Friday, October 16, 2009
Difficulty seeing the ad? Point your browser here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46TPR719DO4
While completing an essay on editable landscapes, I banged together some thoughts on the Marriott Courtyard chain's "It's a New Stay" campaign. The free-wifi spot does a fine job of illustrating the omnitopian concept of mutability, especially the implication that office work colonizes the natural world, rendering the outside little more than a stage-set for corporate machinations.
The spot begins with an office-worker typing on a laptop. He is "white collar," literally and professionally. Even so (and though he is clearly gendered "male") the worker does not possess a uniformly recognizable racial or ethnic identity; the privilege of his position does not flow from an easily perceived institutionalized inequity. Marriott's Courtyard concept, while hardly an expansive agora, seeks to enact a sense of place whose demographic contours are less visible than the one expressed (or at least imagined by some critics) in Marriott's signature brand.
The office-worker is viewed from profile, and we adopt his position, occupying a narrow space of possibility. The room is dark, lit only by a vertically shaped lamp. A similarly functional glass of water is the only other prop. The man types on a keyboard that is tethered by a thin data-cable. The rapid strikes of piano keys convey his rhythm of drive and productivity. Then the man removes the cable, his face displaying a brief tight-lipped smile of satisfaction. Simultaneously, the scene switches to a wider angle, revealing that his "office" is actually a hotel room, now lit by several vertical lamps. The white pillows of his bed provide the only other contrast to the black and deep-red color of the scene.
At this point, the room dissolves. The couch and a wall are pulled to the left; the bed and rear wall swing to the right. Outside, a city appears in two halves: a green park below, shafts of office towers above. Another edit depicts still a wider angle shot while horns and woodwinds augment the piano, projecting an ethereal ambiance. The office-worker occupies a center position within a newly open space whose windows resemble stylized arches. Light fills the room, which we now recognize as the Courtyard lobby. As a trio of oval lights descend, other business-types rotate into view. One dyad sits back-to-back; a man reads the paper while a woman picks up a mobile phone. The hotel lobby is their place, too, but not entirely.
The office-worker continues the performance of manipulating his environment. By his design, we see the lobby itself disappear, the front desk spinning to the left. He smiles that curt look of confidence once more. His head down, his eyes focused on the screen, he is somehow reshaping this environment merely by tapping that keyboard. A voice-over explains: "Free wifi: Giving you the freedom to get out and work wherever you want." Voices chant a ditty that transforms the scene also, but not entirely, returning to a softer version of the first tone. The arches sink toward the floor, becoming a low wall covered with flowing green flowers. The worker is free to "get out," though he continues his productive labors.
The nature of this "outside" affirms the omnitopian message of this spot. A fern appears to the man's left and a table topped with a tall drink (and a straw) appears to his right. Other people rest in chairs fit for vacation, their clothes relaxed and informal. But our protagonist blurs those worlds, even as he lifts that tropical-looking drink to his lips. His chair, one of those ergonomic-types in black-plastic, remains firmly rooted in the office. The organic form of the wall hides its disciplinary function, but not much better than the corporate structure evoked by that chair. The voiceover reminds us, "Free wifi at Courtyard: It's a new stay." Indeed it is, a stay defined by fluidity rather than status. But the new stay affirms the old narrative the office-worker who manages this place continues to be managed by unseen bosses. For a moment, he swivels his chair just a tiny bit and looks up from that keyboard toward the clouds. But he doubtlessly is pleased by this editable landscape.
He's going nowhere.