Verizon — When Pigs Fly?
Posted by lisagbrown on September 4, 2007
You may have seen this new TV commercial: a man and his son are looking wistfully at the window display of a Verizon cellphone store on a busy city street. The son says, “maybe the phones will go on sale soon.” The father replies, “yeah, when pigs fly!” The implication is that the phones will never go on sale, just as pigs will never fly. Suddenly, the face of a smiling salesperson appears in the window, and as she hangs a garish “sale!” sign, a plump pink pig enters the frame next to the father and son. After the two exchange bewildered looks, the commercial ends. As a viewer, I expected to see the pig fly away, or at the very least have cheaply constructed cherub’s wings harnessed to its back. If the phones are on sale, the pigs must fly, right? But this did not happen. This left me, and I suspect many other viewers, vaguely confused.
As I thought about it further, I realized that despite the fact that the expected “surprise” doesn’t happen, an alternate one does. It is completely nonsensical for a pig to wander along a city street. This is almost as shocking as a pig with wings. So, even though the audience does not get the shock we had prepared for, we get an equally compelling one. We fence wildlife out of our cities, we shun the food-making process to remote areas. Our daily contact with wildlife — or animals of any kind for that matter — has dwindled to almost nonexistent. Put in this context, it is hardly surprising that the appearance of a pig in a city is just as fantastical as a pig with wings.
In the essay “… From Wild Technology to Electric Animal,” ( in N. Rothfels (Ed) Representing Animals 2002) A.M. Lippit explores the notion that animal imagery in film, television and photography is an elaborate form of entombment. As humans retreat further from animals, we mourn the loss of them and create what Lippit calls a “technological crypt.” In this sense, we can honor a relationship that no longer exists. Humans capture animals on film to remind ourselves of them, yet the images we create are sterile and artificial. We are so far removed from them that we don’t even have the skills to manufacture a more believable image. Further, even as we mourn them, we still desire control over them. For instance, even when we allow a fictional pig into a fictional city, the animal is the cleanest, most pristine, pinkest, most well-behaved pig ever.
Whatever Verizon’s intention with this commercial was, they unknowingly advertised something far more lasting than a phone that will be obsolete the moment it is sold. Instead, Verizon highlighted the alarming alienation between humans and animals — farm animals in particular. It is not the ‘sale’ sign in the Verizon store window that gives viewers pause, it is the uncomfortable sight of a pig walking on concrete, casually strolling a neighborhood that could easily be the viewer’s own; it is the question of how a pig could end up on a city street, or why the image is so strange. The viewer is left with a lingering sadness and the wish that the pig would just fly away, if for no other reason than to end the discomfiting feeling of incongruity.
Lippit, A.M. (2002). …From Wild Techonology to Electric Animal. In N. Rothfels (Ed.) Representing Animals. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.