Unbelievable Found Art Dept: Firebombing as Mood Music

By James Fallows

I've been watching lots of football this weekend -- yes, it's a violent and damaging sport maybe on its way out, but these games have been great -- and have been fascinated by a very arresting series of ads. Here's one sample, of which I encourage you to watch at least the first 10 or 15 seconds:



Two things immediately drew my attention to the ads. One is that until the end I couldn't figure out what company they were for. My first guess was IBM, and in fact they would work perfectly as an IBM campaign. Second was GE, or possibly Intel or Cisco. Maybe some insurance or financial firm? In fact they're for Verizon, as you've already seen on the labeling above.

The other surprise was that music. Distinctive, and instantly recognizable. With the very first bars it was clear that this had to be either Philip Glass, or someone the ad producers had hired to sound (within copyright limits) just like Philip Glass. As I listened a little more, I realized: Yes, this is the actual Philip Glass. And I know that because of the very powerful political and cultural connotations that go with this piece of music.

What Verizon is using, to illustrate an ad about a house burning down with people trapped inside, is Glass's "67 Cities." This was the music for the parts of Errol Morris's film The Fog of War in which Robert McNamara describes the U.S. firebombing campaign at the end of World War II that  incinerated between 50% and 90% of the population of 67 Japanese cities. If you don't happen to have Fog of War on hand, here's how the music was originally used:



It's great music, but ... wow! A company is using a very famous composer's relatively famous music about a firebombing campaign to illustrate a house burning down! This is either impressively brassy or amazingly oblivious.

Glass's music goes with some of the other ads in the series too, as you'll see below. Again, wow.

Fog of War came out ten years ago. I hope Verizon's explanation is: Yes, we assumed everyone would get the references, and would appreciate the extra, humane power of showing people being rescued from an inferno, rather than dying inside in the events that originally inspired the music. I hope their answer is not, "Fog of what??"   



 

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Update Media Bistro has a story on the agency that came up with the campaign, music included. It's McGarryBowen in NYC.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/unbelievable-found-art-dept-firebombing-as-mood-music/267120/