Now’s That Enough To Make Me Think Twice

In the third of our occasional columns by Chronicle sub-editor JEFF WINKLER from Arkansas, Jeff examines our commercials and finds the message within.

Unlike other people, I LOVE commercials. The closest thing to cable we had growing up were the mass of wires connected the VCR to the screen and even as an adult, I’ve managed to live in houses with roughly zero to three channels, depending where in the living room you stand. Thus commercials, and Tv in general, is what I suppose a colonoscopy is like: leaving you feeling cheerfully light but relieved it’s not done on a daily basis.

Forget the dirty artists of Wellington or New York. The minds on the forefront of multi-media, story-telling have flocked like moths to the light bulb of commercial advertising. The neuvou trend of commercial art currently in the states is non-sequitor humour, which has finally trickled down to the masses via Napoleon Dynamite (Eagle v. Shark, I’ve understood, is equivalent to Godfather II – better movie with the same themes).

Now Handi even has a little bit of this absurdist style in its recent ads. At first, this humour is clever, almost commendable. After one imitation, though, it’s obviously the laziest sort of art imaginable. It’s from a creative mind retaining the ironic and silly thoughts of a nine-year-old whilst never developing further.

For my money, I appreciate a new twist on an old theme. The basics have been covered and it’s now time to twist the original ideas in new and interesting ways. This explains my new affinity for Sudefed’s revisionist history of the Fall of Troy.

But of all the commercials, I’ve become most fascinated with the drunk driving ad that pops up every 10 minutes:

It’s impossible to miss the ad. Four guys go to a bar and say “mate” for two, long minutes before a sudden car crash and an awkward pause when three of them met and one utters “Dave” before the voice over declares that “you’re a bloody idiot,” if you drink and drive.

First and foremost, the story is universally understood and even an Azerbaijan-native without any English could understand the context: The staccato grunts of four, bacchanalian youths; the dramatic climax, followed by a poor attempt at normalcy, albeit in a somber setting of three followed by a slow, different response.

The whole story was quick and complicated for such mass trash, I had to watch it several times to figure out the story line and see all the details. It has all the attributes of a good movie – the pace, the subtle scar-prosthetic on “Dave’s” face and an unsettled ending – “Is the other mate dead?”

If a foreigner were to watch one of the cheaply-made, drunk-driving PSAs from my state government, all they would take from it would be that if you’re well dressed (the commercial is shown repeatedly during prom season) then you’ll be stopped and asked to put your mouth on a strange object. The actual commercial ends with: “If you drink and drive, we will find you”.

Want to converse about the “new” things I enjoy about this country?  Well, there it is.

The best argument against driving drunk my fellow Americans can come up with to instill the fear that Big Brother will find – and presumably crush – you. The Arkansas commercial ends with very disappointed authority figures, parents, bailing out their delinquent spawn.

From the commercial, it could be assumed that once you reach drinking age, these sorts of problems just go away. The National Center for Statistics and Analysis’ “2006 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment of Alcohol-Related Fatalies” might suggest this is a deadly misunderstanding. Inebriated people between the ages of 21-34 were responsible for 43 percent of all fatal crashes.

In NZ, however, where the legal drinking age is 18, the message is entirely different. A collective sense of unity and moral responsibility are the first lines of defense against the worst of poor judgments. Whether this is a statistically more effective way of promoting responsible drinking is hard to tell. But seeing a PSA focus on the group that loses about half its members to alcohol-related car accidents (20-29), in a compassionate way is worth applauding. The closest thing to a clever “buddy-buddy” PSA back home comes, unsurprisingly enough, in the form of a Captain Morgan’s ad and it’s cute to the point of making a serious problem look flaccid and harmless.

The last time I was the designated driver, I got so inebriated, I had a blender of beer smashed across my face.  When I tell that story, it’s more of a proof of reckless cool than anything else. After watching the “mate” commercial, however, I’ll never be so callous.

As I write, however, the best case against NZ  Tv is returning from its commercial break. Naturally, it’s an American important, not exactly proof that the NZ government is doing a good job at filtering out diseases like foot-in-mouth. This cop show has the all the essentials – every cop is just “one man” doing his heroic duty and everyone else male and over the age of 12 is a potential – or convicted – pedophile, drug addict and/or murderer.

I’d been destroying a burger when it came on. For the two-minutes it took to wolf down the vegan nightmare, I was home. Then John Walsh ruined it. The sounds of his voice caused an imbalance. It gives homesickness a whole new meaning and I wondering if the Wanganui hospital has a 24-hour colonoscopy service.

Wanganui Chronicle, Sept. 8, 2007

UPDATE: Here’s another decent Drink Driving ad. Funny Kiwi here .