Terror grips me as I hear these truths
without embellishment. As for the rest,
hearing that just makes me lose my way.
I tell you you'll see Agamemnon dead.
Poor girl, calm yourself. Tone down those words.
No—no one can heal what my words prophesy.
Not if they're true. But may the gods forbid!
While you pray here, others move in to kill.
What man is going to commit such crimes?
What man? You've completely missed the point.
You've failed to understand my prophecies.
In 2007 Alexandre Orion wiped soot from the walls of a Sao Paulo tunnel to create a sweeping vista of skulls. His reverse graffiti piece was an elegant act of protest, which drew images of death in the very poison itself. The authorities were confounded, because cleaning is not vandalism and is not a crime. Unable to punish the 'offender,' they were forced to clean the entire tunnel and, later, all the tunnels of the city.
Orion documented the process and released this YouTube video:
I first read about Orion on Bioephemera, and he has been knocking around in my brain ever since. He is, like so many of us, Cassandra wringing her hands at the gate. We can see the tragedy unfolding around us, but are left with little to do but cry out. While the story of Orion seems to have a victorious ending-- the tunnels cleaned, the world singing his praise-- it is little more than a cheerful note in a gloomy, discordant opera. The cars still drive, and, as Orion's own video points out, the toxic soot is simply transformed into a black, bubbling ooze that vanishes into a storm drain.
Yet, Orion's unembellished statement has suffered a curse far worse than what Apollo handed down. Cassandra's contemporaries simply refused to believe her words. Orion, however, lives in the Orwellian world of corporate advertising. His dire message has been co-opted, purged, and re-used to sell the very gasoline that created the poisonous soot.*
76 Commercial - Cleaner Is Better from Chris Jaemin Yi on Vimeo.
Gone are the dark tunnels and sulfurous light. Gone are the furtive resistance and melancholy hope. Gone are the grime and the gas mask.
Instead, Yi's protagonist, cleanly dressed and smiling, stands in a well-lit parking garage. On his way to his condo, no doubt, he is seized by the the notion to do something that is just... well, dang it... it's just darn nice! Moved by altruistic vigor and unabashed corporate zeal, he fills the walls with pretty swirls, a happy sun, and a meticulously executed 76 logo. Then he steps back, pats himself on smugly on the back, and nods. Gosh darn it, cleaner IS better.
Looking at the two videos side by side reveals some interesting differences. To me, the most striking are the color and the music.
Filmed in situ, Orion's documentary footage is dark and reminiscent of the classical 'Spanish Palette.' Yi's video, in contrast, is light and airy. Notice how skillfully Yi uses the white walls to highlight the bright notes of primary colors that are in frame for virtually the entire video. Here we have Goya vs Playskool, and it's little surprise which is featured in a corporate ad.
Similarly, Yi's music, for which I can find no author credit, is full of pep and verve and virtually shouts 'OMG!' and 'LOL!' in all caps. It's upbeat music for a sunny afternoon. The music feels repetitive and empty. 76 does not want you to think too much. Just get the message and feel good about the brand. In contrast, Orion's music, which is credited to Instituto, prompts introspection and thought. It changes and swells, pulls back and expands. Combined with the imagery, it paints the portrait of a small, hopeful man in a dark and complex world.
To be fair, Yi's soundtrack, clocking in at 23 seconds of music, doesn't have as much room to maneuver as Orion's, which, at 161 seconds, is exactly seven times longer. It would be easy to write the difference off to scale and move on. Yet, if you listen only to the first 23 seconds of Orion's video the contrast is striking. Coincidentally, the first 23 seconds of Instituto's music is composed entirely of a single repeating motif. Notice, however, the subtle permutations and inversions of that motif. A great deal of thought has gone into creating complexity in that one simple segment. I get the impression that both Orion and Instistuto would appreciate an equal amount of thought from their audience.
I do not begrudge Mr. Yi his success. The other video that he has posted on Vimeo is longer and belies a thoughtful and concerned mind. He is a skilled commercial filmmaker, and I have no doubt that we will see more of his work. Nevertheless, even as I congratulate him on winning the 76 competition, I am saddened by the insidious influence of corporate advertising. As individuals, we all have our disparate and justifiable motivations. We work to fill our bellies and protect our friends, families, and interests. Yet, somehow and inevitably, we advance the plot of the tragedy. From the mighty Agamemnons to the soot covered Cassandras, we all play our part to fulfill the curse on the House of Atreus.
* I recognize that this commercial is to promote a cleaner burning gasoline. Taken at face value this is certainly a lesser evil. Yet, in the end, it is an ad to promote the sale of gasoline, and only a fool takes commercials at face value.
Credits: Photo from Alexandre Orion's site; Agamemnon text from the website of Ian Johnston