Beatles, ad are strange `Love' match

Anti-establishment tune in credit card commercial


Once, all you needed was love.

That's what the Beatles said during the "Summer of Love."

Today, that universal message is as powerful as ever. Except "love" now means having a Chase credit card.

That's what the financial giant says in a new TV ad, gorgeously shot and poetically edited around a version of the Beatles' 1967 single "All You Need Is Love."

You get the irony, right? And the extraordinary, enraging hypocrisy?

(It's even more enraging that the ad hasn't caused widespread protest.)

Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the tune is "the hippie anthem": "Forget all the hype about money and success; just learn to love one another. Groovy. Over and out."

The Chase ad is particularly egregious, even in an era when any piece of culture or ideal is used to sell anything, regardless of its original message.

Chase is hawking the very cornerstone, the heart of what the hippies protested - enslavement to the System through a never-ending cycle of credit: "You want airline miles with your Love?"

It's a big, ugly piece of situational irony: Companies using anti-consumerist, anti-establishment art to sell consumer products.

The phenomenon is nothing new: Pop songs have been appropriated to sell a gazillion products that the Man convinces us we desperately need. Some deliver even poignant - albeit hallucinatory - cinematic moments, such as Bob Dylan singing the aching, introspective "Love Sick" (you don't need love) while Victoria's Secret hotties frolic around him like so many lost angels.

There's a certain perversity in Royal Caribbean Cruise selling its family-fun vacation with Iggy Pop's caustic, booze-and-drug-soaked 1977 anthem of proto-punk hedonistic-excess-and-despair, "Lust for Life." (Is that what you really want on the Love Boat? Hmm, don't answer that.)

For a while, there was some resistance to these appropriations: In 1987, McCartney went ballistic when Nike used "Revolution" to sell sneakers. Twenty years later, the practice has become normal. It feels natural, routine.

Is this another sign that there is a growing cynicism at the heart of our culture? Are these ads symptoms of what some have called a culture of irony, an unwillingness to take seriously any ideal - political, social or moral?

Probably not. Cynicism, sarcasm and irony inevitably include some element of anger or despair, but there seems to be nothing sad or negative about the Chase love ad. It appears to be an earnest expression of sentiment, oozing tranquil, comfortable scenes of family love. It hardly seems like the work of a cynical copywriter.

If anything, the ad seems to symbolize a culture of innocence. We have acquired a therapeutic, feel-good naivete, which measures the worth of everything in terms of private, personal and familial comfort and pleasure.

In '67, the Beatles were singing about universal love. In '06, the love we're being sold is "my love," "my family," "my friends."

That's why the family-friendly Chase ad "feels right" - even though it has a Stepford Wives vibe.

Irony is not our great enemy. We could use the insights of Socrates, Kierkegaard or Mark Twain to subvert that sort of "Stepford" complacency.

Because every so often, all you need is irony.

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