Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Ontogeny Monetizes Philogeny, Dept.

Right, so we're parked in front of the Hypnogogue, preparing for an hour's avarice as Antiques Roadshow visits Louisville, KY Jelly, to gorge on the burgoo of bluegrass-state detritus. And this ad comes on.

Well, it's not an "ad"-ad because this is Public Television. Parked above the crass commercial concerns that drive the Big 4 networks to prostitute the core of integrity that would otherwise serve as their lodestar, Public Television won't suck Mammon's teat for the sake of a few greasy, cokey, crumpled Franklins. No, instead, Public Television features 60-second art films that depict a young woman's bittersweet coming of age thanks to the Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive of the Subaru Outback. Less of the coming of age part, actually.

In the background, we hear a young girl speaking to someone, as we're shown a black-and-white photograph of a woman holding a camera. In her slacks, bold belt, tucked-in sweater and playfully defiant expression, she evokes Carole Lombard on location in the Southwest. A thin, red line drops from the lower edge of her photo and veers sharp left to connect to a warmtoned color photo of the same camera being used by a woman in an Ali MacGraw Love Story hat. The clothes she wears, the background of the walls--the walls of a home, in the pictured prelapsarian era we'll call The Good '70s--her simple makeup, these all speak to a less-direct but no-less-consciously asserted female presence than that of the first photo. The thin red line--a vibrant line of descent, certainly-- then drops to a live-action, gauzy shot of a little girl, sprawled on a carpet, next to the camera we've already seen twice. She's the one whose voice we've been hearing. She's been speaking to her dolls, the ones she's arranging for the photo she's about take. "Say 'Cheese'..." she intones with all the calculated sweetness a professional actress of age six can be instructed to summon by "creatives" who may not be entirely sensitive to how like the uncanny shudder that a corpse evokes is this counterfeiting of child's imagination.

But somewhere between the first indistinct words we hear this child say and the last instruction we hear her offer, an adult woman's voice takes command of our earholes to thoughtfully inform us, "Some of the most important things passed down through generations have nothing to do with DNA. Liberty Mutual. Proud sponsor of Antiques Roadshow."

This is the point at which your sobsister's eyes widen to saucer size, mouth to gape like an off-season Tunnel of Love.

If you show me images of three generations of women--joined one to the other by what I can only construe as a stylized bloodline--each closely drawn to photography, then my first thought is actually not, "Oh, right, they're connected by their ownership of this object." No. It's more along the lines of "My GOD, is that a photography gene or a shiver of great white sharks?!?"

At least this non-commercial is being more honest than the show it "makes possible" as regards Antiques Roadshow society's valuation of the inherited, be it tangible or intangibly small. Every single bouffanted mercantilist who shleps a 300-lb *fingers crossed* authentic Colonial tallboy into the Father Coughlin Memorial Convention Center in downtown Saginaw and hears that she is potentially ten thousand bananas richer...and that's a conservative estimate...may say, "Oh, but we would never sell it!" but surely thinks, "Saint BART'S, baay-beee!!"

The disconnect between and the diametricity of the visual message and the verbal message. I imagine that those who conceptualized and executed this non-commercial were unaware that its talking point complements its visuals as well as four-alarm chili does a wedding dress. The equivalent of hearing the story of the Good Samaritan, and your take-away is that those who don't get involved are truly the Elect of the Lord.

Liberty Mutual, I know nothing about beyond the fact that it's an insurance company and, as such, makes its money by doing you out of as much recompense as its lawyers say it can do and still avoid being bumbusted in litigation. But absolutely nothing about its association with this exercise in cognitive dissonance gives me confidence that, as a corporate entity, it has the taste or sense that God gave a drunken sailor in a two-buck whorehouse. So, you may want to look elsewhere for that auto insurance.

I occasionally wonder about the people who work at ad agencies. Do they have magic wands they wave at their clients? Or do they possess m4d Jedi skillz? "This commercial is not asinine." "Your corporate messaging will be clearer thanks to this commercial." "You want to bring us a six-pack of hookers and a silver bucket of blow."

Here's the referenced non-commercial, along with its companion non-commercial involving a violin, three generations of Black people who all play the violin and the fact that they are joined solely by their ownership of the violin, not by any quote-unquote transmitted genetic predisposition.

Do you think when the ad people and the insurance company executives responsible for this paradigm of televisual non-commerce look in a mirror, they see themselves or only the room behind them?

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