5 TV Commercials That Accidentally Made Life Look Depressing
Reality is an all-around miserable place full of bills, spiders, and pants-wearing. No sane person would ever want to live there, which is why TV was invented, and why nearly everything on it is more removed from our world than the Voyager probe. Commercials seem to be the worst offenders, taking place almost exclusively in shining utopias of perfect, non-flattened hamburgers and instant solutions to every problem imaginable, all to take your mind off that strange sound the car has been making lately.
But once in a while, things go horribly wrong and a commercial accidentally shows you glimpses of the real world in such blunt and uncompromising ways, you'll think it was advertising Zoloft-flavored vodka. Like with ...
Verizon's Friends & Family Share Plan
It's winter somewhere in the suburbs, and two kids are frantically shoveling the driveway as their father watches from inside the house.
The mom comes up to him and looks in total amazement at her children doing chores, asking: "Wow, how did this happen?"
"I can't even remember the word for what they are doing. I want to say ... 'shobeling'?"
Dad explains that he told the kids they'll be able to use their phones as much as they want if they shovel some snow. Surprised, his wife reminds him that they could already do that thanks to Verizon's Friends & Family Share Plan, to which the father simply says: "Yeah, they don't know that." What he really means is: "Thank you, Verizon, for helping me win at parenting!"
"Someone won't be cry-drinking himself to sleep tonight!"
What It's Really Saying:
The family in the commercial has completely fallen apart.
First of all, a jacket hastily thrown over what appears to be a tank top made out of one-ply toilet paper is not the proper attire for "freezing" weather, as the dad described it.
But the kids don't give a fuck, because every second wasted putting on more clothing is another second spent not talking on the phone to their friends, the only people in their lives who truly matter to them. Their parents evidently don't qualify, because based on the mother's surprised reaction, the siblings' typical response to being told to do chores has long been to pat their parent on the shoulder and walk away, laughing under their breath the entire time. But the second Dad promised them unlimited phone use -- that is to say, a way to detach themselves even further from their family life -- shit, they were probably sprinting out the door when they heard that, constantly yelling at each other to hurry up (and calling the other one by the wrong name because it's probably been months since they last had a real conversation).
So now there they are, finally helping out around the house they want nothing to do with, watched over by a man who's lost so much of his son and daughter's respect, he now has to think of them as enemies to be outwitted. That's why they are so hard at work, and why, when the mom asks "How did this happen?" I don't think she is talking about the shoveling.
"Wow, how did this happen?"
"One day at a time..."
"Pass It On": The Purse Commercial
The Foundation for a Better Life is a nonprofit organization promoting the ideas of honesty, compassion, and optimism (in other words, the destruction of Los Angeles). Their most famous campaign is the "Pass It On" series of inspirational videos, like the one below:
The ad opens on a bus bench occupied by a woman and something that a focus group of old men came up with after being asked to describe "a ruffian."
"Also, he should be smoking three marijuanas at once!"
When the bus arrives, the woman gets on it but forgets her purse, which Generation Y then grabs and bolts away with. As a patrol car starts following him, we are left to assume that he's stealing the purse, when suddenly he catches up to the bus and returns the purse to the woman. She thanks the kid, and the cops even offer him a congratulatory doughnut containing your recommended daily requirement of not judging people by their appearance.
So remember, kids: Do good things and people might give you free stuff!
What It's Really Saying:
You will always be judged by your appearance.
The entire purpose of this video is to make you think that the kid is stealing the woman's belongings before it could take that prejudiced notion and drop it on its head like a discount Craigslist nanny. But why wouldn't you assume from the start that the kid was trying to return the purse? For the same reason the cops followed him: He looked suspicious, running through back alleys, looking nervous, and aggressively not wearing a suit.
Just ... youthing all over the place.
What this commercial inadvertently teaches us is that humans instinctively consider certain aspects of personal appearance to be untrustworthy. It's not saying "Don't form opinions about people by how they look," but rather "Just because someone looks like a thief, it doesn't mean they are a thief," which wouldn't have worked if the kid in the video was wearing a polo shirt. If he was, he could probably run undisturbed through a busy police station holding a bag clearly marked "Stolen grave jewelry."
But looking like he did, the police immediately deemed him a potential criminal, and the really sad part is that we need the cops to act like that because what if he had stolen the bag? They had to investigate it, so in the end, the only thing this supposedly inspirational ad does is reveal the uncomfortable truth that what's inside your heart doesn't matter unless it matches what's on the outside. Otherwise, it's generally been agreed that you're guilty of something until proven innocent. Pass it on.
Take Care of Me Twins
The Take Care of Me Twins are a pair of twin baby dolls designed to both entertain children and give them some idea about the challenges of parenthood.
According to the toy's commercial, little girls will have so much fun playing with their new babies, but also with cleaning up their drool, getting sneezed on in the face, and generally learning that raising kids takes a lot of work, time, and patience. But as the ad's jingle puts it, "Take Care of Me Twins keep me on the run. But caring for twins is so much more fun!"
"I haven't slept in two months!"
What It's Really Saying:
Having kids will drive you insane.
Take a look at the girl's face after she's been looking after the twins around the clock:
"Did I hear something about Zoloft vodka?"
That is not a child tired from having fun with her dollies. That is the face of a 40-year-old single mother with three jobs who has considered marrying her elderly boss in the hopes that he'll die on top of her one day and leave her all his money. She looks absolutely exhausted and just about ready to crack. At one point, when she gets sneezed at and says, "Thanks very much, was that one for me?" she does it in such a stressed-out, passive-aggressive way that you get the feeling that the only reason she hasn't started choking her dolls was because the cameras were rolling.
And, OK, I guess that having children can sometimes make you feel that way (maybe). I just thought we were supposed to downplay all that stuff in order to secure the survival of the human race. But the Take Care of Me Twins ad says it like it is, not hiding the ugly realities of motherhood, but depicting them in all of their glory through the girl's expression of tortured madness after one of the twins dribbles on her shirt:
"Grew Up in the Backseat": Subaru Forester
With this TV spot, Subaru asks: Since the most important parts of your child's life will happen inside a car, why are you endangering it by not getting a Subaru, Mr. and Mrs. Satanhitler?
The couple in the commercial did, and later got to witness their daughter saying her first word and making a friend for life in the backseat of their Subaru Forester.
It's also where she made Dad realize he might be racist.
Why? Because she felt safe there, and so will your kid. Subaru: "Like ugly homes on wheels."
What It's Really Saying:
You have to choose between your child's safety and your happiness.
But also: Why does the girl only feel comfortable enough to talk and share with her family when she's outside the house? See, kids are kind of dumb and wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a car tricked out with all the latest safety features and an old onion cart pulled by two drunken elephants in heat. The girl in the video obviously doesn't know what makes a Subaru so special. She just knows that when she's in one, she's not in her house, and that's when she can truly be herself.
"Palestine deserves statehood! God, that felt good to get out."
The bigger issue, however, is that if your child really has all of her most important moments in the car, one parent is doomed to constantly miss out on them. When you're driving a car, you can't keep looking at your kid. No, you keep your eyes on the road, checking for crazy people who want to turn your car into an accordion and play CeeLo Green's "Fuck You!" on it, which is right about when your child mumbles their first word from the backseat.
And just like that, you've missed it, together with a trunk-full of other milestones, leaving you with an agonizing choice: concentrate on the road and never be part of the most precious moments in your child's life, or don't and risk killing the only reason you bought a fucking Subaru in the first place.
Subaru: The Sophie's Choice of cars!
Apple's "Misunderstood" iPhone Ad
The "Misunderstood" ad from Apple centers on a family visiting relatives for Christmas while their teenage son constantly plays with his iPhone.
When Grandpa tries giving him a hug, he can only spare one hand for it. When the kids are building a snowman, he's glued to the screen. When everyone is out skating and having fun, all he cares about is playing Pissed-Off Pigeons or something.
"Siri, why is everyone lame except for me?"
But on Christmas Day, the kid goes up to the TV and (metaphorically) tells his family they can take all that coal they have set aside for him and shove it up their butts until they start shitting diamonds. It turns out he's been secretly recording the family's Christmas activities the entire time, editing them into a heartwarming movie that they can now enjoy, all thanks to Apple.
He then drops the remote and walks out of the room, flipping everyone off.
What It's Really Saying:
Recording life is just as good as living it.
Let's ignore for a second that this commercial could pretty much advertise any video-recording device in history, because its message is much more baffling than that little oversight. See, what this commercial is truly promoting is emotional voyeurism. It says that you don't need to experience the fun of playing in the snow with your family or take in the joyous atmosphere of a house on Christmas Eve. It's enough to just stand on the sidelines and let the others have fun because ... really ... seriously, you're fine. It's fine. No, nothing is wrong, school's been great. Just ... just let it go, OK?
Don't get me wrong. The video that the kid presents at the end is a sweet gesture, but it's less a cherished memento that the family will watch over and over and more something they'll pass on to the boy's psychiatrist somewhere down the line.
But most of all, this spot is really about the "importance" of technology and how all those special moments in your life that you think you're enjoying don't really count unless somebody takes one for the team, hangs back, and records them for you. It's like inventing a nonexistent problem and then telling you that it can only be solved by a combination of your gadget and someone getting fucked over. Then again, hasn't that always been Apple's business model?
"Look, sweetie. You WERE happy then after all!"
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist and editor. Contact him at email@example.com.