Travel Morality Tales
Tom Swick: Parsing the hidden travel advice in two DirecTV commercials
09.13.10 | 10:54 AM ET
We have all seen commercials for travel: shots of skylines, beaches, cruise ships, cobblestones. The pitches are usually for a place—some country, city, hotel, theme park—a means of transportation, or a company that books travel.
But currently on television you can see something new and astonishing: commercials promoting a philosophy of travel.
My favorite takes place in New York City. Two tourists from Texas—a man and a woman—are giddy with excitement in the backseat of a taxi. They are thrilled not by the passing streetscapes but by the football game they’re watching on their smart phone. It is not just any football game; it is a Dallas Cowboys football game. This couple has journeyed to what some people (mainly New Yorkers, but still) claim is the greatest city in the world, and they are imprisoned in their known universe of northeast Texas. Why did they bother to make the trip? Why are they wasting their money on travel? The taxi driver obviously wonders the same thing because, when they lean forward to inform him of a Cowboys touchdown, he slams on the brakes and their faces scrunch against the protective glass. This, the commercial says, is the price you pay for traveling the world and never leaving home.
But that’s not all. The cabbie—who speaks with a wonderfully hardboiled New York terseness carried on an Eastern European accent—deposits them at a vacant, garbage-strewn lot that the visitors, suddenly confronted with their new environment, have trouble believing is Central Park. But it is too late—the taxi has moved on.
I don’t believe I have ever seen a more searing condemnation of the parochial traveler. The fact that it is disguised as an ad for DirecTV makes it even more brilliant.
It’s not the only one. Another takes place in a Texas luncheonette, with Philadelphians most likely, watching an Eagles game “on their phones and laptops.”
The Eagles. In the heart of Texas. Did the men ask for cheesesteaks too? With a side of scrapple?
Like the first one, this commercial captures the arrogance and the hideousness of the cocooned traveler who shows no interest in the people around him, no curiosity about the local culture, who wants everything to be as it is at home. He is someone on whom—to flip Henry James—everything is lost.
Oh, you think I’m being too critical? That these are probably just businessmen killing a Sunday afternoon before their Monday morning meeting? Who cares if they follow their favorite team? Perhaps as soon as the game’s over they’ll head out for some line dancing over at Rusty’s.
I doubt it. They are travelers of an increasingly common type, but one rarely seen on TV (let alone in commercials). With limited time in a new (sprawling) place they spend it hunched over small video screens. They change their sky but not—now to butcher Horace—their boorish behavior. As the waitress remarks with great indignation and eloquence, speaking for invisible locals everywhere: “No respect for their surroundings.” Then she walks back into the kitchen, where she wrings out an old dishrag over their next round of iced teas.
And you’re going to tell me that the point of all this is to get me to subscribe to a satellite service and not an idea of sensitive travel?