Marginalia, no.23

The ad as the New Utopia is currently a cult phenomenon. We watch the dreadful or boring things on television, because… after the sight of prattling politicians, bloody corpses strewn about various parts of the globe for various reasons, and dramatizations in which one cannot tell what is going on because they are never-ending serials, the commercials are a blessed relief. Only in them does paradise still exist. There are beautiful women, handsome men and happy children, and the elderly have intelligence in their eyes and generally wear glasses. To be kept in constant delight they need only pudding in a new container, lemonade made from real water, a foot antiperspirant, violet-scented toilet paper, or a kitchen cabinet about which nothing is extraordinary but the price. The joy in the eyes of the stylish beauty as she beholds a roll of toilet paper or opens a cupboard like a treasure chest is transmitted instantly to everyone. In that empathy there also may be envy and a little irritation, because everyone knows he could never experience ecstasy by drinking that lemonade or using that toilet paper. Everyone knows that this Arcadia is inaccessible, but its glow is effective nonetheless.

~ Stanislaw Lem, A Perfect Vacuum

One of the great 20th-century science fiction authors, Lem was also fond of writing reviews for imaginary books.  A Perfect Vacuum is an entire volume of these.  Having become something of a Luddite in my near-middle age, I don’t watch much television but am confident the dream of Commercial Utopia lives on.  It’s always easier to sell Utopia than the actual products sitting in your warehouse.  I do have one complaint against television commercials today: you don’t hear good jingles anymore.  The inane but effective commercial jingles buried in my memory still manage to claw their way out of the soil from time to time.  Walking the breakfast cereal aisle at the local grocery store I can’t help but hear them.  I recall watching an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in the late 1980s which, bizarrely, was all about television commercials and how much we love them.  One of Oprah’s guests was seated at a piano, playing and singing famous jingles for the live studio audience.  For the grand finale -perhaps the greatest jingle of all time, he said- he swept into a long series of baroque flourishes and flamboyant glissandi that left everyone scratching their heads, then capped it all off with three unfortgettable notes: “By……Mennen.”  Gasps, laughter, mad applause.

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