Wrangler hurries down road to nowhere

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The Independent Online

Now this is a bit of a weird one: the Pinky and Perky chorus singing "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" over a herd of bison thundering by night. There's a lot more where that came from in the new Wrangler commercial; a very particular kind of Americana.

What's it meant to trigger in the viewer's head? For me, it's Independent Short Film Night at somewhere like the ICA in the Eighties, when they were all on about David Lynch and his wonders. This ad has that indy short look: the dusty colours alternating with black and white; the cultural allusions; the "alienated" roadscape and the Fifties dreamland. The whole kit is cut in self-conscious ways for art school enjoyment. This is the visual language of Dazed & Confused.

It just has to start with a young hitchhiker on the Road to Nowhere, but I wasn't expecting floodlit bison. There they are, the Elemental America. And there are headlights in the rural dark. An old car bucks down the road, doing that rear-end lift-off trick stunt drivers do. Then our boy gets picked up in one of those Seventies over-sized American prole cars. Then he's pulling his jeans on twice – back-view action replay – in front of a very considered washbasin mirror.

We're off down a street of Fifties suburban dream homes, against a bright blue ironic sky. One of the dream houses belches a huge petrol gush of flame (we read it so differently in October 2001). And there's more: he's throwing his bag into a slow-moving railway freight wagon and himself after it, a scene from a thousand Westerns. But the first thing he sees in this vast empty space is a bare-chested, raw-boned man with ridiculous blond hair – a Warhol lookalike. Then there are more floodlit bison and the gnomic strapline "whatever you ride".

Before Levi's started beating its rivals hollow in the mid-Eighties, jeans advertising was all over the place, with everyone looking for a new look and a fashionable sound – and ending up losing it. The Wrangler approach – hire a new director and let him loose – reminds me of all that. Meanwhile Levi's is selling a distinctive product – twisty jeans – in an utterly memorable way with relevant special effects (twisty heads and limbs). It makes the Wrangler ad look marginal.

The view of America being presented is a casualty of recent history. Adolescent allusiveness and weak, contrived homosexiness look like messages from another world.