The other night, I was watching TV when a commercial came on for the new Dodge Challenger. As the proud new owner of a 2015 Honda Fit, I don’t pay too much attention to car commercials these days, but perked up when the advertisement began to deviate from the usual new-car-driving-through-CGI-landscapes variety. In the commercial, which you can view online here, the driver of the Challenger is pulled over by a tough-looking cop and his partner, a talking monkey whom I can only describe as a stuffed, life-size version of Curious George.
“Do you know how fast you were going?” the officer barks at the confused driver. “20 in a 45! It’s a Dodge Challenger, it’s a gross misuse of power!”
“You got passed by a Passat!” the monkey exclaims in exasperation.
“It-won’t happen again?” the driver stutters.
“Better not, with that available 485 Horsepower HEMI-V8!” the monkey says threateningly.
Suddenly, the sweet strains of string playing begin to emanate from the car radio. Sure enough, we see from the display screen that it is indeed Schubert’s “Trout Quintet” (or “Die Forelle,” in the original German), Op. 114 in A Major.
“Is that chamber music?!” the cop exclaims.
“Yeah,” the driver sheepishly admits.
Monkey shakes his head in disgust.
“Get out of the car!”
The next shot shows the cop and monkey high-fiving in a parking lot, having evidently arrested the driver for this most egregious of crimes. A final voiceover has the last word: “There are some things you just don’t do in a Dodge.”
Now, I understand why the writers of the commercial used classical music to convey the nerdiness of the driver-in advertising, you have to use stereotypes to ensure a diverse audience will get your message-and I do appreciate that they got the opus number and key right for the Schubert (something you don’t always see in these types of ads!). Actually, I don’t have a problem with the commercial at all; I just have a problem with the fact that classical music is stereotyped as this nerdy, uncool activity. Of course, the existence of this stereotype is not news to me, but seeing it played out in such blatant fashion was an uneasy reminder of the challenges we still face in relating to the general populace, let alone Officer Rawlings (his real character name, according to YouTube) and his pedal-happy talking monkey.
Not long after I saw the Dodge commercial, I was watching an online video when a commercial came on for the new Axe Dry Spray deodorant. I’m not exactly a fan of deodorant ads, but seeing as the “skip to content” tab was missing from this particular video, I reluctantly continued to watch. Suddenly, the lush sound of strings caught my ear-the ad’s soundtrack was none other than that same movement of the “Trout” Quintet! Who could have guessed?? I watched on in bemusement as the (shirtless) actor demonstrated the distinct difference between Axe Dry Spray and regular Axe, all to the accompaniment of Schubert’s famous melody. Now, you might think this represents a real victory for us classical proponents-tough guys and athletes wear Axe, so if they’re listening to classical music, we’ve definitely made progress…right? Not so fast. The guy in the commercial is dressed in a formal, gray button-down (before it suddenly vanishes halfway through) and sports an elegant black beard. Furthermore, the commercial’s narration is delivered by a cool, female voice reeking of high society. Thus, it doesn’t take an advertising guru to guess what the ultimate message is: using the new dry spray will allow you to maintain a formal, pristine appearance and avoid embarrassing underarm blotches even if the radiator is on at your work party. And what better to convey this sense of formality than chamber music?
As that is about all of the verbiage I feel it is appropriate to afford an analyzation of a deodorant commercial, I’ll stop here, but I think the main takeaways from these two very different (yet musically-related) ads are clear:
1) when we observe a change in the stereotypes surrounding classical music, as evidenced in such cultural artifacts as TV commercials, we’ll really know something has changed (a change that is very possible, and most definitely worthy of pursuit);
2) never wear Axe Dry Spray and listen to the “Trout” Quintet in a Dodge Challenger unless you want to be arrested by Curious George.