The idea that history has to be "restored" implies that the sense of its reality has been lost. And this is one point on which even a hard-right commentator such as Beck would find some agreement on the Left. One of the key features of our era, according to a neo-Marxist critic such as Fredric Jameson, is precisely its loss of its sense of history.
Jameson has written that our longing for a sense of the past can be seen in the popularity of the many "period" films which try to represent it through fashion and music (if not substance). His writings, as I read them anyway, suggest that our nostalgia for other eras almost makes them seem like "lost objects of desire" that we can never really recover. (pp. 16-25)
He might even agree with Beck as to the cause of this sense of loss: the media. But here's where their similarity ends. For where Beck would say our past has been destroyed primarily by the media's liberal bias, Jameson might counter that our image-makers' distortions come about because, whatever their personal ideologies, they also need to make a buck.
As a result, Hollywood, TV, the press, and the whole culture industry, mine history for marketable products -- and our past is packaged as romance, adventure, human interest -- essentially a movie, TV show, or some other set of pop images. And history becomes, whether presented by conservatives or liberals, more surface than depth.
One of the criticisms that Beck is faced with, in fact, is that what he wants to restore is an idealized Leave It to Beaver 50s TV version of American history. In other words, he's accused of being mesmerized by the very media industry he'd like to critique.
The 60s -- a Thing of Beauty
Such ideas helped me explain to myself the mildly hypnotic effect a beer commercial had on me recently. Though I'm not a drinker, and so had no interest in the product advertised, I found one of Stella Artois' TV spots rather striking.
It's the first commercial completely in French that I've seen on U.S. TV. I was also jazzed by the stylishness of its film work. As a friend of mine said, "that's pure 60s French New Wave." The title tune is sung by Brigitte Bardot, from, I think, 1964:
The almost over-the-top sexist quality of the spot, like something out of Mad Men, adds to its retro flavor. As the Copyranter blog quips: "Stella Artois ... delivers Heterosexual Man's two favorite things getting ready for consumption/consummation. Some sexism diluted by classy production and a quirky French tune."
It should be noted, though, that according to Mother, the brand's ad agency, the target audience for the product is "the sophisticated beer drinker", and, in the U.S., this market "tends to be a slightly more female base" though the campaign will target "both men and women of a certain lifestyle."
Which is to say that the high retro-fashion style of the ad takes precedence over the substance of its gender politics. And their ad agency seems to be consciously pursuing this look. In fact, the U.S. print campaign which builds off TV spots like this one (which I think originally ran in Europe) is being shot by photographer Bert Stern, who did Monroe's last sitting in 1962. The first U.S. print ad is modeled on a 1960 cover of Vogue.
With all this in mind, the TV spot seems to work, in part at least, by creating a longing for something unattainable, as signified by the woman in the ad. On a basic level, men watching the ad, no matter their sophistication, cannot really hope to attain her -- she's out of the past. Women may long for her style; but that's gone too -- along with the sorts of flashy 60s films the ad invokes.
On a more symbolic level, longing for her might be seen as the desire to live in an era, or a world, more glamorous, exciting and, above all, luxurious than our own.
Of course, it's advertising's job not only to create, but promise relief from such frustrations. And this comes in the form of the commodity itself: "She is a thing of beauty."
I've read reviews of Stella Artois at Beer Advocate, which graded it a "decent", but not outstanding, brew. But perhaps the raters were more interested in how the stuff actually tasted -- and weren't influenced by this ad.
For they missed the most intoxicating thing about the brand: that it bottles the spirit of an era -- and its sense of possibility.