Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Hey, is that your peripheral on my tray table, or are you just happy to see me?

Sorry—the woman whose tray table is overtaken in this cute iBook commercial never says anything even remotely reminiscent of Mae West. But the setup begs for it.

Imagine that you’re minding your own business, trying to sleep on a long, boring economy flight, praying you’re not developing deep- vein thrombosis in your pretzeled-up legs or sucking in Mad Cow-tainted air from the vent above.

It’s dark; your tray table is in its full upright position, but your neighbor, the kid who, oddly enough, actually requested the center seat at check-in, is squirming and bouncing and fiddling with his iBook, generally just abustin’ with digital bliss.

Not only does his manic activity wake you up, but to add insult to injury, he has commandeered your personal meal tray—without permission!—to spread out his video camera and link it to his port.

What’s an air traveler to do? Well, given how cool the features on this latest Apple iBook actually are, perhaps, as with this aisle-seated woman, you’d get less cranky and more intrigued as the digital wonders appear.

The kid in the “Middle Seat” spot is a kind of earnest-techno Jimmy Stewart—he could even be in a Gateway commercial. He’s a sort of “Aw shucks, Ma’am” Pied Piper of this incredible filmmaking technology that he can access on his laptop on a plane. “It’s a little movie I’m workin’ on,” he cheerfully explains as he reviews the clips. “That’s my girlfriend and her dog.”

Incredibly, he’s got his video camera on her tray table, on the right, and like a DJ spinning records, he’s also snatched the tray to the left to pile up CDs and his digital camera. That tray belongs to a middle-aged corporate stiff. This guy wakes up and puts on his bifocals to get a closer look at the CDs on his tray.

The kid, in his own oblivious world, bopping to his headphones, mistakenly takes this for interest. “You like these guys?” he asks, and pulls out the headphone jack to serenade the entire sleeping plane with a blast of “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

I understand the dog song works well with his girlfriend and her St. Bernard footage, and blasting annoying music in the midst of such quiet makes the commercial funnier. But to me, this is the only lame choice in an otherwise beautifully written, acted and directed scenario.

“Dogs,” by the Baja Men, was a monster hit a couple of years back; any person with a kid in sports has heard it played for the team, over and over again. So it seems particularly trite given the unbelievably cool and interesting alternative musical choices that grace other Apple spots: the Imac “Visualizer” series uses everything from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 to Ataris’ “The Radio Still Sucks.” The “Concert” spot, for instance, could not make more beautiful music, with a roster of stars that includes Ziggy Marley, Iggy Pop, Liz Phair, Smash Mouth, George Clinton, Chuck Berry and Li’l Kim, all on stage together.

Because Mac products are so great looking, all the advertising has to do is slap them against a white background and play cool music. So I give the spot credit for coming up with a product demo that’s compelling. And dare I say it, even democratic: It’s as if this kid (actor Milo Ventimiglia) is saying to the whole plane, “Wake up, traveling geezers! Here is your digital future.” (Then each of his converts buys an iBook and a decent camera; in turn, he or she takes three trays …)

Of course, in real life, his fellow passengers, awakened to that rude music, would probably just as soon use the kid’s incredibly techno-forward-marshmallow-like marvel to conk him over the head.

Then again, with its foldout design, the iBook would also make a lovely hat.