If you don’t look good, we don’t look good. —Vidal Sassoon
I looked in the mirror the other day and wondered just who that person was staring back at me. Kat had just cut my hair, but my beard, which is now nothing more than a bib of gray at the bottom of my face, was still long and a bit ragged. I see that image, especially with my shoulders slightly slumped, and I don’t think I look good. Kat says I’m being preposterous but I know she’s biased. I think I look more like a retired Canadian logger in search of a plaid shirt.
I’m not the only one who wants to look good. Even when we say we don’t care, more often than not we do. The entire fashion industry exists not just because we need to get dressed, something we discussed yesterday, but we want to look good when wearing those clothes. In fact, we depend on clothes to make us look good because you’re not confident that we look good without them. As a result, we wander from retailer to retailer, searching from one label to the next, trying to find that look that makes us more attractive.
Here’s the question of the morning, though: are all our efforts to improve our appearance ultimately futile? How many people woke up this morning, put on their favorite ensemble, and are then killed on their way to work? It happens. Every day. When might it be my turn?
Can that existentialist angst be used to sell more clothes?
A Fatalistic Approach To Advertising
I was looking through new ads this morning, because I like the creativity found in them, and I discovered this piece from BBDO Dubai. Before I say anything more about it, just imagine this popping up in the middle of your favorite program:
As if the title alone shouldn’t cause some concern, the moment the ad tells us that the universe is not our mother and doesn’t really love us we’re in dangerous territory. The ad goes on to pretty much sum up how all of us feel at one point or another: Life sucks and no one gives a shit. Then, just to end the commercial on a low note, the ad ends with the attractive young couple, apparently too bored with life to bother getting out of the car, get plowed by a speeding train.
Oh look, the pretty young couple is dead. Does anyone want to go shopping?
No, it’s not your imagination. The whole concept is rather morose, at least in one sense. Consider who the audience is for this commercial, though. Centrepoint is a Middle Eastern retailer. They have no stores in the EU or US. Their primary customer lives with a reality that most Westerners can’t begin to comprehend: Life can be disappointingly short. They live in a world where going to a friend’s wedding can get you killed. Unexpected moments of death surround them. So, why not make sure you look good when that 14-year-old kid running through the party detonates a bomb?
Leave A Good-looking Corpse
The picture above is one of my favorite exhibition pieces. The saying is well known across Indiana: “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.” Folks in these parts want to attribute the saying to James Dean, but the origins actually go back much further, all the way to 1855, if one is really interested. From it’s beginning, though, the sentiment has been the same, that the younger generation was too shallow, too concerned with looking good. I had to laugh when I found an 1870 use of the phrase directed toward “electrified Americans.” That damn electricity is going to be the ruin of us all.
I had to laugh when I found an 1870 use of the phrase directed toward “electrified Americans.” That damn electricity is going to be the ruin of us all.
All the way through history, though, the phrase is directed toward the bourgeois
Dressing For Death
Still, if we’re honest, life is frighteningly uncertain no matter where one lives. I couldn’t help notice over the weekend that there were three different Interstate accidents involving more than 20 cars each. With each pile-up there were deaths. We don’t like to think about it, but almost certainly none of the victims got into their vehicles that morning with any thought that this might be their last road trip. Death happens.
Does it really matter how we look when we die? Going back to the commercial, one has to assume that getting trashed by a train probably isn’t going to have a good effect on that well-tailored suit he was wearing. Those expensive hair styles probably wouldn’t look so wonderful when caked in blood. If one dies through unexpectedly violet means what one is wearing becomes rather irrelevant.
We like to think we look good in our final minutes, though. Even if no one sees us. Even if no one cares.