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SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2016
A friend of mine, knowing the Beatles fan that I am, sent me a link to a YouTube video. It was a commercial (as you'll see below) for OLPC - One Laptop Per Child, a company which is trying to bring computers and the internet to lesser fortunate children who live in 3rd world countries. It's certainly a noble idea - giving the children the chance at something they otherwise would not have had. I first read about OLPC in 2004, and thought it was a brilliant idea - though, over the years they hit a few road blocks that held back the project. But even so, it prompted other companies - larger, more established companies - to produce their own sub-notebooks that could be made available to children in 3rd world countries.

Yet, the OLPC commercial disappointed me for a number of reasons. For one, it used a person who is dead - and has been dead for 28 years now. John Lennon never endorsed the OLPC, as it came years and years after his death - and yet, in the following commercial you hear a poor imitation of John Lennon's voice encouraging the purchase of OLPCs. It banks on the assumption that Lennon would have endorsed their product.

In the video he "says:"

Imagine every child, no matter where in the world they were, could access a universe of knowledge. They would have a chance to learn, to dream, to achieve anything they want. I tried to do it through my music. But now, you can do it in a very different way. You can give a child a laptop, and more than imagine - you can change the world.

The use of Lennon in the video was approved by Yoko Ono, who has full control over how Lennon's image can be used - and what products the image endorses. Would Lennon have endorsed the OLPC? Perhaps - but that's just speculation, and not really the point I'm really concerned with.

I'm more disturbed by the use of a man, a man who inadvertently became the image of peace, of progressiveness, of a world which could only be imagined. The image of John Lennon has grown beyond the man that John Lennon was - and it's an image people immediately will jump to defend. I'm a huge fan of John Lennon's music, myself - and perhaps it's why I'm bothered by his use in this commercial.

To begin with, I take a bit of an issue with the line "I tried to do it through my music," which I personally don't believe is accurate at all. The man wrote a couple of songs that were more politically inclined such as Imagine and Working Class Hero. Outside of those few songs though, he wrote about love, and about life. As he once told a fan, who was praising him for his music, and was saying that Lennon was speaking to him - as though the songs were written for him - Lennon replied with: "I wrote the songs for myself. I wrote about my life, and my feelings. If you liked it, great. But the songs weren't written for you, or for anybody." Of course, I'm paraphrasing - but for the actual reply, check out the Instant Karma DVD. His songs were not attempts to allow children to "have a chance to learn, to dream, to achieve anything they want..." Of course, he would have been a strong advocate, I'm sure. But the songs were just songs, plain and simple.

I'm more surprised at the use of his image, by OLPC and the allowing of it by Ono. In a way, OLPC is tapping into our collective admiration for Lennon (as a clarifying point, I mean Lennon the image, and not necessarily Lennon the man) as a means to convey it's message to us. Like any company which hires an iconic figure, they're just hoping that figure can bring about customers - however, in this case, the figure has had no real say in what they would advocate.

Sure the OLPC is doing a charitable thing here - and was the first in its kind to offer it. But by including the image of Lennon in its ad, it instantly inherits Lennon's symbolic meaning. If Lennon were alive, he'd have the ability to criticize OLPC in the areas he found problematic - but in this fake-endorsement, OLPC adopts an infallibility that is rather misleading.

To give an example: Imagine if Toyota advertised their Prius with Jesus, or Gandhi driving it along to roadway. Perhaps this sounds more comical, and worth a chuckle. But imagine the commercial had melancholy music, a soothing voice like Kevin Spacey's (though he's currently working for Honda) - in other words, imagine if the commercial was constructed to play into our emotions, rather than to our sense of humor. Neither Gandhi or Jesus, quite obviously, would have any say in this ad, and yet through their images the company forms a connection between their product and the man. It makes you think "Yea, Gandhi would drive the Prius!" leaving you blind to any possible criticisms you - or Gandhi - may have had with the company.

"John Lennon" says nothing wrong in the ad - it sounds heartfelt, though not authentically Lennon. And in that way, you can't help but feel the ad, and therefore the company are truly authentic and genuine. I make no claim against their authenticity - only against their claim that Lennon, if he were alive, would have endorsed their computer rather than, say, the Asus alternative.


The Beatles were also against using their music in commercials. I think McCartney and Ono eventually began to do it but not during Lennon's lifetime.
REPLIES: alishahnovin



Replying to Alamir:
It was Michael Jackson's fault for Beatles songs appearing in commercials - he purchased the rights to them, so Revolution started advertising shoes instead of a revolution of the mind.



Replying to alishahnovin:
No but what I meant was McCartney's done some commercials himself.. here it is:



You paraphrase Lennon as saying, "I wrote the songs for myself. I wrote about my life, and my feelings. If you liked it, great. But the songs weren't written for you, or for anybody."

On the surface this sound shallow and selfish. But this is usually the attitude of artist, even - or especially - the most important, influential or "political" ones. Lots of artists say things like, "I just make the kind of art that I'd like to see, but don't. I do it for myself." And most performers admit the reason why they get on stage in the first place is because they get a kick out of it. Lenny Bruce, that most didactic of all politically controversial comedians, said he did his comedy because he loved being on stage. As a somewhat pretentious and didactic stage performer myself, I have to admit that I do it for myself mostly, not so much to "educate" the audience, though I do convince myself that it's not completely selfish.

It's a bit of a paradox, that most artists, especially the ones with something interesting and important to say, don't claim to be doing it for any public reason. It's just for private pleasure, they say. But maybe this is a necessary ingredient for good art, that the artist doesn't intentionally aim to educate or persuade, but ends up doing so.

I don't have much to say about Lennon or celebrity endorsements from beyond the grave, but that's what the article made me think of...
REPLIES: alishahnovin



I agree - that statement is not negative at all. Good music comes from a desire to generate beauty for that one connoisseur with whom every artist is most intimately connected: themselves. Some artists write for a lover or a loved one, but our loved ones are reflections of ourselves.

Lennon's remark is very Randian, good on him for displaying virtuous selfishness


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