Volkswagen A-ha Commercial Inspires Thoughts About Adulthood and the Passing of Time
I can't fight this feeling any longer, and yet I'm still afraid to let it flow.
The year is 1985. The place: a South Florida suburb. My perennial battle with acne vulgaris is breaking bad. I sit alone in my four-cornered room listening to Madonna's Like a Virgin LP, playing with my Rubik's Cube, eating Nerds candy, and fantasizing about Punky Brewster.
"You're so fine, and you're mine. I'll be yours, till the end of time." I ride my Santa Cruz Jeff Grosso skateboard to the video arcade for my Q-bert and Robotron fix. I am young, wild, and free! Smartphones and the World Wide Web are still just concepts that you may have caught a glimpse of in a movie that ended up on Mystery Science Theater 3000: "Captain, the gray aliens we are battling have mobile transmitting devices with internal video cameras!"
Additionally, a cutting-edge television channel shows nothing but music videos 24/7. If you were to tune into this state-of-the-art happening called "MTV" in the glorious year of 1985, you would certainly recognize a breakthrough conceptual piece called "Take On Me" by Norwegian pop group A-ha.
The song is hella catchy, the video is totally rad, and the hair is... Bitchin' camaro! Spikey-haired 12-year-olds around the world sing along while rolling up the inside-out sleeves of ID# shirts before being dropped off at the roller-skating rink by someone's older sister. I'm just burning, doing the Neutron Dance!
Today, we are going to overanalyze a soon-to-be-celebrated Volkswagen automobile advertisement that has indubitably pulled the '80s trigger in almost a million brains (including Hollywood icon Valerie Bertenelli's, but we'll get to that in a minute). This made-for-TV-commercial is essentially a eulogy for all of the above. It is a 45-second A-ha moment, bringing us down the sacred vestibule of memory lane. A joyride if you will, through that celebrated decade: Girls just wanna have fun, she wore a raspberry beret, let's hear it for the boys, MTV get off the air, she works hard for her money so you better treat her right, but I've got it bad so bad I'm hot for teacher... I want to know what love is, and I want you to show me.
But wait, there's more! While viewing this on YouTube time after time, my flight-of-fancy became further restless as I began to daydream; (smooth operator) which is one of the underlying propositions of this completely magnificent work of video art. I was reminded that I saw a stylish Ramones blouse on a mannequin at the mall, concluding that rebellious youth cultures and their accessories always seem to morph into multimillion-dollar organisms as decades flash by, and looking further beyond, they become enshrined artifacts in a museum.
Youth cultures grow old along with their crusaders. When I was 20, I thought 40 was really old. But now I'm 40, praise the Lord, and feeling perfectly swell. Adolescent fists pumping the air to Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" in 1985 are slowly developing arthritis as the whole movement becomes an antithesis of what it originally stood for. Bad seeds unintentionally bloom into the most fruitful of bad trees.
Illustration: Back in the mid-1960s, some hippie on LSD started tie-dying T-shirts while listening to the Who sing "I hope I die before I get old," which over the course of time evolved and ripened into what we now call "Whole Foods Market," but we'll get to that in a minute. The young angry crusty punk throwing rocks at police officers and listening to Black Flag in the early '80s is now managing a Hot Topic. It is true blue, baby I love you.
The teens of our world have always, will always, and at this very 2013 moment feel alienated from the generation that existed before them. They will find exhilaration through disorderly conduct and self-destructive behavior, aiming their angst at the architects (i.e. "fuddy-duddies") of the already existing society at large. "We want the world, and we want it now!" they howl by proxy via their current generation's own drug-addled rock star/spokesperson, who will inevitably overdose at the age of 27. It is what we call growing pains (shoutout to Kirk Cameron).
It is the human postpuberty experience, which is quite pleasant when you get used to it, don't you think? The Bible calls it being "transformed by the renewing of the mind." But as we put away childish things and become sophisticated adults, we realize that making lots of money is actually a very good idea. Besides the fact that falling off of the proverbial skateboard as a drunk 40-year-old is way more painful than when you were 15.
Throughout time, this "A-ha" moment has guided countless entrepreneurs and inventors to accelerate civilization with their ideas. Life suddenly has a purpose. There is new motivation and a drive to hit the grindstone with focused intensity, as the idea manifests into profitable products and services for humankind. God sends riches from heaven with ideas! For example (as mentioned earlier), Whole Foods Market is the punchline of '60s and '70s hippie culture jam-packed into a fancy-upscale modern bazaar. All those organic weeds and sandals that hippies endorsed more than 40 years ago (which they were ridiculed for by their elders) have become essential commodities for today's bourgeois (i.e., the person in that demographic reaching out to purchase organic gluten-free barley powder is most likely wearing a Rolex and, ironically, may have been smoking weed while rolling around in mud at Woodstock Festival in 1969).
Another example is Starbucks, the capitalist apogee of a coffee house. Back in the 1950s, coffee houses would be meeting places for fans of Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Hitchhiking and cigarette smoking were considered safe fads. You would hear hip phrases like "Groovy, cat" in these types of establishments as "beatniks" read their anarchistic poetry aloud and snapped the mighty fingers of thy youth. But, as the legendary jazz genius Charles Mingus (1922-1978) eloquently stated: "In a hundred years, there will be a whole new batch of people."
In fact, nowadays, you can quietly type your anti-capitalist "IHML" poetry onto your Word Press-designed website via Apple tablet while sipping a $7 frappuccino, and that is, to use a contemporary phrase, "just twerky jerky." Brothers and sisters, it takes me back to a time when restaurants and movie theaters were divided by smoking and no-smoking sections. This is called cultural progress, our civilization expands, Earth's population reaches 7 billion, we want to live long and prosper, and things are quick and disposable. The U.S. government is on the verge of bankruptcy, and people waited in line for hours to get their paws on a new gold-plated iPhone 5's. But I digress: We are trying to examine a hip new Volkswagen commercial; let's not get carried away.
Wham! Frankie says relax. Every 25 years or so, it is a customary tradition for old concepts and styles to become "retro" and "hip". Illustration 3: I see a young punk rocker wearing a GG Allin T-shirt. I say, "Wow, I saw him in concert in 1993." Instead of being flabbergasted, the youngster replies, "You're old." That being said, this Volkswagen commercial is a consummation of pop culture dating all the way back from James Dean to Marilyn Manson. No, from Marcel Duchamp to Honey Boo Boo. You see, as the "Take On Me" homage makes its segue into the laugh-out-loud office scene, sublime propaganda (that's the power of German engineering) makes us question the long-term effects of growing up in this capitalist American society. We reach adulthood in a culture that intermittently prohibits daydreaming and singing off-key in public, as our bodies exhaust themselves and we face the unmistakable fact that we are going to die. My friends, are you ready to receive Jesus Christ into your life?
During the commercial's final scene, where the protagonist says, "Is that me? Was I singing?" a sudden realization sinks into our subconscious: There is no more time for doodling on the notebook while fantasizing about fast cars and dancing with the female coworker. We need to focus on the moment. Whatever is "cool" or "radical" today will be nothing but a dead horse that your grandma rode in the good old days and at best something marketable enough to recycle into the form of a German automobile commercial. No matter how zealous you may have been during your glory days, there is a good chance that you will come to a point in your life (if you don't die or land in prison) where you will find yourself part of some plebeian workforce. You will be humming an old tune, doodling on scrap pieces of paper, and living in a fool's paradise -- just like our hero in this commercial who, outside of his 26-second cerebral utopia, is apparently caught up in a very monotonous routine called a J-O-B. But let's go back to the future, Marty McFly.
We spoke to the actor who played the lead role in this commercial, Seth Menachem. He grew up in South Florida and currently lives in Los Angeles. He has made countless appearances in TV commercials, sitcoms, and other TV shows over the past 16 years of his professional acting career. The fact that your humble blogger has been friends with Mr. Menachem for more than 25 years should be evident in his response to a question regarding his involvement in this masterpiece:
"This is a blog about music, but you want me to talk about my feelings regarding you becoming a Christian preacher?" he continues, "What are your parameters? Where is this being published?"
Amen, my friend, amen. As the Bible says, "Love suffers long and is kind." And as Dionne Warwick of the Psychic Friends Network sang, "That's what friends are for." Now you, dear reader, can see the type of rapport that Seth and I have, so let us respect the actor and move on to something more titillating. We have just received an update that Valerie Bertinelli, yes, sweet mother of Wolfgang Van Halen, former star of '80s hit sitcom One Day at a Time, and spokeswoman for Jenny Craig weight-loss program tweeted this:
We asked Seth about the awesomeness of this breathtaking tweet from cultural icon Valerie B., but he declined to comment. Nonetheless, I'll tell you this, I
P.S. You can catch Seth Menachem in an upcoming Christmas movie with Dean Cain and Jodie Sweetin on the ION channel, November 24 at 9 p.m.
P.P.S. Tonight we're going to party like it's 1999.
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