Wednesday, April 15, 2009

That Godawful Filet o' Fish Ad

Here's how this sort of tragedy happens: Somebody at McDonald's decides to cut the chain's losses to the Lenten beef embargo and emphasize the Filet o' Fish sandwich. There's a meeting. Advertising geniuses sit around a big table, and someone asks, "All right what do we know about fish? What's funny about fish?

And someone mentions that old Billy Bass toy that sings "Take Me to the River."
Boom! Done. The meeting's attendees decide, as one, that America hasn't yet wrung the last few drops of thud-headed glee from the singing-fish-on-the-wall novelty. Or maybe they conclude that enough time has passed since that item was first popular to permit its reintroduction to a whole new generation of slack-jawed children who had never seen it. In any event, once they latched on to the singing-fish motif, they had their commercial.

It doesn't matter that the resulting ad spot is logically impenetrable and a complete non sequitur. The fish intones — and I quote:
Give me back that Filet o' Fish!
Give me that fish!
What if it were you hanging up on this wall?
If it were you in that sandwich,
you wouldn't be laughing at all!

All of this is, on its face, incomprehensible gibberish. Vacuity of the first order. The fish wants his Filet "back" and calls upon us to think about how we'd feel if we were in the sandwich. But of course the fish isn't in the sandwich. Part of the fish could be in the sandwich, but this much is hardly apparent: the singing fish in fact resides on his plaque, perfectly intact.

Now I suppose the filet could have been cut from the side of the fish that is affixed to the plaque, and that the fish's apparent "completeness" is merely the result of an extensive undertaking of reconstruction-through-taxidermy. Thus might the fish simultaneously subsist on the wall and in the sandwich.

But what of the fact that the fish is calling for the return not just of a "filet," which we might interpret to mean a demand that a cut of meat be restored to him, but he also cries to be given back "that fish?" What fish? Is there another fish in play here? I suppose certain fish eat certain other fish. Is the mounted fish complaining that his fish sandwich was taken from him, and that he's not in a position to do anything about it, stuck as he is on a wall? But this would render indefinite the last bit about "if it were you in that sandwich," as it would seem hypocritical to fault a human for eating a fish sandwich, while at the same time complaining that you had been deprived of the same opportunity.

I'm coming to believe that the sense of the commercial depends upon an obscure, complicated and necessarily speculative back story that we know nothing about. It's not clear to me whether we're better or worse off not knowing it, but we're surely worse off after having seen this commercial than we might be if we'd have been able to proceed in our lives unmolested by this godawful nonsense.

And finally, I'd like to note that the fish charges his listeners with laughing, apparently at his expense. I think that's pretty presumptuous. The two human characters in the ad are not laughing. Their faces toggle subtly between expressions of bemusement and concern. This leaves only the television audience — the rest of us in T.V. Land who have been subjected to this inanity — and I'm not laughing. I am, in fact, far from laughing. I don't buy that a singing fish translates of necessity into laughter, and I don't like that I've been made the presumptive target of this fish's indignation.

But again: none of this matters. There's a singing fish, right? Boom! Done. There's your commercial. Building a compelling, comprehensible character-based narrative around that singing fish would only be gravy.

And nobody eats a Filet o' Fish with gravy.


Anonymous said...

Trouble is, the song is hauntingly catchy. Thanks for putting it in my head for the rest of today. PS I've never had a filet o' fish and likely never will. That fish can get off my back.


Mithridates said...

I don't what's worse, ordering the Filet o' Fish at McDonald's or the Salmon Steak at Morton's. A record should be kept of all those who do either, so that one day . . .

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