Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One-Trick or Not

I don't remember what the product is-actually, eventually I do, but when the commercial starts I can never recall the sponsor (it's for an Internet bank)-and a grown-up is sitting at a short table with two little girls of less than (probably) five years of age. He asks the first little girl if she would like a pony, and the child eagerly says 'yes' and the man gives her a small pony replica. Smiles all around.

The man asks the other little girl if she, too, would like a pony and she responds in the affirmative, at which point he makes a 'chck-chck' sound and out from behind this large doll house ambles a real pony, bridle and saddle. The child is delighted.

The first child not so much and we get some close-ups of her face as we hear the squeals of delight from other little girl. Eventually she screws up the courage to tell the grown-up very non-judgmentally for a child who just got double-crossed 'you didn't say I could have a real pony.' To which he quickly rejoins, 'you didn't ask.'

The announcer proceeds to read advertising copy about sneaky is as sneaky does, trust whatever the bank is to do whatever banks are about, grown-ups eat bugs or some such palaver. What I always come back to is the abject hatred on the first girl's face for all things adult. She isn't close to tears or a tantrum-she's close to homicide.

Either she is an incredibly gifted actress at such a young age, or the producers of the commercial didn't let her in on the joke and what we are seeing in the commercial is her actual animus, spontaneous and unrehearsed.

Sometimes when I follow the news even casually, I expect to see the streets of America littered with plastic pony replicas. We are, I think, as a people the most relentlessly optimistic nation on earth, perhaps unrealistically optimistic. I grew up in a USA that liked Ike, grudgingly extended equal rights to everyone, went in one generation from a chicken in every pot to two cars in every garage and which now finds itself, for lack of a more elegant term, flat-out broke.

The part that doesn't have me worried is that we can't fix what doesn't work, because two hundred and thirty plus years of our history tells me we can. What bothers me is will we choose to repair ourselves? We've conspicuously consumed just about everything this planet has to offer and its riches haven't come close to filling that hole in our hearts. And now the one in our wallet is even larger than that one.

We've conditioned ourselves to find solutions in fifteen, thirty and sixty second increments and ideas like universal health care, green-house gases, economic reinvestment, don't lend themselves to discussions or explanations that can be jammed in between the blue mountains of a beer can commercial and the soft porn of a shaving cream advertisement. It's not even fair to say we lose interest-we never had any.

Our whole lives guys in suits with briefcases fixed everything. We never asked, because we never wanted to know. We built armies, we went to the moon, we sold each other real estate everyone at the closing knew wasn't worth the money being paid for it, but no one got upset or concerned because the Suits were there and they were fabulous. We, too, were fabulous. Heck, everything was fabulous, unless it was brilliant.

And now the suits are shiny with wear, and in some cases, there's holes at the elbows and the sleeves are ragged. And the property we used to build the grand list to elevate the bond rating for the twenty-year municipal debentures we sold to finance the construction of the new transportation hub of the city that would increase all of our property values, well, bad news on that front as the sub-prime mortgage lenders who shouldn't have advanced us the money they didn't have in the first place are all flopping and twitching on the beach as the tide of prosperity continues to rush out and no one warned us about the undertow.

Except of course, we were warned, but we thought they were asking if we wanted a pony.
-bill kenny

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