Saturday, December 27, 2008

Household Space and the Uncanny in a Carbon Footprint Ad

There's a very clever, subtle PSA promoting awareness of our carbon footprints, developed by the British agency AMV BBDO (the makers of the "Stop the Bullets" PSA mentioned in my last blog post). The new ad, Footprints, shows a series of scenes in which each person leaves behind gooey footprints of dark petroleum. The ad ends with a child's voiceover, "You have a carbon footprint which contributes to climate change. To discover yours and how to reduce it visit uk/ACTonCO2"

I'm especially interested in how the ad makes use of interior, domestic space. The opening shot is of an outdoor lamp illuminating a jovial party scene on a patio; a man leaves his affectionate companions and walks indoors, leaving the dark footprints behind him; a mother does laundry walking past her baby on the floor; a mother and daughter leave their car in the garage as they enter the house; children race around, leaving video games on an unattended computer monitor; a man gets out of a bathtub; friends lounge around a refrigerator's open door. So here, in contrast to most representations, carbon footprints are not presented as the products of vast factories or machines, but rather of individual persons, pointedly emphasizing individual responsibility at the level of the household.

This emphasis on domestic space is reinforced by the soundtrack, the opening lyrics of the 1969 song,"Shangri-la," by Ray Davies of the Kinks: "Now that you've find you've found your paradise/This is your kingdom to command/Your can go outside a polish your car/or sit by your fire in your Shangri-la..." The lyrics are loosely keyed to the images on screen ("polish your car" is tied to the scene of a mother and daughter getting out of a car; "sit by the fire" is linked to the scene of a lit computer screen, the modern equivalent of the fireplace)

The later lyrics of the original song (not in the ad) are considerably darker than the opening, indicating that the protagonist Arthur is trappped in a deeply alienating existence, with no way out. So inasmuch as memories of the original song might linger on among some of the audience, might the ad be read as an implicit critique of the bourgeois sensibility?

Watching the ad, I find myself thinking of Freud's famous observation that there is nothing more uncanny (Unheimliche, un-home-like) than the Home-like (Das Heimliche). In the seemingly familiar, comfortable environment of their home, there lurks a disturbing trace of the repressed, of all that which we would prefer to forget.

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