Over the past couple days, I've been hard-pressed to find something to write about. This wasn't because of a lack of ideas; after not really writing anything for nearly a week because I was studying for the GREs (which, thankfully, are completed), I had too many ideas of things to write about: reviews of "Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and "Good Night, and Good Luck.", long-overdue reviews of "Dominion" and the Gang of Four concert, and more. Problem was I couldn't decide which merited being written about first.
Then came the carpet bombing of the Smurfs.
I don't know how many people have seen this already since, I think, it hit the airwaves/Internet/whatever in early- to mid-October, but it is indigenous to Belgium so it's possible not many people (relatively, that is) have experienced the destruction of the Smurfs.
Turns out, as part of a campaign to highlight the effects of war on children, UNICEF put together a commercial, airing only in Belgium, in which the Smurfs, those cuddly, blue, possibly Communist cartoon uptopians of or youth, get utterly destroyed and obliterated by a carpet bombing campaign led by a faceless, nameless enemy.
Before we continue, watch the video here. I should warn you, though, the quality isn't the best. Finding a decent copy of a 30-second commercial from an international television channel is extremely difficult. Anyway, watch it, digest it, then come back...
OK, now that you've experienced the destruction of the Smurfs, let's discuss.
We live in a real cynical time, don't we? There are plenty of examples to be found in recent pop culture of an ironic tearing down of previous pop culture landmarks for a cheap gag, sexual innuendo, or to simply put them in sophomoric situations, like making your action figures have sex with your sister's Barbie dolls. Watch "The Family Guy" or "The Simpsons" or movies or whatever, and you're bound to encounter something like this.
I don't remember when I first heard it, but there are people who would have you believe that the Smurfs community, for example, is a thinly veiled representation of Communism. At what point in the development of the post-Gen X generation, whatever you call them (Generation Irony?), did we decide that we should tear down the things that made our childhood worthwhile, all while buying up old vestiges of that past (toys, clothes, etc.)? I don't know about anyone else, but I have fond memories of watching the Smurfs, Pee-Wee Herman, and all that great Saturday morning fun. And while I might laugh at some of those recent ironic references, it still makes me squirm a bit knowing that the goodness of those cartoons and characters are being put through this ringer for the benefit of, really, the generation after GenI.
But this UNICEF spot is something different entirely.
How inspired it is to bring attention to a serious global issue -- children caught in the crosshairs of warfare and the child soldiers fighting the conflicts of geezerly and/or despotic regimes all over the world -- by way of one of the most recognizable cartoon characters of all time. I can't speak to how popular the Smurfs are in Belgium, but I'm sure it's fair to assume that they have enjoyed some modicum of success there. UNICEF should be commended for doing the seemingly undoable -- taking playground conversation (the Smurfs at war) and employing it to stunning effect.
What makes the spot so powerful is that the Smurfs aren't even fighting. They're living their idyllic existences, dancing and singing, and then bombs rain down, destroying it all. It's sad and poignant and totally reminiscent of the best propaganda from the last 65 years. This ad could have been totally used during World War II to illustrate the evils of the Luftwaffe and the Nazi war machine. Once this ad works its way around the world and those who want to laugh and mock get their kicks, this will stand as one of the most interesting ads of the past decade, at least.
A side note to the ad is that it is, apparently, supposed to be a part of a trilogy. Wonder what cartoons will come to the aid of the Smurfs. Or will it be the Smurfs seeking retaliation and the evils of revenge? It'll be interesting to find out.