Ah, poor Thanksgiving – sandwiched between big consumer holidays Halloween and Christmas, it always gets overlooked in the media frenzy. It’s just not a very easy holiday to promote. How can advertisers put a price tag on a holiday devoted to counting your blessings and appreciating your family? They can’t, because people who are thankful and appreciative can’t be duped into thinking they need to spend $150 on an indoor lawn for lapdogs to shit on or a quick and easy way to get drunk. Thus, Thanksgiving is left in the cold while corporations and their ad men think of the best ways to convince us to turn our house into a frightening demonic horrorfest and then, two months later, a beautiful birthday tribute for Jesus.
The Christmas gift ads have started running already, and just like last year I can’t help but be appalled at the sort of crap they’re trying to get us to buy our kids. This is nothing new – capitalism gone awry chaps my caboose all year round, but a few days ago I saw a commercial that made me realize just how blogworthy this year’s Christmas shopping season is.
Front and center, Pop Tunes Big Rocker Guitar.
There was a time when if you wanted to be a rockstar you’d get a guitar, learn to play it, grab some friends, rehearse in their garage, play in a few bars for about six months, talk about moving to L.A. to try and get things off the ground, never do it, sell your instruments to pay the electric bill, get an associate’s degree in business, and go to work as a mattress salesman, doomed to spend the rest of your days saying words like “Sealy” and “Postur-Pedic” while wistfully wondering why you didn’t try to shoot the moon with your rock band and faintly humming the ballad from that rock opera you sort of wrote while you and your lead singer were drunk in his Mom’s basement. Yeah, it’s a crushing, depressing experience, but at least you sort of learned how to play the guitar!
Kids these days (and by that I mean “People my age”) have cut out the middle man with Guitar Hero and Rockband, games that simulate the experience of playing in a Guns ‘n Roses cover band from the comfort of your own home. Nowadays, rather than dropping out of school or quitting their jobs to play rock music, people are fitting it nicely into the fabric of their social lives by working out those impulses on a video game – and sometimes they aren’t even drunk! The same experience I related in the above Faulkneresque sentence could play out with a copy of Guitar Hero; the only difference being that the hopeless losers in question didn’t even try to dream big in the first place, and in the end they still don’t know how to play guitar. It’s sort of like “The Man” has taken that which he couldn’t conquer and made it “safe” by turning it into a toy.
But Jesus, look at me go on. I certainly don’t have anything against Guitar Hero – it’s pretty fun to play at parties and it’s certainly a lot healthier than the ultraviolent first person shooter games that I tend to play. My problem with Guitar Hero isn’t with the people who play it recreationally, but with the people who treat it like it’s an actual musical instrument; namely the kid who learned how to play the speed metal classic “Through The Fire and the Flames” with 95% accuracy. All the time those people invested in learning to push buttons in the correct order to replicate popular songs written by others could have been invested in something different – something, say, creative rather than imitative? God only knows what would have happened if there had been Harpsichord Hero in Mozart’s day.
But I digress – Pop Tunes Big Rocker Guitar. It’s a plastic toy guitar that, when your kid presses the right buttons, will either make musical note-esque sounds or play one of five predetermined songs, such as “Message in a Bottle”, “Wild Thing”, or “Love Shack”. Yes, that’s right; “Love Shack”, by the B-52s. This toy designed for toddlers and infants plays “Love Shack”.
I mean, “Love Shack” is about an orgy. It’s about a score of big-haired 80s hipsters going to a house in the woods and just fucking each other all damn weekend. It’s a five minute long ode to doin’ it. For crying out loud, one of the lyrics is, “Huggin’ and a kissin’, dancin’ and a lovin’, wearin’ next to nothin’”. There’s no ambiguity as to what that means. There’s no symbolism here. This is not American Pie.*
*This isn’t the first time people have tried to repurpose rock and roll as family friendly. Carnival Cruise Lines steadfastly uses Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” in its commercials about happy families having the time of their life in the Caribbean, despite the fact that it’s a song about being a heroin addict. That being said, I’m sure snorkeling with dolphins is about a thousand times cooler when you’re on heroin.
Now, as a youngster I listened to “Love Shack” a lot – my parents and their oft-played 80s dance mix tape are probably to blame for that, but it didn’t have any negative effects on me (depending, that is, on your definition of the term “20-year-old man”). The fact that 3-year-olds will soon be jamming out to “Love Shack” isn’t what I find so amusing, it’s the fact that we’re essentially training our toddlers for their future Guitar Hero “careers”.
I’m pretty sure I had a toy xylophone when I was a little kid, and there is grainy video evidence to prove that I was fully capable of playing one incredibly annoying note on my plastic recorder. These toys were simple, sure, and they may have gotten on my parents’ nerves some or a lot of the time, but the annoying noises I made with them were mine and mine alone. There wasn’t a button I could push that would make “Comfortably Numb” come out of my recorder; I had no choice but to make unique, original, and usually ear splitting music. The Pop Tunes Big Rocker Guitar embraces some of that Creativity by having a “free play” button, but then it punches the Creativity in the kidneys by turning itself into a radio. As we speak, Creativity is pissing blood while three-year-olds get a head start on pretending they’re Sting.
But on the other hand, my parents gave me toy musical instruments and right now my primary musical outlet is a 200-piece band that plays instrumental covers of rock and pop songs. You know what? Nevermind. Go stock up on Pop Tunes Big Rocker Guitars – even if you don’t have a kid, buy one in case you have a kid later. Hell, buy two.
Truman Capps knows that if he had his chance, that he could make those people dance, and maybe they'd be happy for awhile...