property that the state wants. The entire scenario is a take on the ramifications of anarcho-syndicalism. According to infoshop.org (2014), "The liberal belief in property, both real and in the person, leads not to freedom but to relationships of domination and subordination" (infoshop.org, 2014, internet). Thus, the police are attempting to enforce, therefore dominate, and subordinate the man as he attempts to elude them. He is an anarcho-syndicalist who is rightfully pursuing his freedom and happiness. Furthermore, "Any agreement that creates domination or hierarchy negates the assumptions underlying the agreement and makes itself null and void. In other words, voluntary government is still government and a defining characteristic of an anarchy must be, surely, 'no government' and 'no rulers' " (infoshop.org, 2014, internet). Moreover, according to the fictional character, John Teller, from Sons of Anarchy states: "Most human beings only think they want freedom. In truth they yearn for the bondage of social order, rigid laws, materialism, the only freedom man really wants, is the freedom to become comfortable".
Comfort is satiation, adventure is lawlessness, and freedom is happiness, while anti-authoritarianism is anarchy. All of these concepts are thematically-interrelated, and have mass appeal. Indeed, Nabisco, with their Popped Wheat Thins food product, tapped into a primal force that is not uniquely American, but universal. In the process, they managed to link the attainment of happiness with the purchase of their product.
Thoreau, Henry David. (1849). Civil Disobedience.
Quotegeek. (2015). Sons of Anarchy. Retrieved on 21 Apr 2015 from http://quotegeek.com/television/sons-of-anarchy/9759/
"What do Anarcho-Capitalists mean by Freedom?" (2014) (n.p.). Retrieved on 21 Apr 2015 from http://www.infoshop.org/AnarchistFAQSectionF2