Televisionaries

by Brianna Riplinger

For me, the most loathsome, manipulative, slimy industry of them all has always been advertising. Between the pesky commercial breaks, I grew up watching Samantha’s mean-spirited husband Darren on “Bewitched” and the ultra-shallow “Melrose Place” gang all working in advertising – and learned these people were the slippery ones you could not trust.

One of the most frustrating aspects of our culture is rampant consumerism and the social expectations that accompany it. The suits tell us we are not clean enough, smart enough, thin enough or stylish enough on our own and that we have to buy what they sell to survive in this pretty plastic world. After all, if they said we were just fine the way we are now, what could they sell us?

Being a mega-Anglophile (musically, pop-culturally), I always found British “adverts” much more appealing, entertaining and, well, somehow, less loathsome.

The British Television Advertising Awards were created in 1976 (they were originally known as the London Television Advertising Awards). Showings of the awards began in 1984 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Screenings eventually spread to Minneapolis; Houston; San Francisco; Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles; Washington; Portland, Ore.; Boston and Anchorage, Alaska. Other international spots include the International Film Festival of Kerala in India and The Hong Kong Museum of Art. The Walker Art Center’s 16th year of screening (from Dec. 6-28) features awards administrator Peter Bigg at the opening night screenings (7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m, Friday). I was familiar with older ads that championed self-deprecating humor, over-the-top sex and clever story telling, so I expected to be falling off my chair laughing when I sat down to watch the 2002 British Television Advertising Awards winners.

The funny condom ads and the clever, special effects-heavy Levi’s ads were not what struck me the most this time. I was particularly affected by the brilliant and gruesome public service ads. If there is one image that is sure to make you never speed again, it is the chilling public service ad called “Kill Your Speed.”

A car is shown rolling down a busy street in slow motion. There is an awkward silence, save for the metallic sound of a car scraping the pavement. A female narrator asks in voice-over, “At just five miles per hour over the 30 miles per hour speed limit, how much further will it take to stop?” She then recites “One foot, two feet, three feet,” and so on. When she reaches “10 feet,” the crawling car smashes into the torso of a young boy who is crossing the street. The ad does not stop there and mercilessly goes on, up to the count of 20 feet, as the car continues to crush the young boy’s body, knocking him off his feet, his head hitting and bouncing off the pavement. It is almost too gory, but the message is made alarmingly clear: “Think. Slow down.”

Just as effective, if not more gruesome, is a “Wear Your Seatbelt” ad that graphically shows how an unseatbelted backseat passenger can cause his own death and two other passengers’ deaths. The voice-over tells us before the crash, “This is Michael. Today he is going to hit his girlfriend so hard she ends up with permanent brain damage.” When the car is shown (in detailed slow motion again) in midcrash, we see Michael’s body being thrown from back window to front windshield. His head hits each, causing glass to fly, while slamming into his girlfriend’s face. It is incredibly graphic but quite realistic and and incentive – in that burning-an-image-in-your-head sort of way – to always buckle up.

But I cannot forget to mention the ads that actually sell things, can I? Winner of the Cinema Award, the most overtly sexual ad of the bunch (to the point of humor) features the perennial favorite foreign sexpot, Kylie Minogue. Specifying Agent Provocateur lingerie as “the most erotic lingerie in the world,” and determined to “prove it,” Minogue undresses to a titillating little black lace number and proceeds to mount a huge, velvety electronic something (not a bull exactly, but you get the idea). She rides and writhes and whimpers and moans more than suggestively; Debra Winger’s act in “Urban Cowboy” has got nothing on this Aussie pop princess. Over the moans, the soundtrack plays The Hives’ rousing “Main Offender” for Minogue to thrash to.

When she finally, um, gets off, she asks, “Would all the men in the audience stand up?” She waits, and looks, “No?” An old woman cackles, “I didn’t think you’d be able to.” There is no argument – Minogue is quite erotic. What was that you said about lingerie?

Surprisingly, none of the other winning ads used sex or attractive women to hawk their producta. Most entries, such as the U.S. Nike “play” ads (featuring “Tag,” “Shade Running,” etc.) and Durex Condoms’ “For a Hundred Million Reasons” (hundreds of grown men dressed in puffy white sperm suits being escorted inside a giant condom) used novel methods to reinvent old standards in the world of advertising. They are innovative because they do not use the tried-and-true tactics of fear and self-hatred to coerce the consumer. Maybe it is because I was watching for “artistic achievement” and all that, but I did not feel like buying a damn thing after I watched the awards. I did, however, feel like never going near a car again.

The British Television Advertising Awards. Showing at the Walker Art Center, Dec. 6ñ28. (612) 375-7622

Brianna Riplinger welcomes comments at [email protected]