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Josie and the Pussycats [Movie Analysis]

Josie and the Pussycats: Product Placement as Saturnalia

There's an interesting phenomenon that occurs when the carrier wave of a satire is also its subject: it ends up protecting itself in proportion to its skewering. Just as a class clown defuses bullying by making himself the brunt of humor, or some celebrity bears the barbs of his peers during a roast in proportion to his success, so the current practice of corporate subsidization (euphemistically called "product placement") of movies inure itself to pointed satire by going along with the gag. (Even if, in the exceedingly unusual and commendable case of this movie, these corporations only contributed their brand markers instead of their cash.)

Just as with Minority Report, Josie and the Pussycats exploits its corporate graciousness to make satirical social points that end up pulling out their own teeth. The underfunders win both ways: they get to show their products in glaringly obvious ways that are ironically positive and "cool" (which is part of the point); and, even though the "message" of the movie is, ultimately, how evil they are, it's all so playful and "fun", the satire is so tongue-in-cheek and ironical, they must, after all, be really "cool" for being part of it, so how bad could they be, really? The message is co-opted, and thus emasculated, because they prove they can take the joke, showing how "with-it" and "in" they are; in fact, rather than dent their armor it only serves to increase their cachet. Everyone winks at everyone else — "We know that you know that we know we're exploiting you, so when you drink our sodas it's ok to (pretend) to hate us."

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival that provided a sanctioned release from social inhibitions, one feature of which was that the social order was reversed: the ruling class switched places with the peasantry for a day. This provided a socially acceptable way to blow off steam for pent-up, systemic resentments. It thus served a vital function to entrench the social hierarchy, since the assumption of class roles requires a tacit agreement that such class divisions are normal and natural. Though the masters may have resented being mocked and lampooned in this manner, they had the wisdom to go along with it because they knew that a permissible venting of spleen through playful satire was preferable to something more truly revolutionary. Thus the rulers played along (operative phrase, that) with the peasants because, at the end of the day, they easily assumed their dominant roles once again.

And so Josie and The Pussycats achieves the same effect here: our rulers — Corporations — can deign to be the brunt of our jibes because ultimately the joke is on us.

And yet even though their position is (seemingly) impervious, that doesn't mean the jabs taken at them don't help the peasants feel better for doing it. You may not be able to slay your masters (thereby achieving real freedom), but it helps relieve the pressure of wage and consumerist slavehood to be allowed to thumb your nose at them while throwing a ball at their dunking chair. And that's what Josie and the Pussycats does: it allows the peasants to wink knowingly to each other about their place while thinking they're putting one over on their masters; meanwhile, however, the masters wink to each other in their boardrooms too.