Day 135: Subtext day.Posted: May 15, 2011
Man, I don’t ever not read between the lines. Reading between the lines is what I get paid for. Not only that: I get paid to teach other people to read between the lines.
For example: remember this Budweiser commercial from the 2010 Super Bowl? The one where the dude has a house made of Bud Light? It’s not particularly impressive the first time one watches it: “Ha ha, silly man, doesn’t realize that the house is going to get deconstructed a can at a time in a round of good clean American fun and responsible drinking.” Something like that.
That’s not what the ad is about, though. It’s actually an anti-alcohol advertisement, and a fairly poignant one at that. The house: not only a primal symbol of domesticity and family life, but also a symbol of the American dream, with its neatly manicured lawn and Georgian-Colonial-Revival facade. The owner of this home – who, the ad implies, is also the builder of the home, further emphasizing that he is a man to be admired, respected, emulated – the owner has it made; he is living the dream; he is Homo Americanus Suburbians.
And yet: his house is made of the devil’s brew, and with each drink – each one so small, so insignificant – a mere twelve ounces of watery, flavorless malted-barley beverage – the house becomes more unstable, more un-homely, bleaker and sadder and less welcoming, until it collapses into a pile of empty cans and broken dreams, and the owner – once a beacon of virtue, uprightness, and the American Way – is homeless, a broken man, a shell of his former self.
We don’t see any of that in the ad, of course, but that’s part of its power: we’re shown the initial stages of the downward spiral, when everything is still “fun” and “harmless” and nobody’s thinking about the consequences. That’s all we’re shown, but it’s enough; the image lodges itself in our brains, and we ruminate on it, and soon – the next day, or the day after that, or the next week – we realize what the ad is really telling us, and we weep.
At least, I weep. In class, when I walk my students through this. They just look at me like I’m crazy, and I have to end class early because I can’t get my shit together. True story.