The Unbearable Bleakness of the New York State Lottery Commercials

Here I was, happily watching a bunch of steroidally enormous, freezing cold men beat each other into Alzheimers, when they cut to a word from one of our local sponsors, and the New York State Lotto reminded me of despair:

In the ad, we see an African-American woman, walking entirely alone in a giant, gaudy, possibly computer-generated Garden. When she first appears, she is only an insignificant peg moving down one side of the garden’s eerie geometry. But then the camera swoops down and confronts her, just as she is frozen by a thought. The woman’s internal monologue speaks to us, as we watch her sit slowly on a white stone bench:

“Isn’t it weird that pizzas are round but the boxes are square…and their slices are triangles,” she thinks.

As we pan above the woman’s face to view an isolated fountain, God asks us:

“What will you think about, when you don’t need to think about money? Play the game with the New York Lottery because hey, you never know?”

This ad imagines viewers who are in such precarious financial circumstances, they can’t remember having thoughts that weren’t about money. It tells those viewers that, even though they know the chances of winning are infinitesimally small, it’s still worth the $2.50 just to buy the remote possibility that one day maybe, just maybe, they’ll be able to stroll completely alone through opulent greenery, free to listen to the voice of their deepest selves, free to find out there’s no one down there but a moronic child grasping at trivial patterns.

In another version, we watch a man driving alone down an empty highway in a luxury car, thinking to himself: “If you tore out the last page in a mystery book, would that make it a better mystery?”

If the mystery is: What would your interior life be like if you weren’t constantly overwhelmed by economic anxiety?… this commercial suggests that’s a mystery best left unsolved.

The New York State Lotto imagines our dream reality to be one where we are free from material need, and all other human beings, a reality where, warmly surrounded by symbols of our social status, we may endlessly puzzle over our minds’ benign nonsense.

It’s only as terrifying as it is true.