I didn’t expect to check Twitter or X or whatever today and see a Super Bowl advertisement featuring Patrick Stewart, Master Chief, Arnold from Hey, Arnold!, the band Creed, Knuckles from the Sonic franchise, and Survivor host Jeff Probst. Yet, folks, here we are. Welcome to 2024. It sucks.
In a newly released ad for Paramount+—the streaming service formerly known as CBS All Access—the company continues the odd storyline that all the various characters and stars of different Paramount-owned franchises are climbing the giant mountain seen in the company’s famous logo.
This time, a group consisting of Drew Barrymore, Sir Patrick Stewart, Halo’s Master Chief, Arnold, Lt. Dangle from Reno 911!, and Knuckles, among others, are trying to scale a large cliff wall to reach…I don’t know, the next commercial. Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is trying to toss a grappling hook up the cliff wall to give everyone a way up the mountain. But he can’t do it. That’s when Patrick Stewart recommends tying the rope to Arnold—who has a football-shaped head—and tossing the animated child at the mountain.
At this point, Stewart takes off his jacket to reveal an old-timey football costume and helmet and tells Drew Barrymore to shut up, and Creed starts playing “Can You Take Me Higher.” Folks, I’m not making any of this up. This is a real ad. I feel like I need to step in here and remind you all of that fact. Anyway, eventually Stewart chucks Arnold, after kissing his head softly, up the mountain and…(spoilers!) fails. Arnold slams into the rockface, likely crushing every one of his cartoon bones in the process, and the group hits upon the next beloved character to attempt throwing at the cliff.
Pop culture is slowly becoming one grey blob
Some might find this ad funny. And I’ll fully admit that Stewart is doing a bang-up job of being a weirdo old guy with a bad idea. But I also watched this trailer and felt a sense of dread. Companies today don’t see things like Star Trek or Halo as pieces of art made by creators. Instead, they are simply bits of IP that can be tossed into a blender to create some corporation’s next streaming service.
Why are these characters hanging out? What do they have in common? Why is this happening? “Stop asking questions,” says Paramount’s marketing team and execs. “Instead, just be amazed and delighted by all the IP and CONTENT we own. Isn’t that rad?”
I don’t think so. The continued consolidation of pop culture is actually really depressing. The reality that in 2024 a single company can own so much of our collective art is scary. It seems like 90% of film and TV are owned by Disney, Universal, Paramount, or a few other big players.
And if one of them decides to consume another, as Disney did to Fox, even more of pop culture gets shoved into one box owned by one greedy company that can decide, on a whim, to cancel shows, remove movies from streaming services, or use beloved characters as pawns in their content wars. And that all sucks, even if it was funny to watch Patrick Stewart kiss Arnold on the head.