This blogger watched the first half of Super Bowl 2014 to honor the memory of his late father a Bronco fan since 1960 when the poor guy spent the night in the line for season tickets for their first season. He suffered through a lot of awful seasons until he left the Broncos (and this earth) in 1980. If still alive, he would have made some wisecrack during Super Bowl 2014. This blogger paid no attention to the Super Bowl ads in 2014 or any other time, but Amy Davidson brought him up short with her review of two ads in 2014 and a reminiscence about an ad in 1971. If this is a (fair & balanced) consideration of authenticity, so be it.
[x New Yorker]
Why Bob Dylan Lost The Super Bowl, And Why Coke Won
By Amy Davidson
Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing
Why was the Bob Dylan Super Bowl ad so bad? Why was the Coca-Cola ad so good? Part of it, in both cases, was the execution; Chrysler seems to have picked a fair number of the images for the Dylan ad from the postcard rack at a mid-level stationery store. Maybe one shouldn’t get too grand when talking about efforts during a football game to sell cars and soda. (I’m from New York, so that’s what I call that sort of drink.) But the difference also had to do with evocations of patriotism, beauty, and pride.
First, the badness of the Dylan ad: I am not of the school of thought that Dylan simply making an ad is bad because it is commercial. There are ads; one doesn’t mind seeing people of interest in them, so long as they are not painfully out of character, for unpleasant things, or—this is the most common problem—dispiritingly tacky. It is not a transgression that Dylan is in an ad. It is a problem that he is in a poorly made ad, one that proves the truth of a line in its script: “You can’t fake cool.”
Is that really Dylan? The ad’s makers seem to have worried that he’d seem like a fake—that vague man asking, “Is there anything more American than America?” (The agency responsible was GlobalHue.) When Clint Eastwood did his Chrysler Super Bowl ad, he was introduced with a silhouette, and there was never any doubt; once Dylan appears the ad does everything short of superimposing a neon arrow labelled “Dylan” and directed at him. At one point, he actually goes into a guitar store, stops, and brings his face close to a rack of books with his name and pictures on their covers. “You can’t duplicate legacy,” which follows the line about cool, sounds like an apology for his loss of charisma. As he says it, around when we’re flashed stock images of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, we move from a marginally cool image of a tattoo of Rosie the Riveter to the original Second World War poster of Rosie the Riveter, spoiling the effect. Did the ad makers think we’d miss the point?
But what is the point? It is not, apparently, that Americans make good things. After an evening of ads featuring Clydesdales and puppies and Ping-Pong in the name of Budweiser, Dylan informs us,
So let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone.
All we’re asking for is to build cars. Who cares if other people make better phones (or that Chrysler is part of Fiat)? It’s the international manufacturing infrastructure reimagined as the divvying up of toys in a preschool, with Tinkertoys thrown into the corner in favor of some Matchbox racers. Dylan is playing an ode to parochialism. And why cars? “Because what Detroit created was a first and became an inspiration to the rest of the world.” What that “first” was isn’t specified; the image, weirdly, is of an Autobahn sign. One doesn’t have to get into the historical timeline of who invented the car or the relative development of freeways and the Autobahn (and its uses) to be baffled. We are now at least psychologically prepared for the sight of Dylan talking to a chair, or to his Swiss watch, at a national political convention.
As bad as the words are, the images they’re paired with make them cheaper: “You can search the world over for the finer things, but you won’t find a match for the American road and the creatures that live on it,” the “creatures” being young women in cars. So there’s that, I guess. It might have worked if he’d made it sound romantic.
It is a pity, because however he ranks as an artist, Dylan’s ad is the least of the series of two-minute Super Bowl ads featuring Eminem, Eastwood, and (more narrowly focussed on Ram trucks) Paul Harvey. It’s not even the best car ad Dylan has ever made; he did a better job for Cadillac. And it is far worse than the Coke ad that ran the same night. (The latter was made by Wieden + Kennedy.) The comparison is fair; both Coke and the Chryslerized Dylan have an arsenal of evocations at their disposal, decades old. One used it, and one kind of tossed it in as an excuse for showing up. This is true even though they turned to the same basic iconography, of what are known as ordinary Americans being American; they both have a cowboy in a white hat. Coke, though, also has some young women in hijab buying hot dogs in what looks like Chinatown.
The Coke ad doesn’t have a celebrity, but it does have an idea: “America the Beautiful,” with its lyrics variously sung in eight different languages (Spanish, Mandarin, Tagalog, Hebrew, Arabic, Hindi, English, and Keres, a Native American dialect whose remaining speakers number about ten thousand). There was a flutter of controversy after the ad aired, from people with anxieties about hearing languages other than English in the streets. But clearly Coke isn’t rejecting America; it’s just looking around the country. And what the ad makers saw, among other things, was an interracial gay couple with a daughter, at a roller rink.
Coke doesn’t have to be a force for all that’s right in the world for this to be a good ad, just as Dylan’s past artistry doesn’t save his ad from being awful. But there is an extent to which a company can, with an ad, invite a little bit of national reflection. In that respect, the Coke ad was helpful; it was, in the better sense, patriotic. It helped that the ad had was done well. This is a great-looking country (I know that there are many) and one can lazily come up with shots of highways that show it. Or you can have a girl with a daisy hat looking at it from the back of a car.
In 1971, CBS Records released “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume II”—his work was at one of its erratic stages. That same year, Coke put out the ad that seems to have been the model for this one, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.” It was filmed on a hillside in Italy; later, there was a pop single made of it (“I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”). The singers are what we would call diverse—but their differences are presented as an observation about the world, not the American community. The ones who are not white are generally—safely—wearing distinctive national costumes, and we are meant to buy them a house or teach them to sing. It’s still moving; so is the new ad. Perhaps it’s parochial, in its own way, to say that to see a great pageant of people one needn’t go to some hill in another country; one need never leave America. It’s also sort of beautiful.
[Amy Davidson is a senior editor at The New Yorker, having joined the magazine in 1995. She focuses on politics and international affairs. She edits profiles and features. Davidson attended Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude (Social Studies). After graduation she worked for about 18 months in Germany. Her editing contributions to The New Yorker have won the National Magazine Award and the George Polk Award. Davidson is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.]
Copyright © 2014 Condé Nast Digital
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at sapper.blogspot.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.
Copyright © 2014 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves