PRINT December 1987



CHRISTMAS IS THAT TIME of year when we celebrate God becoming a man (or was it the other way around?) by spending a lot of money on ourselves, our loved ones, and our clients.

Deciding what you want for Christmas is always a tough problem, so this year I have decided on a different approach. I am taking the approach, “What I don’t want for Christmas.” I wrote Santa a Dear John letter; I said I didn’t want anything. Should there prove to be a Santa, he will probably be grateful, and generous anyway. But I did apprise him of the things I don’t want, especially because of a wave of ads that have made me, for one reason or another, not want to buy something:

The New York Telephone ads encouraging use of the telephone to seek help for uncontrollable urges to eat. (And, by implication, for uncontrollable urges for crack, booze, angel dust, etc.)

A coffee ad featuring Lauren Bacall: “Writing is a coffee-lover’s dream.”

Ads for General Foods International Coffees. These are for special moments. Right now it’s best to discourage special moments as much as possible.

An ad for Anacin, the analgesic that helps relieve the pain and discomfort of women whose husbands are clearly trying to force them to give up their careers for motherhood. The ad depicts all of the telltale signs, such as shopping for homes that are much too large: “Four bedrooms for just you and me?!” Just say no.

Ads for Bartels and Jaymes Premium Wine Coolers. Previously I had subscribed to the suspicion that aerosol deodorants and aluminum cooking utensils caused Alzheimer’s disease.

“Wear a Ciera” ads. In which the Oldsmobile people commit metaphoric atrocity, comparing driving a car to wearing clothing.

Pontiac LeMans ads. American know-how, German engineering, Korean affordability. (French name.)

Calvin Klein’s Obsession for men. I’ve got enough problems of my own.

The Midas Muffler ad that satirizes companies offering extremely low-cost mufflers but when you show up they don’t fit your car (or the car of anyone you know). Somehow this ad recalled my own experience with Meineke Discount Mufflers, Midas’ main rival. But it doesn’t make me want a Midas muffler. It just puts me off mufflers altogether.

“Join the Army” ads showing that the army teaches you how to climb mountains and then jump down from them on ropes.

Hair Club for Men ads: I’d rather be bald than undergo as rapid a transformation as Hair Club president Sy Sperling did. It would probably kill me to get hair that fast. And in fact I already have a full head of hair. But I do like the man’s philosophy: “I’m not only the Hair Club president, I’m also a client.” Last week I charged myself $80 to write to my mother.

Any life-insurance ad employing subjective-camera depiction of the experience of death or serious injuries.

New York Yankees baseball ads featuring an intensely crotchety old lady berating Yankee players and generally acting out Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s anima.

Singapore Airlines’ “Singapore Girl you’re a great way to fly” ad. Airlines are not girls. Airplanes are not girls. Boats are girls. (As in, “She’s not responding to the helm, Captain.”) Airlines are corporate persons.

The ad for Korean Air, “Comfort, elegance, and convenience are only half the story,” which took on new meaning after Congressman Larry McDonald’s KAL flight was shot down by Russian Migs.

Spots for credit cards that donate part of the vigorish to charity and employ the tune, “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.” In fact, these ads are designed to appeal to those who find an outstretched hand unsanitary and prefer an upscale mode of donation.

Any television commercial depicting meat, particularly meat stuffed with processed “cheese food.” Meat looks fine on film, but there’s something ugly about a meat image projected at you.

Ads in which the CEO of my brokerage house tells me I need him now more than ever.

Old Milwaukee Beer’s ad showing a group of men standing on a boat in Alaska eating a crab and drinking an Old Milwaukee beer. “It doesn’t get any better than this,” says the ad. I say, If it doesn’t get any better than that, let’s end it all right here and now.

Glenn O’Brien is a professional writer who lives in Brooklyn. His column on advertising appears monthly in Artforum.