I nurture the idea that advertising in America is a “tell.” That is, if you pay attention to advertising, you can discern a measure of who we are as a tribe. Our values – what we really cherish. Our relative competence in the noble discipline of critical thinking. Our depth.
The conclusions I draw are mixed. Often absurd. But sometimes worse. I’m saying, from time to time, if I want to update my answer to the question, “Just how stupid and shallow are we?” all I have to do is turn on my television or radio. Maybe browse a doctor’s office copy of a populist magazine.
Now, some advertising is harmless fun. And sometimes really clever. I mean, I love the E-trade babies! And Geico is killing me lately with the two guitar players asking “How happy would someone be to save 15 percent on car insurance?” My favorite being “Happier than a camel on Wednesday.” Get up? Hump Day? This camel walks through an office pestering people to notice what day it is. Makes me laugh out loud.
Locally, I gotta say I love the electric guitar riff, the melody and the vocal harmonies for Dollar Loan Center. It’s a Gin Blossoms-meet-The Beatles style of pop. I’d love to know who wrote the chord progression and lead guitar part. It takes this unexpected musical turn a couple of bars in, and I love when songwriters surprise me with counter-intuitive chord changes. I’m saying, I’d buy the CD even if I never darken the door of Dollar Loan Center. If I need to borrow a dollar, I’ll ask one of my sons.
Then, the other day, I’m driving down west Sahara, and I notice a billboard hawking Lee’s Liquor. At the center of the billboard is this guy (Mr. Lee, I wonder?) holding a bottle of wine. To his left, in the background, is another, younger man, holding a bottle of champagne. Both men brandish smiles I would describe as impish. “Frat boy” smiles. The kind that say, “Yes, we know we’re being cute.” The bold face headline reads, “Wine: The way classy people get drunk.”
And I blinked in astonishment. Had a cloudy disbelief in my head. Did I really just see that? Can you just say that? In public? Out loud?
My first reaction to the billboard was critical. Alcoholism is no laughing matter. Seriously? You’re inviting me to get drunk?
But, I’m really glad I didn’t react. Because Sunday came. Packer Sunday. 10 a.m. kickoff. My Packer friends gather. We make omelets. “Ffoop!” The distinctive sound of champagne bottles opening. Time for mimosas. My friend’s college daughter sits and watches me pour the orange juice and the bubbly.
“Want one?” I ask.
“Nope,” she says, her cosmically intelligent brown eyes studying me. “I think a mimosa is just an excuse to drink in the morning.”
I almost fell down laughing. Oh my. She’s utterly, completely, unequivocally … CORRECT!
I belong to a race of absurd, capricious, arbitrary cultural beings. We make it up as we go along. If I made you a Jack Daniel’s and coke at 9 a.m., you’d look askance. But a mimosa? Now, that’s fine.
So, in the end, I offer Lee’s Liquor my “George Carlin” award for stunning social satire. It’s true. Copping a buzz (or getting blotto) on wine connotes for us an illusion of social status and refined education in a way that copping a buzz (or getting blotto) on Budweiser does not. The billboard is funny as hell. And nakedly honest.
Then there’s the gym where I work out. They play this loop of music videos and local advertisement. And, one morning, with heavy dumbbells pushed high above my head, I heard the voice, alerting me. Warning me. Admonishing me. Even scolding me.
The voice says, “There is nothing worse than obvious underarm perspiration! It’s embarrassing and unsightly.”
I almost drop the weights. I look up, and deadpan aloud to the television, “Oh you’re right. That’s much worse than child leukemia.” And the guy doing incline situps collapses backwards laughing. And the woman doing lunges falls to her knees giggling. Now we’re all laughing.
Really? Does this work? It must. The three of us are mocking you, but perhaps several people are even now electing to visit your office to have their sweat glands … what, varnished? Shellacked? Because you’ve convinced them to be embarrassed?
We’re ridiculous. But, at least a never-ending source of entertainment.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.