All-American stuff made before 11 September looks different now. It's because we've acknowledged what made them so infinitely optimistic, so self-obsessed; so untroubled by doubt or grounded European irony.
It was the lack of clear and present danger that allowed this enviable parade of because-I'm- worth-its. The beginning of history, the presence of rubble (Tom Wolfe has written at length on how important a symbol the rubble of devastated Europe was to wannabe European New York intellectuals) makes the One Market Under God culture of the last 20 years seem like a weird blip in western history – and especially the new business cultures of the last 10 years.
Microsoft sending us on a train journey ("where do you want to go today?") to the sound of Bowie's "Heroes" was exciting enough – a debased futurist manifesto with a wall of money behind it, the biggest stock market boom ever, built on businesses that seemed to defy gravity, businesses that could fly. In the launch commercials for Microsoft's Windows XP, people fly all the time: they take off in green fields and in offices and float around. It's a lovely effect – though I've seen it before – and much more impressive and hard to dismiss in a confined space. They fly around because they've been empowered by XP. "You can, yes you can", say all those irritating on-screen strap lines.
"You soar", "you talk", "you mix", "you edit". You're empowered to express yourself, to do demi-artistic things with a media-ish feel to them; to film things and put them straight on your screen. You can live a hi-tech, high-touch life, out in the forest with your laptop. It's about the soaring wonder of a wireless network.
Despite its 1990s messages – empowerment, expression, new technology Lite – this commercial has an oddly 1980s look. The huge office sets, the multiple screens, the Cambridge, Massachusetts styling of the bare-brick re-habbed work-spaces all remind you of those big High Concept films. And of course the "music-over" is by that colossus of self-actualisation, Madonna.
Over the last few years we've got used to commercials from American new-technology advertisers. We know their world view and their aesthetic, we recognise their easy universalism, their Personal Growth stories, their arts mania, their Post Modernism and its no-pain, ready-made ironies. So a new Microsoft launch, high production values and all, doesn't look that special; it just looks like more history.Reuse content