Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Things I'll Still Remember On My Death Bed: ShopRite Can Can Ads

Chalk this up as another addition to my long growing list of interesting topics for Media/Communications Studies papers that I never wrote in college.

You, the average 21st century modern member of society are being bombarded daily with hundreds, possibly thousands of examples of mediated communications of all varieties, shapes, and sizes. It comes at you from every direction: through an unfathomable amount of sources via television, print, video games, movies, internet (even this very blog), countless advertisements distributed across every medium imaginable, etc., etc., yada yada. It's such an all encompassing ubiquitousness that sometimes we may lose sight of and just get caught up in it. If you think about it, you'll probably spend more of your life consuming media; actively or passively, consciously or subconsciously, then anything else in your life. If you are reading this, there is probably a good chance that you will spend far more of your life staring at images and words on a computer screen then with your family. You'll probably have spent more time watching TV then talking to your friends. Of course, even when you're with family or friends you might still be consuming media...together (watch a movie, play a video game, listen to music).

Contrast this to the average modern person of a century ago and perhaps there's the possibility that all this information overload is well, sort of fucking us up? Is the human brain, which hasn't fundamentally changed for millenniums, suited to function properly in the face of the constant stream of information that is overwhelming our senses? Take, John Q. Handlebar from is uneventful 1908 world of telegraphs, ragtime music, penny-farthing bicycles, and Jumbotron-less baseball games and throw him into the world of today; I feel like there's a good chance his mind would be completely blown; in an actual literal "Scanners"-esque manner. It's a lot easier for us since we're born into it; as soon as we're out they play us some Baby Einstein and soon afterwards park us in front of the Sesame Street. But, one has to still wonder, what unforeseen effects (positive or negative) all this exposure is having on us?

Again, this is all pretty obvious, general stuff; you'll get essentially the same message if you listen to any Devo album or The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy's "Television, the Drug of the Nation" (Using the medium of the televised music video to denounce television? Now that's Hiphoprisy!). However it's good context for the main point of my post, which is just simply the indisputable fact that I will remember the Shoprite Can Can Ad until the day I die. While everyone is split over whether this modern mediated world is devolving us, alienating us, distracting us, improving us, informing us, uniting us, and everything in between; I can say on a personal level it's definitely making me remember some random shit.

Case in point, the titular ShopRite Can Can ads. For readers from outside of the northeastern United Shop who may not be familiar with ShopRite; it's basically a standard local supermarket chain (circulars, price club cards, no fancy breads, cheap awful DVD racks). Since as far as I could remember (since 1971 according to the wikipedia article) they've had a yearly "Can Can" sale which they offered significant discounted sale prices for a bulk of their canned goods and sodas (as an aside, these sales are actually pretty sweet. They keep me in soda cans and Hormel chili for a long time. Militant survivalists should take note). These sales were advertised by a series of frequent commercials with a French Can Can Dancer theme (get it?) and altered lyrics to Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld" (or until I just looked it up, "that French can can song"). For as long as I recall, while the commercials changed every year in terms of themes and lyrics depending on products promoted, there were two constants: can-can dancing girls, and the music.

Maybe it's just me, but growing up with these ubiquitous can-can commercials have forever imprinted them on my mind. They were arguably my first introduction to can-can dancing, operetta music, and French culture. It's like when you hear a Weird Al parody song before the actual original song and you feel like the original is just ripping off Weird Al. The constant exposure to those ShopRite ads since birth have rendered them to have priority in my mind over anything else I learn that may relate to them. If I took a class on French culture and history, I'll probably come out of it with newfound knowledge about Rococo style art and about the life of Georges Pompidou but any mental image of France will still have the ShopRite theme as its soundtrack. It'd probably be even worse if I took a trip to France, I wouldn't be able to stop thinking about the theme and uncontrollably sing it at least for the first couple of weeks. An enlightening trip to the Louvre? Now ShopRite's got the can can... A breathtaking view of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower? Save on lots of brand brands... Soaking up the sun on a beach in Nice opposite the warm Mediterranean? Can cans!

The really messed up thing is that since no two commercials are the same, the lyrics in my head are a nonsensical amalgam of a half a dozen commercials. It's not even a real song. It's my personal idea of a song! So thus another strange and bizarre side effect of this modern age and its relentless production of instant nostalgia, a life long pseudo-commercial brain tattoo. I just hope that when I'm lying, weak and feeble on my death bed, surrounded by mourning family members, entering in and out of consciousness, muttering senile non-sense with my fading breaths; that they'll still be running those ShopRite ads (or I guess one of my descendants find this blog post) so someone can at least have some sense where that random catchy theme song is coming from.

The dancers are a lot more lifelike and suggestive then more recent ones, despite it being aired knee-deep in conservative Reagan-Era America.

The more familiar version I'm used to, with the cartoonish French painter guy. Does anyone else notice how the dancers are now multicultural? Now that's progress!

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