In a brighter future, advertising will be an outmoded capitalist tactic, a bizarre form of mind control relegated to the dust heap of history. But since we seem utterly stuck with it, drowned in it, choked, blinded, beaten and in every way corrupted, distorted, persuaded, controlled and misled by it, we might as well have some fun with it, right?
The brilliant blokes at the Walker Art Center have brought us some screenings, as they do every year, of the best advertisements in the United Kingdom, the British Television Advertising Awards.
In an age when everything is a commercial (ever watch VH1? Award shows are ads, “Behind the Music” is an ad, videos are ads, everything, quite literally, is an ad) it’s not too terribly amazing that from an entire year’s worth of 10- to 60-second ads one can splice together a solid highlight reel. But then again, it’s still freakin’ cool to see some ads that stand out as nifty short films, moving statements or hilarious commentaries on our modern lives.
From products you’ve never heard of but are very popular in Great Britain, like Lucozade, to questions you’ve never considered, like Samuel L. Jackson asking us, “If a dollar was a chicken, would a chicken be evil?” These ads are some of the creme de la creme of their ilk. The Brits regularly seem to garner acclaim for these McNuggets of marketing genius, so we Americans prick up our ears and take a good listen. What do we hear? Humor, a bit of raciness, some self-loathing fun and other stuff that seems too hip for the average Yank consumer.
Underneath it all is an inescapable feeling that the Brits, for all their quirks, crooked teeth and stiff lips, are somehow cooler than us. Maybe it’s because none of the faces in the sea of youths bear the lines etched too early from fear of how to pay for health care. It seems less crassly consumerist, as if the conclusion that the purpose of life was to work, consume, then croak was not completely foregone. Maybe it’s because they think blowing off steam in a night of debauchery is more acceptable. Maybe it’s because a penis or a profanity on the late-night telly is probably no big deal. Whatever it is, we Puritan morons this side of the pond can chuckle at the bits we understand, then scratch our brutish foreheads and stomp back to the cave to plan the next bombing run.
OK, OK, maybe they’ve mostly got the same things over there that we’ve got here, but there are some interesting little differences. For example, ads for SUVs are noticeably absent, but there are plenty of ads for McDonald’s. There are more provocatively shocking public service announcements on issues from using contraception to stopping child prostitution, but then there’s more McDonald’s. What can we make of that? Well, recent studies show that Europeans are growing as fat-assed as us, so ha ha! We really can take over the world, and once they’re as fat, stupid, greedy, silly and apathetic as we are, we’ll truly rule! It’s only a matter of time before Prime Minister Tony Blair’s obsequiousness pays off for Americans, and we can expect SUV ads on BBC-1 with as much ubiquity as during “Monday Night Football.”
Maybe they’re just better at laughing at themselves; maybe it’s time for an all-out culture war. Either way, it’s a bloody hilarious 80-odd minutes.