Now, I know what you're thinking. The vintage '70s ramblings of an ex-hippie don't seem to have much relevance to these hardscrabble, "millennium's a 'comin, Maw, head fer the root cellah!" times, now do they? Ah, but they do.
These aren't just Boogie Nights I'm reliving here, but an era and ethos that have found a new home in the demented irony seen in so much of today's advertising. Call it what you will -- kitsch, retro-groove, self-referential parody -- it's a style of work that winks and nods about the present only in terms of the past.
So theme show tunes from The Jetsons and Green Acres and I Dream of Jeannie make total sense as music choices for spots for AOL and Ford and Burger King and Nissan. The creators of pop culture's collective bitstream mine their postmodern nostalgia for subject matter, themes and characters to reinvent. So Hercules can say things like, "Been there, done that," on TV, and make total sense, while the story of Romeo and Juliet can be retold to a grunge soundtrack.
Our advertising images of '97 reflect this mindset. Izod seeks to capitalize on the retro-chic that has sent twentysomethings in search of lounge culture. ABC takes an early National Lampoon look at what we really think of television. Sprite's Jooky is classic parody, so good you can mistake it for the real thing. Diesel is that most surreptitious form of irony, the kind that can easily be mistaken for cynicism (Benetton is famous for this); Volkswagen reflects the agreeable nihilism of today's youth, a quality not all that different from the agreeable hedonism of my post-teen years. Mercedes manages to convey a complex image of style, affluence and quality in a symbol as simple as a bathroom toy. The Body Shop's plus-size Barbie manqué takes this company's formerly strident social position and turns it into a message of feminine self-esteem, noticeable but nonetheless watered down.
We're not saying these were the best ads of '97; there are other venues for that. Rather, we're saying these images typify the tone of the most interesting, thought-provoking work we saw this year. While it's not all that original, sadly, few ideas are anymore. With the possible exception, of course, of that