03 July 2010

Why I'm glad I'm not five; one more reason to hate AT&T

It's a holiday weekend and I'm taking advantage of the lull in my web traffic to throw it wide open and write about some things other than design.

I may be alone in this opinion, but I really hate this commercial for AT&T.





I can't stand its assumption that I wish I were five again and I resent this ad's use of one of my favorite songs of all time. It not only gloms onto the Gene Wilder original recording from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, it misses the point of the whole song. Here's the song in context.





Willy Wonka is not being nostalgic for his childhood. He's very accurately describing his adulthood.

Being five means you can imagine anything you want to. The other side of it though, is that even if you can imagine something, you're also powerless to do anything with that vision. Nostalgia relies on a selective recollection of the past, and that's why it's worthless as a past time and downright destructive as a cultural force. I remember imagining I could fly when I was five and it was lovely. However, I also imagined that there were monsters under the cellar stairs and they scared the living day lights out of me. The joy of adulthood is that I know that not only can I not fly, I also know that there are no monsters under the stairs. Why is it that this ad and the ideas behind it want me to pine for the days when I believed I could fly but forget that I also believed in the monsters under the cellar stairs?

Here are the lyrics to Pure Imagination:
(Spoken)
Hold your breath
Make a wish
Count to three

(Sung)
Come with me and you'll be
In a world of pure imagination
Take a look and you'll see
Into your imagination

We'll begin with a spin
Trav'ling in the world of my creation
What we'll see will defy
Explanation

(Refrain)
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world, there's nothing to it

There is no life I know
To compare with pure imagination
Living there, you'll be free
If you truly wish to be

(Refrain)

There is no life I know
To compare with pure imagination
Living there, you'll be free
If you truly wish to be
That song was written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the great film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The movie was based on the Roald Dahl story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It and its sequel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator were two of my favorite books as a kid. I swear my dark sense of humor comes from reading Roald Dahl. My childhood was idyllic by the way.

I'm not one to collect pithy quotes but the refrain from that song hangs next to my sink in my bathroom. I have to look at it every time I brush my teeth. The refrain is the whole point of the song and the whole point of that movie. Here it is again,
If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world, there's nothing to it
Willy's not telling the people on the tour that they are in paradise as they walk around the product of his imagination, he's telling them that they already live in paradise. So do I and so do you. It's why that lyric hangs in my bathroom. Paradise in the context of this song and in the greater context of life is not describing a place, it's describing a state of mind. I live in paradise because I say it's paradise and I treat my life as such. That Willy Wonka refrain keeps me centered and it keeps me grateful. When things start to look less than paradisaical around here, it's always because I'm making bad choices or settling for something because it's easy instead of accomplishing something because it's right. Paradise, like happiness, is an internal state. Staying happy and staying imaginative are functions of will. No amount of nostalgia can make up for a lack of will. To quote Willy Wonka again, Anything you want to, do it.

The imagination of a child is an amazing thing but like all childhood skills and aptitudes, it's under construction. Feats of great imagination recognize the limitations of a given situation and work within that framework. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a masterpiece because Michelangelo imagined how a ceiling could look. The Claire de Lune is so sublime because Claude Debussey imagined how a piano could sound. Great works of literature and art and music and film are created by adults not because there's a dark conspiracy to discredit the imaginations of five-year-old kids. Rather it's that adults understand limitations, sensible ones at any rate.

Imagination doesn't get squashed sometime between the ages of five and 35 automatically. Either it gets refined and made useful or it gets discarded. That's how life goes. Keeping it alive takes a bit of work and quite a bit of discipline. Implying that people reach their creative peak at the age of five is ludicrous.

I'm thrilled that I'm 45 and not five, thrilled. And this ad gives me yet another reason to resent AT&T beyond the usual reasons, dropped calls and spotty coverage.

OK gang, pounce.

18 comments:

  1. AT&T and they are just show off.

    You are not alone, I mean, I equally hate their ad :|

    Regards

    Nicky

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  2. Thanks Nicky, people get so misty eyed when they talk about this ad I thought I was going to be tarred and feathered. Wait, it's still early.

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  3. My shallow comprehension speaking... I thought the guy was just high or tripping, and just glad to find his phone on that bench?

    I mean, who else see that kind of stuff in town?

    *I was ill they used the song, too.

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  4. He does have that desperate, ungroomed look of the strung out. Could they have trimmed his beard and done something with his hair at least?

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  5. Beautiful. thanks Paul. Two terrible myths - nostalgia for a long-gone better life (that never really existed). and the idea that we lose our imaginations with age. You spoke truths on that one - imagination takes nurturing.

    Now you and Gene W. have gotten me all misty eyed too - except as I recall, that's a scene that ends badly, yes? happy 4th! Cindy @urbanverse

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  6. You're right. Poor Augustus Gloop gets his comeuppance at the end of that scene. Roald Dahl was always punishing the gluttonous.

    I remember on high school graduation night being told by a number of my friends' parents that I was leaving behind the best years of my life. I remember thinking at the time "Well, if this is as good as it gets then kill me now." Thankfully, they couldn't have been more wrong. What a horrible thing to say to a young person.

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  7. My three-year-old heard the song, recognized it from the 60 or so times she's seen the movie, and ran to the television set. She was confused and then upset. Thank you, AT&T.

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  8. This commercial doesn't drive me crazy because I have this thing about being manipulated by people who think I'm stupid. So instead of getting worked up, I get to hear a snippet of a song I like from one of my comedy heroes. I see this commercial and at the end of it I don't get nostalgic, I think...I really need to watch 'Blazing Saddles' again.

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  9. Raina: A child raised with a thorough exposure to the world of Roald Dahl is a child who is blessed richly. Be warned though, Matilda will give her ideas.

    Bob: Blazing Saddles, now there's a movie. I haven't seen it in far too long.

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  10. Great post Paul!

    It's ironic, I recalled the ad and it's iconic music but until you typed AT&T I hadn't realized it was an ad for telecoms and made no brand association. My gnat-like attention span...or something else?

    By the way...I'm happy to hear that you gravitate to that refrain...

    "Want to change the world, there's nothing to it."

    Enjoy the 4th by "Simply looking around to view it."

    Thanks,

    Mike

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  11. Thanks Mike, you have a great Fourth too. I could go on for days about the power of channeled imagination and how that song's refrain altered the course of my life. This post was around twice as long when I wrote it originally but it was getting a little too heavy so I pared it back. I'm glad it stirred something in you.

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  12. Perhaps I need to see the movie because that clip is bizarre. And you're right ... it is far removed from the tenor of the ad.

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  13. I hate the commercial - I have never heard the song in context. Thanks for the info - it's not the song I hate its the use it was put to.

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  14. I hate the commercial, but only because it reminds me that my five year old is now six, and growing. The people he drew when I used to stay home with him are exactly like the one who comes around the building in the commercial. Sorry, I'm one of the nostalgic people mentioned earlier, but I put away my tar and feathers a long time ago.

    I forget whose ad it is usually a couple minutes after it's over; I'll forget again after I'm done posting this.

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  15. I had no idea what they were even selling because I loved hearing that song! Long before the days of VCRs I remember the yearly highlight of our lives was when Willy Wonka was broadcast on TV. I came to love the books too in elementary school.
    This is a great post and I completely agree with the bunk about adults losing their imagination powers. I don't think I ever lost mine and I never understood why someone cooked that up.

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  16. I like to think my ability to imagine has developed with age and wouldn't want to go back to starting over again at five for all the world! It would be like having to reinstall my operating system... which I just did... and it SUCKED! I also like to think my experiences and influences are unique to me and my age (at five and any age). Loosing that would suck to and I couldn't possibly be who I am today (which is A O K).

    I love Gene Wilder too... and the commercial didn't sink in as his song because Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory wasn't one of my favorites. Loved Blazing Sadles... and Young Frankenstien... and ...well I could go on.

    Have a fantastic 4th!

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  17. My sister and I were quoting Veruca Salt just this weekend! Willy Wonka is one of my dream men by the way.

    On to the topic...the first time I saw that AT&T commercial I started yelling at the tv and saying to my husband, "It is just not right they are using this song. It is sacrilegious!" My husband says, "What is this song?" Ding-dong that he is. So glad I am not alone in despising that AT&T is using this song in such a wrong way. I really liked the AT&T commercial that looks like landscapes, buildings, etc are being covered in orange fabric until yesterday when I saw at the bottom of the screen at the end of the commercial something along the lines of "Christo & Jeanne-Claude were not involved in the making of this..." What!?!? A rip off of them too? Say it isn't so!

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  18. I quote Veruca Salt all the time. Actually, one of my usual lines to utter when someone's screwing up is "Violet! Your're turning violet!"

    I had no idea that they had stolen Christo and Jeanne-Claude's mojo for that second ad. Call me a Pollyanna but I assumed that AT&T had worked with them out of respect if nothing else. Bastards!

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