I read an article recently in my newspaper that
discussed recent moves to regulate liquor advertising, both on TV and
in the print media. The concern seemed to be 'lifestyle' advertising,
in which the focus is not so much on 'Brand X Beer' itself, but on
the establishment of a connection in the viewer's mind between 'Brand
X Beer' and 'What a wonderful life!' Stunningly beautiful people, all
with perfect teeth, perfect hair, perfect clothing, etc., engage in
exotic sports activities under a perfect blue sky ... You know the
kind of advertising I mean.
Now although I don't intend to portray myself to
you as a 'wimpy' type, I must admit that when I was younger, even
though I knew (1) that it was only advertising, not reality, and (2)
that I didn't desire that kind of lifestyle anyway; repeated viewing
of such images did leave me with the feeling that out there somewhere
were people who really knew how to live. People who really 'had it
together'. The life I was leading was substandard and boring. I was
not one of the 'beautiful people' ... the 'golden boys'. I was not,
and would never be.
Now, at age 43, I can easily laugh about such
thoughts, but in my late teens and early 20's, I don't suppose I was
laughing much. The difference of course, is that over the intervening
years I have done enough interesting things, and notched enough
accomplishments on my belt, that my self-image is quite secure, and I
no longer feel 'substandard' in any way at all. I am the equal of any
man out there. But along the way, I had a bit of actual contact with
the world of those 'golden boys' ... and I think it's a good thing
that I don't have a TV in my home any more, because if I saw any of
those lifestyle ads now, I'd probably hurt myself laughing too much
I was 28 years old, living by myself, and working
as branch manager of a music shop. The head office was a couple of
thousand miles away, so there was a fair amount of independence and
responsibility attached to the job. I did my work diligently,
although I wan't really suited to it (I didn't have enough drive and
creativity, but behaved too much like a caretaker ...). One day, I
was chatting with one of my employees about this and that, and for
some reason the subject of skydiving came up at one point in our
conversation. It must have stuck in my mind somehow, for later that
day, under what crazy influence I can't remember, I looked up a
skydiving club in the phone book, called for information, and made a
reservation to take their 'first jump' course the coming weekend.
When my colleague heard about this, he decided to join me, and the
following Sunday found the two of us driving out towards the farm
that served as a 'drop zone', each of us I'm sure, hoping that
something would come along to put a stop to this silly adventure ...
a flat tire ... something ... anything!
But nothing came along, and the two of us spent
the day undergoing the necessary training and preparation for the
jump. And then, late that afternoon, there we were, 3,000 feet up in
the air, bundled up in the gear, sitting in the open doorway of an
airplane, looking rather unbelievably out at the ground so far far
Of course for a first-time jumper, the system is
pretty foolproof. An automatic wire pulls the ripcord, the chute is
huge and basically uncontrollable, the instructor chooses the
location to jump ... All you have to do by yourself is get out the
door. (And perhaps the instructor helped me with that too ... How
else would I have got that boot-shaped bruise on my backside
It was an astonishing experience. I remember
nothing at all of the jump itself. Nothing. But I will never ever
forget the feeling of standing up in the muddy field with the
parachute lying tangled all around me, and nearly crying with delight
... I did it! Me! I jumped out of an airplane!
The two of us were back again the next weekend. We
were hooked. And for the next year or so, until I moved away from the
area, we were regular visitors (more than regular ... when I left the
music shop I lived on the drop zone and jumped daily for three
months!) We bought chutes, joined the national skydiver's
association, and started the climb up the proficiency ladder. My
friend was more of a 'free spirit' than I, and his climb was much
more rapid than mine, but after some months I too was diving head
first out the door at 10,000 feet for a free-fall lasting nearly a
minute, swooping and sliding around the sky, and then opening the
wing-shaped chute and flying it home to the target spot.
It was a wonderful hobby, and it was very
satisfying to feel the steady development of skills. And of course,
unless you've done it yourself, I can't possible communicate to you
the incredible sensations of flying around all alone up there in the
wide, wide sky ...
But I'm getting away from my story. One day, one
beautiful blue day, a group of visitors came to the drop zone. A
group of visitors with perfect teeth, perfect hair, perfect smiles
... Can you guess what I'm going to say? Yes, a bunch of actors, and
a video production crew, there to make a beer commercial. Our job, we
regular club members, was to hang around in the background doing our
normal things, and provide the shots of skydivers skydiving. The
'far' shots, that is. The 'close-ups' were done with the 'perfect'
actors. As none of these people were actual skydivers, the shots of
them coming in for a landing were done by suspending them from a
harness hooked up to a crane. They were strapped in, hoisted up into
the air, and then swung around on the crane arm as they were lowered
to the ground. The camera of course didn't show the crane, and I
suppose the finished effort was probably quite realistic, showing
them coming down from the 'sky', landing lightly, and popping a
"Brand X' beer ...
(I should mention that despite what that stupid
commercial implied, beer and skydiving were never mixed at the drop
zone. The key to the drinks cooler only came off the hook after the
plane's ignition key went onto it ...)
We 'real' skydivers sat back and watched the
filming process with some amazement, and of course, boundless scorn.
There they were, right in front of us, the 'golden boys', objects of
all that teen-age envy ... Here they were, with wide perfect smiles
and wearing those perfect jump suits, dangling stupidly from that
crane, while we, the 'normal' guys, went quietly about our 'normal'
business, throwing ourselves out of the open door 10,000 feet up ...
The experience of watching those actors, and the experience of being
a skydiver in general, gave me a new perspective on things. It made
me realize not that "Hey, I'm a golden boy," but that there simply is
no such thing ...
Perhaps out there somewhere are people who really
know how to live, people who really do 'have it together'. Perhaps.
But I don't think you'll find them by following a trail of 'Brand X'