Rapture in Blue: United Airlines safety video (2021)

On the music Hooks site I’ve already lodged a complaint that United Airlines has an unfair advantage over my emotions with their proprietary use of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

I recently flew United again and was treated to their latest safety video, which is unbelievably whimsical. Throughout the video I was caught between an attitude of gaping at their gambits (like when the seat belt explainer illustrates “possible turbulence” by scooting down a steep hill in a golf cart) and my usual melting during Gershwin.

But my United Airlines-Gershwin Problem reached a new level of profundity with the way the video ends. Start watching around 3:42 to see how they transition into it.

What does this mean?

To be released to rise –

into the sky, with no ceiling

as a calm, lovely light in the darkness

with other lights (your family and friends) nearby –

and many other lights (your larger groups) close enough –

and everyone else visible, making the same journey?

To me it means: Cryin’ Time, bigtime.[1]


[1] United didn’t make this up, of course. You can read online about lantern festivals around the world. I don’t know if any of the sky lantern events program Gershwin, though.

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Our Cry For Help: Etoro, “Flying Your Way” (2022)

“Crypto? Stocks? Where to start?” The answer is that you have to leave terra firma and fly up.

There is a moment in Etoro’s 2022 Super Bowl ad that has been criticized as an ill-advised attempt at humor but is actually the ad’s epiphany. While a crowd of Social Investors swirls in the canyons of the city like a dense flock of starlings, one hapless flyer smacks his face painfully into an apartment window (0:12), repelled from the relative peace and quiet enjoyed by the young woman within. This low point blurts out our terrible secret: any of us could be among the casualties in the mob-panic scramble of chasing financial and social security in a digital world.

It’s a new form of homelessness. Don’t worry about becoming a street person–you’ll be an air person! You’ll be constantly swirling, like lustful Paolo and Francesca in Dante’s Hell. And it will be constantly crowded, like most of the other places in Hell. (The Hell hook is calculated; this is one of those ads that inflicts discomfort strategically.)

As typically happens with victims of zombie bite (another hellish allusion), we later see the apartment woman up in the flying crowd, living her new unnatural life, descending to bite someone in turn. The guy who asked “Where to start?” is now a goner.

The psychology of this is tricky. You must believe that you will become one of the winners, like the guy on the high terrace slapping hands with the flyers (0:18-0:20). But you must believe this desperately.

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Self-Defiance: Logitech, “Defy Logic” (2021)

With its Super Bowl ad of 2021, Logitech burns off all the negative connotations of its name by hugging the creatives:

The contradictions here run as deep as you’d like them to. The creatives are the people who present themselves as nonstandard, but in readily typed ways. Their looks are brands. Their computers are standard industrial tools (“We define . . . entire industries”) and their productions are product, the latest standard consumer fare. They’ve all been hired for this ad.

Why are we not bored or disgusted by this commercial churning of our cultural pot? Because of the human appeal of the young faces that won’t let you not be on their side. The young people live the contradictions, including the weird self-defiance that for Logitech is just an ad gambit. Besides the emotionally layered look the young male lead (Lil Nas X) gives us at 0:02 and 0:56, my favorite of all the human hooks in this ad is the one older man glimpsed at 0:06 and 0:33 who delivers the reminder, as I would, that youth is survivable.

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American Karma: Budweiser, “Typical American” (2020)

From this year’s Super Bowl ads, Heartwarmers division, I cite a Budweiser ad that is plenty sentimental and heavy-handed but nevertheless plays effectively with the positive behaviors that negative stereotypes of Americans could mask, like:

“Showing off his strength”
(firefighter heroically fighting a huge blaze)

“Always so competitive”
(differently-abled athlete winning a prize)

But you can be completely hip to this manipulation and still be overwhelmed – as I am every time – by this one at 0:37:

“Thinking they can save the world”
(young Black male wearing “Free Hugs” t-shirt hugs riot policeman)

Such is our American karma, and our undisavowable hope.

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The Disproportion Hook: Apple, “Color Flood” (2018)

A contemporary smartphone is about six inches high and three inches wide. It has a screen showing colored images. The visual differences between phone screens are subtle, if noticeable at all.

The new (at time of writing) iPhone XR costs $750, and the sales pitch for it is: Liquid Retina display!

With the happy indulgence of the viewing public, Apple will make a mountain ad for a molehill consumer decision, gleefully answering our question: How much trouble can one ad go to to embellish a tiny talking point?

In “Color Flood” there appear to be hundreds of custom-suited stunt performers rampaging over acres of urban landscape. There may be more performers than there are dollars required to buy the phone.

And they do it stylishly, too. Kudos to the creative team.

And it makes sense to us that we should be entertained and solicited in this way, and our wallets tapped. Ah, peacetime! Don’t knock it!

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Going Global: Levi’s, “Circles” (2017)

Map hands

We had a page for “Going Comprehensive” and one for “Going for America,” but not yet one for “Going Global.” Here’s a good new entry:

Particularly beautiful, I think, is the early going, the slow hopeful entrances of those who want to dance – icons for all of us who want to enjoy a community bigger than the guaranteed one we grew up in.

Thanks to Katy Simpson Smith for this one!

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Pickups on Mars: Ford, “This is the Ford F-150” (2012)


Surprised by the high prices of pickup trucks, my dad reminisced the other day that a pickup used to be the simplest and cheapest vehicle you could buy. I think I remember how this was still true in the 1960s. I remember also the popularity of Nissan and Toyota’s “light trucks” in the 1970s.

Where are those simple pickups now? Well, single-cab pickups still exist. I saw one in the Wal-Mart parking lot, a white Ford Ranger that looked pretty new. If you can get one without power steering and air conditioning and a sound system, though, that I don’t know.

The normative pickup now is a comparatively huge, powerful, multifunctional beast that makes me think of an interplanetary exploration rig, heavily armed with nature-taming tools and ingeniously furnished with all possible comforts of home.

Are we already living on Mars? Is that why we seal ourselves up in these heavy rolling work-and-sleep stations? Is it Mars, not Earth, that we see in the background in ads like these?

“This is the future!” they tell us. Good deal! We don’t need a rocket ship to get to a dead planet good only for mining!

Here’s another one with that telltale bleak look:

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Going Comprehensive: MCI, “This Is Now” (1996) and Apple, “Bulbs” (2016)

At any given time there may or may not be a current TV ad that dares to comprehend the whole American or even human experience in 60 seconds. It’s obvious when the attempt is being made because of the extraordinary richness of references.  Lately it’s Apple, in the “Bulbs” ad for the new MacBook Pro.

Any of these ads deserves book-length treatment to come to terms with what they include (and don’t), how they portray it, and how they make it work.

Let’s start with “This Is Now – This Is How” from that golden mid-90’s period when MCI (an upstart AT&T challenger – where are they now?)  made its strong bid to take over the national imaginary. A calm, slightly presumptuous voice – not quite a wise guy – tells us:

This isn’t about why your business has to communicate better or why the time is ripe to put all the new technology to work. We’re past that stage.

MCI 1996

Notice the charming moment at 0:12 where an unbusinesslike and utterly artificial image of a heavy tomato enthroned in dark soil illustrates the notion of a ripe time. It’s a signal that these people will throw in anything to tease and delight the mind receiving their message. If you’re in the mood (and the rest of the ad will strongly encourage this mood), you can take it as a signal that everything really is relevant to everything else, and in a budding healthy way.

This is about putting laptops on desks, and pagers in pockets. It’s about email and the Internet. It’s about a person who puts it all together, and a company that can give you the hardware and software you need.

The extraordinary editing pace — aggressively fast at times, aggressively irregular altogether — begins to make an impression greater than any single shot. It spurts and glides. Even as it smartly alternates realities with metaphors conceptually, it alternates horizontal and vertical motions visually. You feel that all possibilities are being explored. Strangely, the intensity of all of this happening so fast in such a brief time makes you feel that the exploration is thorough and rigorous. The apparent inclusiveness boxes you in. MCI wants you to sync up with its operational Present, its own regime of what is Actually Happening, and in the creative ferment of the ad’s montage it can further this program even with zany tokens of un-Present things (starting at 0:29): a David Lynchian robin, a Flash Gordon calamity,[1] a self-rocking rocking chair.

This isn’t about blue sky, or sci-fi, or bye-the-bye. This is about now, and about how.

The ad doesn’t try to cover everything you do; it covers the various ways in which you relate to your world — fantasy, hope, and memory as well as realistic perception.

Twenty years later, the MCI ad has become a technological nostalgia piece for its content (pagers and pay phones!). But in its strategy and style it exudes a classic confidence in Going Comprehensive.

Here’s another great one with a stunningly radical and therefore universal social message, “There Are Only Minds”:

MCI 1997

Now consider Apple’s “Bulbs,” a quick yet picturesque tour of modern technological advance culminating in the new MacBook Pro. The montage is not a brain spasm of things coming together like we experience in the MCI ads; it’s more about forward motion and delineating segments of history. What is the ultimate message, or impression? I would say: In general, we’re blowing the place up. In particular, buy the new MacBook Pro today so you can blow it up tomorrow.


[1]  I have no idea if this is a real Flash Gordon clip, but I looked up the space ships to make sure it was Flash Gordon and not Buck Rogers.

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Going for America: Coke, “America the Beautiful” (2014) and Chevrolet, “The Heartbeat of America” (1990s)


A politically divisive sign of the times, here is Coke’s beautifully multicultural “America the Beautiful” ad shown during Super Bowl 2014:

We’re told that the languages used are English, Spanish, Tagalog, Hindi, Senegalese French, Hebrew, Mandarin, Keres Pueblo, and Arabic (although you may not be able to hear all of these in any one version).

The most beautiful quality of the montage is that it doesn’t seem like a pageant of types.[1] It tosses in identity markers but captures a sense of pervasive normality in what people like to do or in how they address us. It lets the individual subjects breathe in their various ways without having to be emblematic. I particularly like the guy at 0:33. You instantly feel that he comes from some kind of background, and you may be able to guess which, but that question also feels very secondary; primarily he looks like an interesting fellow citizen.

As a thesis on American culture, I’m taking the ad to be on the Melting Pot rather than Salad Bowl side.

In 1991, Coke projected America this way [!]:

And compare Chevrolet’s “Heartbeat of America” campaign. These Chevy ads are the strongest examples of a visual style that was popular in the 90’s, with lots of extreme telephoto shots making people and cars look billboard-monumental. Back then I thought it was corny, but now it looks magnificent.


[1] Except: we start with the excessively typical American cowboy. What’s the force of that? Is the cowboy sharing his purple mountains and fruited plains with others? Or are we on a journey outward from the cowboy cliché into contemporary reality?

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The Metaphor Twist: SunAmerica (1995)

Watch what they do with the sand metaphor.  At first, the sand makes a poor foundation, a bad retirement plan; but at the end they turn it into the hourglass sand of time that falls out from under all of us, no matter what we do.

[Update: the original ad being no longer available, I’ve had to substitute another ad from the same campaign that uses sand much more subtly.]


Hurry and get set up with SunAmerica?


Screw it, what difference does it make?

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