At the risk of committing heresy, commercials (especially older commercials) fascinate me. At their best, commercials are textbook exploitation films. They’re designed to appeal to the audience’s most primal desires and, as a result, are often more truthful reflections of the society that created them than more “mainstream” works of art. A good commercial is a 1-minute journey into the human subconscious. (Of course, at their worst, commercials are just commercials, usually for medicines that have a ton of nasty side effects.)
I was recently searching through YouTube for banned or risqué commercials when I came across these Calvin Klein ads from the early 1990s.
I think I vaguely remember seeing one or two of these commercials when I was six or seven. It may have been the one with the narcissist from Brooklyn because I remember my mom changing the channel as soon as that creepy voice started in with, “You’ve got a nice body.” I can understand why she did because, if nothing else, these commercials give it out a really creepy vibe.
Supposedly (and I should admit that my source for this info. comes from a bunch of anonymous YouTube commentators), these commercials were pulled off the air and its easy to see why. These commercials gave mainstream America what it wanted (good-looking, barely legal eye candy) but did so in a way that emphasized just how sordid most people’s fantasies really are. The creepy and unseen “director” serves as the perfect representative of mainstream, middle-aged America. (Just check out his confusion over the word “mosh” and his complete loss of composure when the one model refuses to fulfill his fantasy.) By leaving the director off-screen, the commercials force the viewer into the role of director. In the best exploitation tradition, these commercials tell the complacent viewer, “This is what the inside of your head really looks like.” At the same time, it also told the young that if they wanted to get the attention of the mainstream establishment, the best way to do so was to tease and offer up implied promises that would never be kept. Supposedly, a lot of people considered these commercials to almost be pornographic. Personally, I prefer to think of them as being subversive in the style of a classic film noir.
While the unseen director is the perfect surrogate for the hidden desires of mainstream America, the models themselves all seem to have wandered out of a Larry Clark film, which is perhaps one reason why I worry about what happened to them after their “interviews.” The first model — Blue-eyed Brandon from Kentucky — is especially cute and I hope he eventually caught the first bus back to Louisville. He doesn’t look to be cut out for the big city and I get the feeling that the narcissist from Brooklyn could kick his ass. I also get the feeling that the older Italian woman ended up making “love on film” with the guy who ripped his shirt in half while the mosher probably ended up impregnating the airhead who wears 30 year-old jeans. I also get the feeling that the mosher may have been the younger brother of the girl who says, “I won’t dance for you.” (And good for her!)
These commercials all feel authentic, even if you’re not quite sure what’s going on. From the grainy film stock to the shabby studio to the disturbingly intrusive voice of the “director,” these commercials can make your skin crawl. You watch and you wonder if anyone ever saw these models again after their audition. Its hard not to suspect that they all ended up either buried in someone’s backyard or maybe on a boat heading to Aruba.
At the same time, these commercials oddly enough do make you want to go out and buy jeans because, while all of the models appear to be doomed, at least they all look really good. As a result, the commercials themselves become the ultimate example of the philosophy of “Live Fast, Die Young, and Leave a Good Looking Corpse”