9 Reasons Steve Jobs Will Come Back From the Dead to Fire Somebody at TBWA\Media Arts Lab

1. The False Note

It’s going to be six months before I can read a poem after this mess. Just in case the clap of thunder and the swirling, Terrence Malick storm clouds didn’t clue you in, the long, single stroke of cello should have. I was in the middle of the divisional round and I was in our biggest basement chair climbing over the huge arm on the right hand side to find my missing beer when I heard the thunder and had to look back at the screen.

The last few years Apple has used a lot of forgettable, plucky-plucky chords and chirpy, metrosexual music but the long, masturbatorial stroke of cello made me forget about the lost beer for a second and struggle to an upright position. Then I hear who I think must be Robin Williams say, “We don’t read and write poetry because…”  

I am confused.

I think this is an Apple ad but I’m not sure. I think the voice is Robin Williams. And I think he just said poetry in the middle of the Seahawks Saints game. Time begins to spread out like taffy or the last :30 of the 4th quarter. I can’t think of what possibly should come next, but nothing prepares me for the word “cute.” “We don’t read and write poetry because it is cute.” My head is spinning from the blow and before I spot an onscreen iPad, I’m hit with the breathy, “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.”

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you actually watch a car wreck live or a relative take off their clothes in public. If you don’t think the word ‘cute’ at :14 is a cultural abomination, I’m going to have to ask you to watch the rest of the game at your house. And that’s my beer. Your beer was on the coffee table. Now bye.

2. Your Verse Anathema. They give advertisements cute names. When you go find them online you learn their ad agency given names. Apple’s moving Christmas ad about the boy who lives on his iPhone but is covertly shooting a family video was “Misunderstood.” The iPhone C ad with the people of the world all saying hello in their own language was “Greetings.” This one is called “Your Verse Anthem.”

If they’d spent the going rate of $8 to $10/hr. on a real poet to consult with for the commercial, they would have learned that the word ‘anthem’ is irritating all by itself. Who hasn’t noticed that? Anthems are always written for somebody else who might be a sucker enough to believe in them, not the anthem writer. Things should become anthems. You shouldn’t start out with the intention of being anthemic unless you are an ’80’s hair band.

3. The Narration. I know you’re busy and this is the web, but just listen to the reading of the word poetry at :33. If I was good with video, I would just loop that sound over and over like an animated gif file for you. You know and I know, that other than limericks, Robin Williams has never read a complete poem in his life. Don’t argue with me. I asked you to go home twenty minutes ago.

Taken from the film Dead Poets Society, this Robin Williams monologue – already three words that should concern you – is an overwrought, manufactured, Hollywood idea of poetry and boarding schools and inspirational, nay, anthem-worthy teachers. The makers of that film – if they’d gone to boarding school, but didn’t, and if they’d had a special teacher, but didn’t, and if they’d liked Whitman, but didn’t – probably would have felt like the characters were supposed to feel in Dead Poets Society but didn’t.

But just listen to the repetition of the line “the powerful play goes on.” Just listen how the word poetry is breathily and significantly intoned the second time. Why not repeat it three, four, five times? Throw the repeated lines in like multi-stack, Gillette razor blades. Some hack at an ad agency who’s never read a poem finds a movie about poetry by a director who never read a poem read by a comedian who’s never been funny.

You can’t make these things up,” as they say in Hollywood, maybe.

4. The Legos. While I waited for the reveal of the advertiser – an irritating game we have to play in almost every single ad now – I actually found myself hoping against hope that it was a Legos ad. I’m pretty sure this qualifies as a five stages of denial moment.

5. The Dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and children in commercials are irritating.

6. O, Condescension. Hey, Cupertino, I’m not a high school kid taking in your wisdom. You’re not my Teacher. If you’re telling me I’m so great that my “verse” in life is shooting images of waterfalls in Paraguay with my home-built iPad documentary rig, then this advertisement is probably not a great use of my time. And, O, the hypocrisy of the ‘medicine, law, business, engineering’ bit. Robin Williams rushes to assure his charges that “these are noble pursuits,” as if to say: “don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we don’t need doctors.” Colossally irritating.

Who do you think is buying your iPads? Because it sure isn’t a pair of boys hunting for a praying mantis in the sun streamed forest. Have you ever seen that? I’ve never seen that. O, and if your market is storm chasers, praying mantis boys, and Paraguayan waterfall documentarians, then you’re going to have a market the size of Windows 8.

7. Misunderstood Exotic People.I loved the “Greetings” ad for the Exact. Opposite. Reason. That you could get everything so right and then so wrong in adjacent ads makes me mistrust everything done well. Everything great must be an accident. Remember all those weird and wonderful people around the world saying hello to each other in their own way? That was fantastic. Every one of them believable. Different, but believable. Lump in the throat good.

Remember the Klingon Convention guys, the guy in a hammock who was “busy,” the smile on the gay, black guy in the last shot, the guten morgen lady, the sports executive with the backdrop of Candlestick? Well, they were great. All of them. They were exotic, but they were real. They didn’t come from Fake Poetry Land where there is always thunder and praying mantuseses. They came from the real world of people we intuitively recognize even in different costumes.

I’m sorry, but maybe I’m just not Cello enough for all these special people who communicate in Poetry. You think the characters in the Greetings ad would like this ad?


No, they wouldn’t.

You know who would? Apple’s Mac vs. PC guy. He would have liked Dead Poets Society, too, and said it was important. Why? I don’t know. Somebody else has to figure these people out.

8. Most Irritating Detail.  The eyes popping open in the kabuki white face. Gosh, I’ve never seen anything like that. Somewhere there’s an earnest, non-poet adperson who will never get why this fingerpainting, copycat image recycling isn’t great, and it fills me with despair that Steve Jobs isn’t around to help them see, in his inimitable way, why this giant cloud of miasmic, Madison Avenue fart gas now hovers over Cupertino like LA smog.

9. Charles. There is a brief moment of a parking lot attendant, cum screenwriter working on his screenplay at work. (This is probably because the makers of the ad know Hollywood’s legendary faith in parking lot attendants and their proverbial screenplays.) Anyway, they show an iPad for a fraction of a second and you can see the actual screenplay the valet is working on. Through the miracle of competitor Google’s YouTube you can stop the advertisement and read the text on the screen. At :40 the parking lot attendant’s “verse” reads:

Sometimes when the mouth offends, a
hand is needed to cover it.

Like I say, this is Hollywood, and you can’t make this stuff up.

The Offending Text:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute.
We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.
And the human race is filled with passion.
And medicine, law, business, engineering — these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life.
But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for.
To quote from Whitman: “O me, O life of the questions of these recurring.
Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish.
What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer: That you are here.
That life exists and identity.
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
What will your verse be?