Steven Gerrard’s Clay Pigeon Ad and the Crisis of Contemporary Ontology
by Brian Phillips · November 25, 2008
Let’s consider the skeletal narrative implied by Adidas’s new viral marketing video, designed to sell, I don’t know, some shoes or whatever. One morning, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso woke up, put on their matching Liverpool training gear, and drove to the skeet shooting store. After loading up the truck with equipment, they headed out to the training pitch at Melwood, where they were joined by a guy with a cell phone camera, who happened to be hanging out in the parking lot, and whom they invited to follow them around. The three of them set up the equipment. Then, with Xabi Alonso manning the traps, Steven Gerrard began kicking soccer balls at the clay pigeons launched by the machines. After some early struggles, he improved (“Better,” you’ll hear the men say after the first attempt recorded in the ad. “Closer.”) Then, he hit one, but rather than celebrating, he just sniffed and turned away, only giving one telltale look over his shoulder at the cell phone camera guy. Who then went home, naturally, and uploaded the video he fortuitously recorded of the entire candid scene on YouTube.
The debate about this video, and on various pockets of the internet it will be pitiless and harsh, will center around the question of whether it is “real,” meaning whether Gerrard really hit the clay pigeon with the ball. (The ad agency says he did.) I think this says a great deal about the sophistication of the modern viral ad-campaign audience, since we’re completely able to overlook the question of the elaborate, goofy logic of the frame story and its theoretical connection to a product we might buy, and yet simultaneously completely able to read the exact tone of the message conveyed non-verbally by Gerrard’s matter-of-fact reaction to his apparently amazing feat. (I’m trying to come up with a more precise slogan for the ad, and the best I can do is: “Utterly crush your helpful Spanish friends. Adidas.”) We don’t need to spare any time comprehending these subtly detailed issues of content, which we process almost subliminally, and can instead skip directly to behind-the-scenes questions of physical veracity, post-production, and special effects. So that the advertisement ultimately appears to function by triggering a mnemonic reflex based on the vexed question of the ontology of filmed events, which we all feel as a nervous semi-conscious crisis that has to be confronted daily, like the inescapable problem of nutrition faced by the early Neanderthals, or the struggle to comprehend ground tactics faced by soldiers in a war. Where were you when nothing happened? I was nowhere, and I saw a clay pigeon explode.
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