Saturday, May 25, 2013
What is this Passat Commercial good for? Absolutely Nothing.
In 1970, the United States was in it's fifth full year of combat in Vietnam- more than 35,000 young Americans were dead, thousands more permanently injured, having been torn away from the most prosperous nation on Earth to fight in a jungle on the other side of the planet against an ideology few understood and fewer still thought fit to explain to them. They left behind Moms and Dads and Sweethearts and while many came back with their bodies intact, none returned without internal scars they would carry for the rest of their lives.
The evolution in American attitudes toward Vietnam can be traced through popular music, so often a useful window into the soul of a nation. In 1965, Sergeant Barry Sadler's Ballad of the Green Berets made the Top Ten on the American Singles Chart. It told the story of a dedicated military man who gladly gave his life "for those oppressed" and who left behind a final wish for his son- that he grow up to become a soldier, just like Dear Old Dad. It fit the "lets go get 'em and beat 'em like we always have before" mentality that dominated in the first year of Boots on the Ground. America to the rescue- the Vietcong could harass the South Vietnamese army, but once WE showed up, it was going to be Game Over.
Nine years later, the United States had withdrawn from Vietnam, which was only months away from ending a nearly thirty-year Civil War and becoming unified under Northern-Communist-rule. After a final tally of 57,000 dead and more than a quarter-million wounded, not to mention an immense waste of money and energy which sucked the life out of Lyndon Johnnson's Great Society dreams- many Americans were beginning a re-assessment of our misguided adventure in Southeast Asia which continues to this day. Reaching the Top Forty on the billboard charts was a song called Billy Don't Be a Hero by Paper Lace (much better known for the atrocious The Night Chicago Died.) Billy, in stark contrast to Sadler's Green Berets, reveals a deep level of cynicism concerning the concept of "heroic sacrifice"- when the title character is killed, a letter to his fiance praises his actions on the field of battle and assures her that "she should be proud he died that way." Her response is to throw the letter away. My guess is that if she went on to have a child, she wouldn't be raising him to be a Green Beret. Just a hunch.
In 1970, Richard Nixon had taken over from LBJ in the management of the Vietnam quagmire and was in the process of expanding military operations into Cambodia and Laos, not to mention intensifying the bombing of North Vietnam and Communist-held portions of the South. He was also proceeding with the implementation of "Vietnamization," turning the responsibility for fighting the Vietnamese Communists over to the South Vietnamese Army and scaling down the use of the draft here in the US. And it was in this year that Emerson, Lake and Palmer gave us Lucky Man, the somber tale of-- well, a Lucky Man who has it all- wealth, looks, health, and the respect and love of all who know him- but who goes off to war, takes a bullet, and bleeds to death on some unnamed battlefield. At it's essence, it's a song about the unforgivable waste that is war.
Except that now, in 2013, the Suits have decided enough time has passed (and we kill with Drones instead of putting our own people on the front line now anyway, much cleaner that way) that they can get away with using a somber ballad about pointless loss in a commercial about a piece of Eurotrash with a beautiful wife and child who gets his Volkswagen crumpled in an accident he walks away from unharmed.
Which means that in this commercial, Lucky Man is played for laughs.
Which means that now, in 2013, Volkswagen has decided that there's simply no such thing as being too shallow, too callow, or too utterly lacking in taste or respect. Or that they are still bitter we didn't care for "Punch Dub Days," and are going to make us pay. Hard.
Hey, Everyone In America Over the Age of Forty- remember how angry you were when Revolution was used to sell sneakers? This is a hundred thousand times worse. This is Boycott-Inspiring bad. All I'm left with is the hope that Emerson, Lake and Palmer lost control of this song years ago and Volkswagen snatched it out of the public domain or some vampire third-party which bought the rights and soullessly resold it to everyone's favorite German auto maker. But either way...ugh, this is so. Damned. Sad.