During a recent bout of sickness, I spent seven hours watching Killing Eve on BBC America, which means I also saw at least 30 rounds of commercials advertising the same four things: the May Maytag Sale (though May is over), some slim laptop championed by a fashion blogger, the overly sentimental promises of a mediocre hotel chain, and Microsoft AI’s partnership with Iconem—a startup that digitizes sites of cultural heritage.
The Iconem commercial has popped up before—during screenings of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, maybe even earlier somewhere else. It irked me from the start, but it took this recent cycle of multiple Dayquil-infused viewings for me to pinpoint the source of my disdain.
The ad opens with Common (Microsoft’s newest spokesperson) describing how artificial intelligence will be the future of historical preservation. His voice narrates a documentary collage of ruins being digitally reconstructed before our eyes: a Jurassic Park-like glimpse into a history that deterioration has not allowed us to fully experience. Then another voice comes in: a western European accent describing in English the particularities of the software and the importance of this dialogue with history. “Eef you donne know where you come from, you donne know where you go.”
Entré Yves: representative from Iconem that we see digitally photographing sites in the field and using artificial intelligence to “steetch them together” back at the office. The ad depicts Yves as sort of grungy metro-Euro chic: a tall, bony frame draped in v-neck tees and scarves, a dark beard with a few grays demanding we revere their presence, bedhead from here to Prague. I don’t want to be presumptuous about how the real Yves carries himself; I only know that here, in this ad, he is the portrait of a very specific kind of manchild: obsessed with his work and convinced he is changing the world and—because of that—cocksure that not only can he get into your pants with little effort, but that you are going to listen to him talk about the significance of his work for hours just to grant him the effortless opportunity to do so. “I need to make eet possible,” he says into a wobbly iPhone cam, “because eets so important to do eet,”
By the third episode of Killing Eve, I could no longer tolerate the sight of this man. Naturally, you’d think I’d been burned by this type, but my distaste is far more nuanced. In my mind, Yves is a composite of three men:
- In Type: A guy I met in a bar when I was 26 and went on a single date with at a Japanese tea room (his idea). He was a nature photographer and talked the entire time about his travels and aspirations.
- In Appearance: A bony Francophile I dated for a couple years who wore many scarves and talked about himself in the third person.
- In Essence: The Spanish foreign exchange student that Linda briefly dates at the beginning of Singles. He tells her his visa is up and he has to return to Spain, thus inspiring a fling he leads her to believe will turn into something more upon his eventual return to America. As a token of her devotion, she gives him her coveted backup garage door remote. Days later she sees him at a club, a scantily clad woman hanging off his shoulder. From a distance he shrugs at her as if to say, Sorry, babe, that’s the way love goes.
None of these men (least of all the one that doesn’t exist) have caused me a lasting degree of bitterness, but have evidently left a lingering repugnance that would cause me to so suddenly bristle at the idea of Yves, who is so definitively in my mind a particular breed of infantile, emotionally-unaware garbage.
This is not meant to be an attack on the real Yves, who may be a decent person. I mean to call into question the false heroism bestowed on certain kinds of men. When I try to imagine that same commercial with a woman in it, going through Yves’s motions, I cannot. Either a woman would not behave like that, or an advertiser would not frame a woman in such a way; I do not know which is more likely or true. Perhaps women have to try so hard for their work to be considered important that they don’t dare exude the assumption that it is.
Yves may be only part of my aversion. To a lesser extent, this is a stab at the practices of television streaming, which subject viewers to the same tiresome advertisements to a degree that could (and perhaps, should) drive anyone into a state of agitated scrutiny. Even a single hour-long episode of a television show is often interrupted 4-5 times with the same commercial—enough to render it meaningless in the way saying the same word over and over makes it sound absurd. Is this effective advertising? Is the effect subliminal? Is my agitation and ultimately this public response considered a positive outcome for an advertiser, because I’m responding at all?
I return to the ad for clarity. Over the course of 15-20 additional viewings, my agitation passes through a kind of numbness and I arrive eventually in a sort of non-gravitational super-consciousness, like the ether inside Don Draper’s brain. From this place, Yves is a tiny felt puppet and Microsoft is an omnipresent superpower peddling the humility of its technology and the humanity of its mission. The ad closes with the Microsoft logo over the tagline “Empowering us all,” as though tenderly stroking our powerlessness. I begin to wonder if Yves is an artificially intelligent replicant, or if our world has been destroyed and we’re already living inside a universe constructed of artificial intelligence and this is ad is an SOS sent from underground rebels. Are you reading this? How do I find you? How do I join the movement against artificiality?
Come to think of it, though, this may all stem from the fact that I’m a Mac user.