Sometimes, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. And sometimes, the world actually takes notice. Sometimes even a little too much. As in the case of Mister Robert Zimmermanns’ latest coup in a lifetime effort to alienate his lovers, re-assure his haters, and simply do everything possible to not fit into one of those boxes that our world so loves to create to get a grasp at the ungraspable: Life.
I’m talking about the new piece of advertising Dylan has allowed US car manufacturer Chrysler to produce using him as a mighty testimonial:
I’m neither going to chime into the (ridiculous and so 1965-Newport-Folk-Festival-like) fundamentalist fan mob’s “OMG! He’s selling out to commerce” outcries, nor will I (at least not yet, that is…) offer any half-baked analysis of why Bob is such a genius, why he’s never there, always the passenger of a slow train coming with no direction home, always already part of a new morning, heading for modern times, leaving blood on the tracks while his worshippers are still marching on desolation row towards the Gates of Folk Eden. No, others have done that before, probably better than I ever could.
Which is why it does indeed surprise me that he still actually manages to surprise, at least some, with his ambiguous “it ain’t me, babe” smile on his face. If it were up to me, he could advertise Pepsi refreshments or Victoria’s Secret ladies garments, I’d still not stop to admire the Zimmermann Phantom and his many ways of deliberate and couldn’t-care-less fanielation. Oh, he already did??? Ahh, whatever. 😉 Those two were at least entertaining, somewhat intelligently composed, and equipped with some more Dylan-esque “in-between-the-line-ness”.
No, what this here is about is my bewilderment by the fact that the Chrysler spot simply is a poor piece of pathetic advertising – and story-wise plainly sucks, because it isn’t a story, but pretends to be. And that a man, who has created himself a well-earned reputation as a musical storytellers of and about his time, agreed to be its centerpiece (I won’t call him hero in this respect, as it’s neither heroic what he’s doing or saying, nor in any way dramatic in the Aristotelian sense to make him deserve this title).
Why Chrysler is doing this, and exactly in this fashion, is clear: It’s an American company, more up-to-date American never than here, appearing desperate and back-to-the-wall-ish, seeing hopes dashing in many an economic sector; automotive, for example. They draw the marketing card of desperation (by the way: already Act II of the company’s Drame du Deséspoir after Act I where they threw Dirty Harry into the ring two years ago): Take a well-known, respected, but still a little controversial celebrity (you know they’ll love or hate him for this!), use clichemotional imagery of what makes America’s nerves shake (no way to err with cheerleaders and cowboys on horses in slow-mo, a little stars and stripes and historical analogies, babies and hard-working factory laborers!), polarize and tease your rivals a little (not too much, just a little to add spice to the saltless soup and give the regulars’ table something to talk about), and end with the all-too-expected “Wir sind wieder wer!” message stolen from se Germans in 1954. Oh, and not to forget: Pay millions to place this ad in front of the world’s eyes at the Super Bowl finale – where reach really still means conversion and conversation. About what, that’s another question.
Why Bob Dylan is doing this, Alias knows. Maybe to escape from the burden of being witty, erudite, convoluted, and the role model of more than one generation all the time, into the shallowness and immediacy of corporate advertising every now and again? Maybe just for the fun of acting while actually being an actor and not a singer-songwriter? Maybe for the dosh? Maybe, maybe, maybe … who cares? I don’t.
But what I do care about being insulted by bad ads and videos and films that pretend to be stories. Why do I think this one is so bad, may have become obvious above, below and in between these lines so far, but a friend of mine recommended I add a kind of management summary at the end of my posts to avoid the feeling of “Wow, that was interesting, but, err, what was it about again?”. So here it is, my dear Performance Passionist: 😉
- Nothing’s happening. Nothing’s changing. It’s simply boring. I wouldn’t want to watch it to the end without all the media fuzz about and Bob Dylan in it. I would leave the latest after 30 seconds.
- No surprise. No one manages to surprise me here, and seems like no one even wants to. The surprise of seeing Bob Dylan make-up-ed and hair-dyed after 18 seconds is the only surprise you get – and I’m left with the fear that the analogy of Dylan not holing any ball at the end might have a deeper meaning. A message triangle gone video.
- No hero, no plot. There is no hero, only a narrator narrating through a non-existent plot. But actually narrator Dylan ain’t telling, he’s just talking, saying things that only scratch the surface of America’s story and the story of every American shown in these two minutes. Shallow and predictable. And don’t mistake the narrator for the hero, neither the story-immanent one nor the one you think you’re seeing. It’s only Bob (whoever that is) playing someone else.
- No expectation. Neither within nor without this advertisement am I expecting anything, let alone more – and arousing no expectation is the worst mistake being made here. The fact that nothing is happening could, however, be countered by the tension and expectation of what might happen AFTER the short scene just shown. As it was actually quite successfully attempted in Dylan’s Victoria’s Secret spot in 2009, or in last year’s Louis Vuitton spot with David Bowie. Both not stories per se, but the beginning act of a potential plot continuation, a story teaser, making me expect more to come, wanting to know, if and how this scene continues. Not so with The Chrysler Boredom.
The only chance this spot has for a longer-term success and more sustainable, content-based conversations (beyond the “Have you seen the latest Super Bowl ad with Dylan?” reflex) about the big theme the ad is suggesting (“The people of America and their love to manufacture something with their own hands that provides a living for their families and a sense of pride to be giving the world something it wants, needs, and maybe even copies”), is a prolongation of this mere advertising pretension into the digital space.
A prolongation that includes every little story of every single potential hero in this two-minute film. The young lady wrapped in the Stars and Stripes at second 0:08. The grateful-looking old man at second 0:14. The waitress serving him. The mother with her(?) child at second 0:54. The factory worker at minute 1:04. Or any of the men standing behind the pool table like tin soldiers at the end. These stories, if indeed they exist, would prove that the above big-story suggestion is not just advertising bullshit, that the company able to pay so much money for production and airing of this ad actually is capable of lighting the spark of pride in these peoples’ hearts. That it maybe even manages to help improve their lives. Most importantly, this would prove that they’re not all just casted models for a seemingly authentic TV spot.
… And then there would be the story of this old man with the dyed hair who wants us to believe that he is who he seems to be, that he is actually someone we know, someone like you and me, and not just some Alias playing a role in innocent Billy the Kid’s endless fight against the unjust hands of some imported Pat Garret imitation …
That would be a story. A completely different one. One that many have tried to tell, but no one really knows.