At the gym yesterday I happened upon an insurance ad that made we want to throw up.
It featured a good-natured Dad type looking for health insurance. He's apparently ancient enough to need Medicare, although he looks 45. While telling us how he can get insurance - by phoning 1 800 born2bwild or something - the ad shows him being interrupted by his granddaughter's all-girl band, who are butchering some tune or other faintly in the distance.
He strides into her bedroom and sternly demands she gives up her nice white Gibson SG, which she hands over, biting her lip. Taking it, he straps it on and rips into the guitar intro for Born to be Wild, which the rest of the band happily follow. Smiling grey-haired granny gets down and boogies in pseudo-arthritic fashion to the beat while the musicians do an amazingly life-like impression of the Archies' cartoon band, all wide blank smiles and poor sense of rhythm.
The message is clear. He may be in need of old-person's insurance, but inside him is that sixties rebel just waiting to bust out! He can teach the young whippersnappers all about rock'n'roll!
What made me want to puke wasn't the sight of grand-dad leaning back against one of the teenager's backs and rubbing against her in a lame imitation of rockin' free-spiritedness that came across as horrifyingly, painfully skeezy - though that was was quite an emetic - it was the company's clumsy and off-putting attempt to co-opt a group of people that it would have cheerfully spat at in 1967.
Easy Rider, the movie that brought Born to be Wild to the forefront of American consciousness in 1969, was about small-town hatred and fear of hippies, of freedom, of sex, of any variety of individuality. It portrayed the Japanese proverb that was paradoxically the foundation of middle-American values - the nail that stands out must be hammered down.
Anyway, that was then. Now that the ex-longhairs have money - and better yet, have chronic diseases to cash in on - cynical, calculated TV ads have been devised to woo them.
Of course, there's something of the 100 Club Factor at play here. This refers to a London club which holds about 300, and to the people who claim to have seen the Sex Pistols there at their legendary gig in 1976 - a number which must be in the tens of thousands. Many of them actually believe they were there. In the same way, ninety-nine percent of people watching this ad did not grow their hair, smoke dope and ride Harleys to the Mardi Gras in 1969; they went to school while working tables in the evening, dreaming of graduating to a cushy job in plastics and obligingly obeying the media by hating hippies, who they were told were commie traitors who would seduce their sisters while somehow managing to be fags at the same time. The insurance company has calculated that they will nevertheless manage to identify with youthful grand-dad in this cynical and exploitative ad.
It's interesting to contemplate a Medicare-related insurance ad that really was targeted at older folks with a spark of actual counter-culturalism left in their osteopenic bones. Perhaps gramps could help his grand-daughter make a banner for Occupy Wall Street, or granny could teach her how to make Molotov cocktails for those days when unelected alter kockers like the loathsome Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the ironically named Health and Human Services, overrules the FDA and decrees unilaterally that young women should not be allowed access to emergency contraception. Y'know, like today. The first time ever the government has overruled the FDA doctors and scientists, and it just happens to be in the service of ensuring women cannot have control over their own bodies. What a coincidence.
Where's my Harley?