It's how our unshakable convictions about American life and values have been turned upside down. Civil liberties are out. Racial profiling is in, and all of a sudden, a nearly pathologically conflict-averse public is rubbing its hands at the prospect of standing-room-only in martyrs' Paradise. Everything just looks different.
Take New York, the city that never sleeps soundly again. It is so unimaginably scarred, psychically and economically, that is has become the darling of the world, the Underdog on the Hudson.
Think about that ... New York, the underdog. For most of the past 150 years, the Big Apple has been so smugly the overdog that it has bred seething resentment hither and yon. Chicago, just for instance, isn't the Second City compared to Racine
In some circles, "New Yorker" is a slur, even when it isn't a sleazy code word for "Jew," because it conjures such noted disgraces as Donald Trump, George Steinbrenner and Al Sharpton. Then there are the double-parked trucks, the blaring horns, the ungodly expense and the hustlers of every stripe. A gullible foreign acquaintance of ours bought a $1.99 calculator in a Times Square tourist trap for $23.99.
Which is ridiculous. For $23.99, you can call Waldorf room service and get coffee and a bagel.
Or take a 40-minute cab ride from West 46th Street to East 46th Street. That process was documented by humorist David Barry, whose 1987 anti-New York screed includes this eerie list of New York Taxi Rules: "1) Driver speaks no English. 2) Driver just got here two days ago from someplace like Senegal. 3) Driver hates you."
So, in an odd way, 9/11 has created an opportunity. Everybody loves New York again. This leaves it only for Mayor Giuliani and BBDO Worldwide, New York, to convert the reservoir of good feeling into paying visitors. The city fathers have no Talibanish interest in martyrdom. They want tourism.
And they'll get it, too, if Attorney General Ashcroft could just keep his trap shut. This series of six celebrity-laden spots is a funny cornucopia of New York's unique delights-Broadway, the Philharmonic, the Yankees, the Macy's parade, the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, the Stage Deli and celebrities galore-some of which/whom you can experience firsthand once you summon the nerve to travel.
Each commercial uses a famous face to flesh out a tourist attraction. Woody Allen is seen, thanks to digital magic, figure skating like an Olympian. Yogi Berra conducts at Lincoln Center. And, in one of the more delicious incongruities in advertising history, Henry Kissinger is shown circling the bases at Yankee Stadium.
All of the performances are charming, despite some clunkiness in timing and punch lines. The best features news diva Barbara Walters at a Broadway audition, doing an off-key, geriatric rendition of "42nd Street" before being summarily dismissed. Add this to the annals of New York courage; this stunt took guts.
The biggest celebrity, however, shows up in every spot. He is the sainted one, Rudy Giuliani, the living symbol of spirit and resolve. (As Calvin Trillin says, "Sometimes a paranoid control freak is just what the situation calls for.") When the mayor declares, "The New York Miracle. Be a part of it!" it's not just a call to action. It's a direct order, and who dares say no? But then, once again, everything changes in an instant. Intimidating Rudy becomes charismatic Rudy in a gesticulatory flourish, winding up with arms crossed and a brief, incandescent SMILE.
Yes, Rudy smiles! Cut. Print. Run this forever. The campaign has its rough spots, but the tone and the casting are perfect, conveying celebrity, iconography and cheerful humanity all at the same time. Can the overbearing, self-absorbed Metropolis really be this humble? Well, no. But it is humbled, and-in this strange world-a most inviting underdog.