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From the Wire: Cockroaches and Coke

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire April 25, 2013 at 12:02PM

Why does product placement survive the apocalypse?
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The A.V. Club's Inventory this week is a fun list entitled "Welcome to the End of the World, Have a Coke: 10 Cases of Prominent Post-Apocalyptic Product Placement." The title is fairly self-explanatory; different movies and books in which humanity is destroyed by earthquakes, bombs, storms, invaders, or other various and sundry disasters, but some of our creature comforts survive to feature prominently in the lives of the few remaining survivors. Here's how they describe a Corona beer's cameo in 2013's "Warm Bodies:"

"In the same vein, but much more cynical, is the moment in the zombie love story 'Warm Bodies' when animated corpse Nicholas Hoult offers terrified love interest Teresa Palmer a beer. He and his zombie buddies corner her and her friends, and kill everyone but her, in order to eat their brains. But something in Hoult's decaying mind attaches to Palmer, so he takes her back to his home in a stranded plane at the airport, where he plies her with food, drink, and a promise of safety. He seals the deal with the first beer she's had in ages -- a Corona with the label clearly displayed, backlit so it's the brightest thing on the desaturated screen. Lit up and positioned between their hands as he offers it to her, it looks a bit like E.T.'s glowing fingertip being extended to his kid buddy, full of magic and healing power. Also the promise of a fat product-placement contract."

By sheer fluke of timing, I read this list a few hours after watching this week's episode of "Mad Men," entitled "To Have and To Hold." It features a scene in which Don Draper and his wife Megan are at dinner with a couple of swingers; before the conversation turns to more risque matters, the foursome discuss "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and its inability to keep advertisers. The companies keep bailing, Don says, because family products want to be associated with family friendly shows. The Smothers Brothers do satire. And satire, Don says, is "the most threatening form of comedy."

Reading the A.V. Club's Inventory the same night I watched that "Mad Men" had me wondering: why would a company deliberately place its product in a post-apocalyptic movie? This genre isn't automatically satirical, but it's always threatening in its own way. These movies remind us of our mortality and the precariousness of our society. They make us nervous and uncomfortable. They reveal the hollowness of our obsession with consumption in the face of disaster and tragedy; sometimes that obsession is even depicted as our undoing. So why plunk a big, sweaty Corona down on the table in the middle of all that darkness?

Here is why: nothing is supposed to survive armageddon but the cockroaches. Putting your product in that context makes it more than iconic -- it makes it immortal. Suddenly that drink is more than a drink; it's indestructible. Not even a zombie holocaust can destroy a delicious, refreshing cerveza. That's an advertisement worth paying for -- even in the midst of the end of all that ever was. 

Read more of "Welcome to the End of the World, Have a Coke."

This article is related to: From the Wire


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