Advertising romance: Gone in 30 seconds – Pt. 5 – Uhhh

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Elevators suck because they’re like 30-second real life commercials, without a product and without a script. Unfortunately, more and more often I have these encounters outside of elevators, and they’re starting to make all of life feel like it sucks for the same reason. Maybe you know what I mean.

Leaving Village Video that day reminded me of a Coca-Cola commercial I once saw in which a young man holds a bottle of Coke and walks around a city smiling at strangers who smile back. The whole time, Louis Armstrong’s version of “When You’re Smiling” plays and you can’t help but tap your toe, or at least your index finger. At the end, the young man hands a Coke to a coy-looking, curly haired girl sitting in a café. She was the first person he smiled at, and the only one to not immediately respond with two rows of bright whites shining between frighteningly stretched out cheeks. She smiles with what can only be described as the biggest, beamiest smile ever donned by a young girl offered a Coke, and there have been many, and we learn why she didn’t smile in the first place. She has braces! Taken aback but not appalled, the young man smiles and the couple dances off together in the street, Louis still belting away the tunes from, one presumes, the grave.

Now, if we were to slow down my Nicollet Village Video version and record it for 30 seconds, it might go something like this:

I’m standing in the parking lot, shivering. The girls exit their car, smiles far and wide. My hands are in my pockets and I have a shifty-eyed stare frozen to my face. Some inappropriate song whispers through the frost; an obvious candidate is the exceptional creepiness of the Ying Yang Twins’s “Whisper Song” (explicit). I try to smile back, but my cheek muscles are stiff and my entire face betrays me. The girls’ smiles begin turning slowly into frowns. I try to say something and maybe my chapped lips part, but the only sound to come out is a shivery “Uuh-uuh-uhhhh,” teeth a clatter. By this point the girls’ smiles have vanished completely, replaced by a delicate mix of anxiety, dread, disgust and, eventually, superiority. They walk speedily past me with their coats pulled tight, their arms folded across their chest, just as Kaine and D-Roc breathily proclaim: “Wait ’til you see my-“

“No, wait Ö” I try to say. “Wait ’til you see my 65″ AQUOUS LCD Television!” But the words just don’t come out.

Just as the red mercury gradually climbs its way up Earth’s thermometer each year, so Advertising sneaks its way into our collective, 30-second unconscious. It seems there’s nothing we can really do to stop it. In fact, it seems like everything we do ensures that we become quieter and quieter, as commercial messages blare on. Watch the Super Bowl: Blare on. Catch up on LOST online: Blare on. Spend a dollar, or a dollar twenty-five, on a bottle of Coke: Blare on. Rewatch the Top Ten Super Bowl commercials and write an essay that mentions them Ö you get what’s going on here.

This feeling of helplessness operates on the same principle that caused mediaphobes during the ’90s to foreswear the hidden messages encoded in episodes of Pokémon – that nether region of ultra-media saturation known as the subliminal.

The principle: How do you speak against what speaks for you? It’s no news: the most effective advertising tells you what you want without you ever knowing you ever wanted it, and then you start telling yourself you want it. And you do want it. You want a Coke? Of course you do. You want a hot order of five Big Macs and a deadbolt to your room? By all means, here’s the perfect song for that very situation.

The principle has taken years to develop for both sides of my analogy – for the weather and for Advertising – and the results of this principle are the well known and documented elevator rides in painful silence, the missed connections posted online, and most everything created by Larry David, Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm in particular. On weather’s side, there’s Al Gore, and really, nothing else, at least not at the moment. In one episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David even kills two birds with one stone: Small talk about the roadway diplomacy of the Prius owner.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to banish Advertising to the twilight hours of Ron Popeil and GGW n+1: Lane Bryant Uncensored, where only the most debased anti-socialites will encounter them, along with a handful of clinical insomniacs and procrastinating undergraduates.

If this story has proven anything, it’s proven that I am each and every one of those people. But don’t get me wrong. No degree of rhetorical self-deprecation will convince me of self-hate. You’re smart. You know it’s all just a rhetorical device to soften the sharp angles I’ve drawn with my collegy new media studies syllabus. Are animals and babies and beautiful celebrities really to blame for a generation’s collective sense of introversion? If so, they probably aren’t operating alone. The point isn’t to strive toward abolition, but to acknowledge the peculiarity and maybe, who knows, we can have something else to talk about at the bus stop next winter. My real hope is that you’re each and every one of those people, too. (Even if you’re just a couple of those people, or just one of them, give me a call. We can talk. We can work something out.)

The thing is: Few pleasures do more for me than the freedom to surf through several streams of Coca-Cola commercials the world over on Youtube. The one in which an entire city floods the streets to push a single hearse off a cliff and into the mouth of gigantic fish has warmed my heart each of the 15 times I watched it last year, which means I can guarantee my heart was warm for at least seven-and-a-half minutes of 2007. When the Patriots lost to the Giants, that heart was all but shattered, but those E-Trade babies sure know how to cheer a guy up. I’m not out to condemn, I’m just not ready to hand Advertising a Get Out of Jail for Free Card, either. At least not until it hands me a Get Back My Social Skills Card – For Free.

The last question I have is this: So why, anyway, did I want to talk to those two in the parking lot of Village Video in the first place?

The best answer I can come up with is: I wanted to talk to them because they looked interesting. That’s all. They looked interesting. Yellow Cloche; David Bowie; VW Golf. Interesting stuff. They also looked about my age, i.e., they were college students, and they were at Village Video, where college students go to get the movie rental equivalent of 750ml of fine, oak-aged Bordeaux. The Volkswagon commercial writes itself.

They didn’t say anything or even do anything that caught my attention, but I guess they didn’t have to. I wanted to talk to them from the get go. One glance and I knew. And I almost did say something, really. I didn’t have to say anything particularly charming; I could have said something along the lines of, “It’s sooo cold Ö Hey, do you wanna come watch some movies.” I could have.

But then something got in the way. Something at my very core. Something deep inside me that always seems to make its presence felt at the most inopportune times, when freezing winds whip through my unconscious, for instance. This something tugged at my sleeve and asked me to lean down to hear its whispered wisdom. And what this something told me, without even saying a word, was that if I wanted a chance to talk to these two, I was going to have to find a bigger TV first. Now, if I only had a car of my own to go get one.

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