December 23, 2013


We all saw Misunderstood, Apple’s holiday ad, a lot yesterday. Apple made a huge football buy. As I’ve already noted, Misunderstood has evoked strong reactions. It drives some people up the wall. That’s what art does. I think it’s worth taking a close look, though, because this is also a very well-crafted ad that exemplifies a new media aesthetic that it promotes.

There's a lot going on in nearly every shot, a foreground narrative element and also something else happening in the background or at the edge of the frame. In part, that's preparation for the nature of the campaign: if you're going to make people watch this three or four times on the same day (and, if you're going to buy NFL that's going to happen), you want to give the people something to look at. Contrast that to other high-frequency ad buys: Ford’s “Nuts or Bolts” is funny once but that’s all there is. You can watch Misunderstood again and again and see new stuff.

There's another resonance here as well.  This is a family with problems.  The weather is awful. Grandpa’s “they’re here!” is not very joyful: they’re here already and there’s stuff to do and no time. There's not enough money: they have a lovely house, but there’s torn wallpaper under the stairs at 0:39. Think that’s an accident? They've got a kid they don’t really know what to do with. They're distracted (no one's watching the little girl, so the kid steps in).  When The Kid starts playing with the TV in the denouement, you can see that Father in the background looks like he’s had enough and he’s not going to take it anymore. There’s even a second reaction shot where he’s clearly had it up to here and starts to step in to stop this nonsense.

We see lots of things twice: one in life, once remediated through The Kid’s art. Importantly, The Kid’s technique is lousy: right at the start of the video, we have bad framing, pointless shots, gimmick shots. This is not the work of a pro using a cell phone; this is credibly The Kid’s work. But there’s beauty, too, and the kid has an eye. It’s all pulled together with music (of course), but look at what The Kid chose: not something like Sleeper Agent’s rock “Winter Wonderland,” which Verizon is using for hipness, but Cat Power (channeling Billy Holiday) singing the saddest of sad holiday songs. “Have yourself a merry little Christmas: it may be your last.”

But they are a family, and they're together, and the kid and the tools lets them step back for a moment and see that.