Is there anything as inauthentic as a TV award show honoring television? Take, for example, the 50th annual prime time Emmy Awards, airing Sept. 13. These are the serious, gold-plated, black-tie Emmys, the very same Emmys at which, a few seasons back, Burt Reynolds thanked Loni for her two big ones, the very telecast that bestowed a golden statuette on the Oscars.
Last year, for the first time in its history, the Emmys honored an outstanding TV commercial (a spot with chimps for HBO). As you might expect, this touched a nerve with the governors of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, who balked at legitimizing the bastard side of the family.
But cooler heads prevailed and the category remains. In fact, those representing this year’s five contenders–Hallmark, American Express, Apple, Pella Windows and AT&T–limoed over to the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, where the deed was done in a sideshow ceremony two weeks ago. So I’m not giving anything away to say Apple won. Not that the TBWA Chiat/Day campaign was undeserving, but it helps to be the kind of work that confers status and credibility on the Emmys, on television, on humanity and, if possible, on the universe.
And what’s more perfect than Apple’s clean, graphic, postmodern salute to genius? “Here’s to the crazy ones,” Richard Dreyfuss says in the spot that introduced the campaign last September. In his most knowing, crazy-ass, Duddy Kravitz-like tones, Dreyfuss talks over seldom-seen footage of Amelia Earhart and Bob Dylan, among others. “The misfits, the rebels the round pegs in the square holes ,” Dreyfuss muses, and who could not be moved?
The ending, showing Picasso painting a bull on transparent glass, is a bravura touch. Surely people who make TV shows–or make anything–want to see themselves as “people who push the human race forward,” and not your average flunkies producing a committee-driven product that sometimes stinks. So the first annoying thing about using this array of genius is that it’s a disingenuous way to honor the unspoken ones: Applemeister Steve Jobs and ad guru Lee Clow.
Actually, to borrow from another Apple icon, Saint Joan Baez, I’ve seen the diamonds and rust and when it first came out, I hated it. The celebrity-plus-logo-equals-attention idea, however graphically cool, seemed overused and derivative. Did Gandhi wear khakis? Or was it that Albert Einstein dude? Even if Apple claimed these are not endorsements, it was easy to take issue with the commodification and decontextualization that resulted: In the Apple universe, Martin Luther King Jr. equals Ted Turner equals Lucy and Desi. In the end, they’re all equal genius units, having lived to shill Apple.
Just as Truman Capote said of the work of Jack Kerouac–it wasn’t writing, it was typing. This campaign was mistaking good photo research for advertising. What’s more, the grammatical tic of using “Think Different'” bothered me. I know it’s not supposed to be correct English; it’s brand-speak, like think blue. Actually, it’s think ironic, in that a campaign strongest in print and outdoor would win best TV commercial of the year. Continuing exposure to the outdoor ads has made me change my mind about them. I like the oversized scale; in China or the former Soviet Union, heroic posters like these were reserved for military heads and autocrats.
Here, the space is seeded to Apple’s little genius squares. (I’ll take Buckminster Fuller to block.) Now that Macintosh has a new product to push, however, the geniuses will disappear. That’s OK, because when things were bleakest for Apple, offering up the status quo in the guise of breaking the rules got them back in, and honored on, the box.
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