My pal Scott lent me his copy of The Winking Circle, a DVD made by some kids in small-town Ontario that documents their attempts to “eccentrify their lives.” More than anything else I’ve seen, it reflects the essence of the cut-n-paste photocopied zines — it’s an hour long piece that masterfully mixes the visual eye-candy of skateboard stunts and crazy haircuts and artbikes with stirring music and non-idealogical philosophy. It’s spectacle reclaimed, really: spectacle given a soul.
So it’s not so strange, really, that Coke wanted a piece of it. And why go to the trouble of buying something you can just steal?
When Benny started telling me that there was a commercial that looked suspiciously like his Winking Circle DVD, I didn’t really think there was anything underhanded going on. You hear a lot of conspiracy theories, and usually they can be chalked up to the fact that, despite our differences, the corporate and indie creators are all fishing in the same zeitgeist and sometimes our hooks get intertwined. Even Benny, despite shocked phone calls from friends who’d seen it, didn’t think there was a direct connection. What are the chances that one of the world’s largest corporations would stoop to petty theft?
But out of curiosity he googled the ad firm who’d made the commercial and oddly enough it was a Toronto company who did it. So he brought the situation to the attention of a hotshot law firm, and they agreed to take on the case: and it was strong enough that they took it on for free.
Generally, I consider the relationship between the counter-culture and the dominant culture to be a complex one. But when I saw that ad, I was shocked at what a blatant fucking ripoff it was.
But take a taste test and judge for yourself. For the purposes of comparison, Benny did this minute-and-a-half edit with the unaltered audio and video footage from his zine:
…and this is the Coke ad. I saw this originally on the ad agency’s website, but after a television piece on the controversy it disappeared.