05:17:24 am on
Thursday 14 Dec 2017

While You Can
David Simmonds

I couldn’t figure it out at first, that commercial. Let’s just say I wasn’t paying close attention. That’s better than saying I was slow on the uptake.

The 30-second television commercial featured a man. He could have been the Most Interesting Man in the World, if it were a beer commercial. Apparently, he was driving a sporty red 2017 Lexus IS at a furious clip across some suitably hilly, twisty, isolated terrain and having the sensory time of his life. Ho hum, I thought; another high-end car commercial.


I still missed the message.

Something bothered me about the commercial. The next time I saw it, I paid a little more attention. I saw that it in fact featured two men, a youngish person and an older person. I felt I was still missing the message. I called it up on YouTube and watched it several times. After a few re-tries, it finally made sense to me.

Here’s what I concluded. The younger person is the same as the older person. The commercial takes place both in the present and in the future. The driver of the Lexus is in fact the younger man. The older man is not driving; he is a passenger in a self-driving vehicle heading into a futuristic cityscape. The older man is ruefully remembering what it was like, when he was younger, and you could drive your own car. Once I grasped the plot, the accompanying voiceover made sense. “How do I explain it ... It was exhilarating, nimble, responding to my every touch ... Moving faster than the wind ...That feeling of pure driving ... It was amazing.” Note the use of the past tense. The commercial ends with the tag “Enjoy the thrill of driving while you still can.”


To buy a self-driving car is confirm you are a sensualist.

The admonition to enjoy the thrill of driving is not unique; it’s the “while you still can” part that leaves the lingering impression. To buy a Lexus in the first place, you presumably want to say to the world that you have succeeded and have some excess cash; otherwise, you would be content with a Toyota. To buy a drive-it-yourself Lexus now, knowing it is shortly eclipsed by a self-driving model is to offer further public testament to your willingness both to tolerate the rapid depreciation of your asset and seen as an unbridled sensualist.

Boil the message down, it becomes “indulge now, before the pleasure is lost.” Will the purveyors of other products now come at us in the same manner? I can just imagine the pitches: “Bacon: eat it before it becomes illegal.” “Marijuana: smoke it before it becomes legal!” “Engaged: visit Las Vegas while you’re still single!” “Sin: do it before you’re forgiven!” I can’t quite put my finger on what’s amiss, but it sounds a little sleazy.

Maybe the future won’t be as dreary as Lexus implies it might be. Thrill seeking is unlikely extinguished by the advent of the self-driving car; it will just find some other way to express itself. Maybe dodge them cars from fairgrounds will suddenly become popular again. Maybe programmers should enable self-driving cars to play games of chicken against one another, with passengers inside each car. Maybe virtual reality tools will replicate the thrill you get when you drive a brand new Lexus IS at a furious clip across some suitably hilly, twisty, isolated terrain while being filmed for a commercial.


Lessons learned from commercials.

I’ve learned two lessons from this experience. Number one, it’s possible, assuming you have the budget and a patient enough audience, to tell a complex story with a clear take-away message in just 30 seconds. If we had access a century ago to the commercial-creating resources, we have today; people might have fallen for a pitch to buy horses for the thrill of riding in the saddle as the automobile was hitting the market.

Number two, I am going to start watching commercials a little more carefully. There are obviously things that have been passing me by. Next time I see that commercial for Gorilla Glue, I’ll look more carefully for the nuance.

 

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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