It started when I saw the latest Orange Wednesday advert. Some background if you’re not a regular cinema-goer – years ago, Orange started a series of adverts for their Orange Wednesday 2-for-1 cinema tickets initiative. The concept was that a recognisable-but-slightly-past-their-glory-days movies star would pitch a project to a panel of executives, who would then butcher it with their suggestions for Orange product placement. They were both advertising and a satire on advertising, and they were quite postmodern and funny. Roy Scheider, Patrick Swayze and well, Darth Vader all appeared in these, but the law of diminishing returns has kicked in, and now the opinion of my particular gang is that they peaked with Seagal.
However, recently they’ve been working less on actors and characters from the past, but tying in with current movie releases. And that’s where it gets grim.
See, it was sad to see them get involved with a kids film like Rio.
It was painful to see a part of Liam Neeson’s soul dying on a huge screen as he appeared in Orange’s spoof of The A-Team.
And now, most recently, the spark that lit a rage burning brighter and hotter than a thousand suns was Orange co-opting the Muppets.
I mean, it’s the Muppets. They’re awesome. The Muppets are a part of my childhood – they’re a part of everyone’s childhood, even if that’s technically impossible. They’re fun. They’re loveable. Their friends over on Sesame Street teach kids to read, for goodness sake. I have no rational argument for this, no ethically coherant reason for my anger, but seeing Kermit, Gonzo, Miss Piggy and Beaker being used to pimp text messages and mobile phones is just wrong. No, I can’t explain it; yes, it probably is hypocritical, so if it’s not wrong in absolute terms of good and evil, then at the very least it sucks.
And then, as if one mobile provider wasn’t doing enough to break my heart, Vodaphone released an advert featuring Yoda from Star Wars sitting in a restaurant and bantering about phones. This is where I really am hypocritical, because not only have Star Wars characters been in other adverts, but they also come from a series of movies that pretty much invented the concept of blockbuster marketing. Yoda has been an action figure, a back-pack and part of a duvet cover.
Now, a blog over at the site of the sci-fi magazine SFX puts forward an argument for characters like Yoda appearing in adverts, and again, I find it difficult to argue with it without revealing a Millennium Falcon-full of double standards. But I can’t help it, I saw that advert and shouted “No! No! No!” at the TV. Insane over-reaction in this age of war, famine and economic collapse, but there you go.
I don’t actually think the problem is with Jim Henson or Star Wars characters appearing in adverts. There’s a Volkswagon ad featuring a little boy dressed as Darth Vader and it’s great. No, I think the problem is with the individual characters used. See, in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Yoda had a particular role. He wasn’t a comedy character, who could therefore appear in a comedy advert. He wasn’t the Dark Lord of the Sith, who you’d expect to sell out to marketing executives. He was the wizard, the wise teacher, the magical one. The moment where Yoda levitates Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing Fighter is awesome, because it taps into fairy tales and myths and the wider Star Wars theme of the small and apparently insignificant being capable of great things. When Yoda dies in Return of the Jedi it’s a real tear-in-the-eye moment, and when he starts jumping around with a lightsaber in the prequel movies it’s disappointing because you want him to take down the bad guys in a cool and magical way. It’d be like watching Harry Potter shoot Voldemort in the head – shocking and yet somehow dull.
And the Muppets? Well, they were always a bit Let’s Do The Show Right Here! Now they get to do a show because they’ve accepted product placement, but it’s somehow wrong to see underdog Beaker with an advertising contract from a massive corporation.
I know, I know. I’ve already expanded far too much thought on this. There are better things to be concerned about. I know.
But it still sucks.