Saturday, April 30, 2011

Love in the Time of Dial-Up

Some products and their advertising campaigns are so classic and timeless that they remain virtually the same for years even decades. It's quite a remarkable feat for an ad given the ever changing nature of the marketplace and modern society in general with dynamic shifts in technology and popular culture occurring by the second. This particular AT&T ad for their internet services from 1997 is not one of those ads.

In the fourteen or so years since I last saw the commercial, I am quite shocked at how throughly outdated this spot has become in almost every possible way. The internet service that AT&T is primarily advertising is obviously going to come off as outmoded but really it's all the other incidental stuff in the ad that's truly disturbing. This one minute slice of life vignette of the mid-90's comes dangerously close to total irrelevance to younger viewers and in about another decade or so will become just as unrelatable as a black and white commercial for an Edsel or a Victrola. It's a harsh, undeniable indictment of my oldness that's scarier than any horror film.

Here's how it all breaks down:
  • First off, I think it's utterly fitting and proper that Larisa Oleynik plays the female protagonist of this commercial. Few actresses are as closely associated with the mid to late 90s than Larisa. Her entire career essentially runs from the 1994 to 1998 run of "The Secret World of Alex Mac" to her the reoccurring guest role on "3rd Rock from the Sun" to her grand swan song in 1999's "10 Things I Hate About You". Sure she continues to live and her filmography claims that she has been steadily working all throughout the 00's, but can you really say you've noticed her in anything post-"10 Things"? Also, the boyfriend sort of looks like a poor man's Andrew Keegan, another casualty of the 00's.
  • Check out out Larisa's vintage period gigantic sweater and jeans ensemble. It looks like she's wearing one of Nicholas Brendon's sweaters from "Buffy". She's practically drowning in wool. A burka would have been more revealing.
  • With the recent demise of the classic boxy archetypal station wagon, the boyfriend's sweet ride has now become just a relic of a bygone era. Perhaps one day you'll be showing this ad to your children and they'll ask "Mommy/Daddy, what is that weird looking car that's not as big as minivan but bigger than crossover SUV? Is this what life was really like before the war with the machines?"
  • The towering beige monolith and their accompanying bulky CRT monitors are an obvious and expected antiquity (Larissa's weird trackball mouse has aged particularly poorly). With the recent rise of laptops, tablets, smart phones, etc., it would appear that the desktop PC itself may be joining the station wagon soon enough.
  • I don't think I need to prove to you that "AT&T WorldNet Service" no longer exists. Also, doesn't it look like they are typing up word documents and emailing them back and forth to each other? These are like the only two suburban teenagers in 1997 without AIM.
  • I could devote an entire post just on the primative proto-"sexting" scene that goes on between the young couple. From just a sociological angle, it's fascinating how they both go through all the motions one would imagine from a modern day sexting session despite the fact that the picture couldn't be any tamer. There's the not so subtle flirty back and forth, the mischievous, playful look on Larissa's face as she send out her self shot pic, the sudden look of arousal on the part of the boyfriend when he receives it (maybe it's the first time her saw her sans sweater?), and the dude's eventual picture response (although the polite thing to do today would be to send a dick shot). It's like watching old "scandalous" footage of people wearing full suits to the beach.
  • From a technological angle, obviously the major difference is the lack of cellphones. If there was any modern sexting going on here it would most likely be done via SMS. Larisa's method of taking photos of herself with a Poloraid (which they no longer even make film for anymore) and scanning it to her beau is only slightly ahead of drawing a picture and mailing it. I do have to commend her dude's solid MS Paint skills, it was a pretty smooth cut and paste job given the time crunch.
So there you have it. If anyone asks, that's what life was like in America circa 1997. If it was anymore 1997, the Spice Girls would have shown up at the end carrying matching Tamagotchis. Quite unsettling how much everything changes in less than a decade and a half.

Getting old is the worst.

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