As a writer, I find myself analyzing everything. Considering every decision made along the way and every person that was somehow involved in the decision making. I think it’s because I am a writer. Maybe it’s just the ADHD. Look, the bottom line is this: I over think everything.
Advertising, for example. I cannot view advertising and not find myself diving deeply into the spot. I want to understand the totality of the message. I need to understand the whole, stinking thing—on the surface and buried deep, between the lines. I will look up the agency. I’ve tracked down the names of actors. It is not an obsession, but it is an unnatural necessity.
Take, for example, Amazon’s latest Alexa commercial. It is a lovely commercial and the first time I saw it, I wasn’t fully invested, I think it was on during a Mets game or something. Anyway, it seemed nice enough. Beautiful young man and woman in the late 1950’s, the Flamingos singing, “I’ve only got eyes for you.” A flashback to a very special moment in their timeless relationship, the moment that song became “their song.”
Fast-forward to today, where they have been together more than 60 years. That puts them in my own parents’ ballpark. They’re dancing in the living room, so it would appear, and then the song ends. The husband asks Alexa to play their song again. Simple enough, right? Nice memories, all that lovely romantic stuff. Nice commercial. Does the job. Wait… Hold the phone.
The next time I see the commercial, I pay closer attention to the small details. This is where my brain goes into overdrive. I cannot help but notice something in the wife’s eyes. There is a moderate level of confusion in her face. It is a look I have seen before. In my own grandmother. You see, not everyone with dementia is angry or anxious or having a terribly bad go of dementia. Some people fade into a state of soft loss, as I might call it. They aren’t wrecked with confusion and seem to simply glide through the slow decline with little pain of the loss.
My own grandmother couldn’t necessarily remember which of my brothers I was (there are three of us), but somewhere deep in the subconscious she sensed I was dear to her. If I visited her, there might not be very much she would say, but she would look at me with soft, kind eyes. I feel pretty confident stating that she knew she was in a safe, happy place when one of her grandchildren would visit. And then, when I started bringing my children around to visit her, she would ask if my daughter was my sister. They did look a lot alike as children, you know, minus the 30-year difference in styles and such. So, there we were, my daughter giving my grandmother the sense that she was looking at my sister some thirty years earlier. A soft loss of memory allowing a gentle, kind memory to wander into this woman’s heart.
And so, this ad spot, directed by Park Pictures' Lance Acord and produced by Droga5 London captures that same sensation. The actor nails the delivery. But wait, you say. That’s an awfully thin analysis, champ. And you are correct. That isn’t enough to go on. So, let me dig a little deeper. And to the point, I give “Chekhov’s Wheelchair.”
Anton Chekhov had stated the dramatic writing axiom, “You cannot place a gun in the scene and not use it.” It is for some writers, myself included, an important truth in our craft. If you put something in a scene, whatever it may be, it must be used. To give something mind space in your audience’s head and not utilize that space is wasted information. Information that you could have spent elsewhere, developing another concept. If writers are going to effectively engage an audience, they must connect. The audience is putting their trust in you, and you are obligated to not abuse that trust.
We pull back from the elderly couple, into their living room. It is a warm, comfortable room and we sense an enduring love between these two. Good acting, kids. I applaud you. And back, tucked by a glass door there sits a wheelchair. It seems the missus is having a good day. Our dear husband is taking advantage of the moment, recognizing that his beautiful bride is fading into memories. Their time together, after so many years is soon to end but for right here, right now, he can dance with her. And she can feel a love and warmth that, though she may not fully comprehend any longer, is very real and very safe.
Yes, I got that much out of a freakin’ wheelchair in the background of a goddamned Alexa commercial. Chekhov’s wheelchair. There might be something wrong with me.