Did Amy Schumer Mainstream Stalinism During Google’s Super Bowl Ad?

Amy Schumer and Google want to remind Americans of their power to rewrite inconvenient historical moments.

In a 90-second commercial spot likely exceeding a $18 million price tag, a Who’s Who of Hollywood figureheads including Doja Cat and Giannis Antetokounmpo¬†edit out photo-bombers, blemishes, and even entire people with whom they shared a period of their lives with.

“Wait, I can erase my exes?” the “Snatched” actress exclaims to Missy Elliot’s “We Run This,” before magically photoshopping out former romantic partners. Schumer is left standing alone by herself against the backdrops of restaurants, mountains, and celebrations, free from the symbolic baggage of these symbolic men.

“Little Mistakes…Big Mistakes…Huge Mistakes,” reads the text on the screen.

Whereas a Kardashian might use photo editing to embellish their own physical appearance, what Google offers consumers here is a far more disturbing proposition: The ability to completely re-write one’s past and social networks in real-time, the essence of one’s history, through digital modification.

There is always a politics that goes into archival and history; contemporary concepts fueled by technological innovation retrofitted onto past norms, reframing and excavating and emphasizing. However, when entire moments are eliminated because they are painful to deal with, understanding becomes impossible, and the mistakes of the past come up again full force.

Like Amy Schumer and Google, Josef Stalin also used photo editing to rewrite history. During the Stalinist purges, the Soviet leader deployed photo retouchers to cut his political rivals out of supposedly documentary photographs, presenting the revised images as “truth.” One famous erasure was Nikola Yezhov, a secret police officer responsible with executing and imprisoning thousands of Communist Party officials. After Yezhov fell out of Stalin’s favor, he himself was arrested, tried in secret court, and executed. His entire likeness was eliminated from photographs, as if he had never existed.

The fluidity of media technologies allows the progression and evolution of ideas. Theories are constantly being revised through media archival to improve understanding, and to build on other understandings. But when directed exclusively through self-interest and self-preservation, these techniques become violent enforcements upon hyper-reality further perverting the notion of truth.

The paradox is that these techniques which historically have set the stage for totalitarianism are now democratized, rather than concentrated in the hands of a select few party bosses. Does the framework in which they are deployed — a liberal democratic capitalist one versus one of totalitarian communism — neuter outcomes, or does the mainstreaming of the practice present an existential threat if a new ideological regime takes hold?