On spiritual maturity, schlock jewelry, and the P-51
Hate is wrong. Hate is bad, we shouldn't hate. Jesus counsels us to love our enemies, and the Dalai Lama warns us that "the destructive effects of hatred are very visible, very obvious and immediate. For example, when a strong or forceful thought of hatred arises, at that very instant it overwhelms one totally and destroys one's peace and presence of mind."
Well, what about anger? Jesus had his moment with the money changers. Can we be angry, or is this also delusion? The American zen teacher Joko Beck shared this story in Nothing Special:
Suzuki Roshi was once asked if anger could be like a pure wind that wipes everything clean. He said, “Yes, but I don’t think you need to worry about that.” He said that he himself had never had an anger that was like the pure wind. And our anger is surely not that pure, either, because of the fear that lies beneath the anger. Unless we contact and experience our fear, we will have harmful anger.So, let me acknowledge that what follows is my choice to express something that, unexpressed, has had an undesired claim on my attention. I'm expressing, ok? I'm not hating. I'm not angry, you know?
It all started when the following ad appeared, several hundred times, on Bloomberg television - a channel I am professionally compelled to monitor:
After the promising appearance of the magnificent P-51, the ad then proceeds to fail on every level, from a guitar riff that would have been hackneyed in 1980, to the Boomer-bait monkey-cycle, to our hero's concluding dick move of pointing to his watch and flying away because the girl is late (because he has a date with another girl).
It is some kind of triumph of assholery, a Trumpian melange of egotism, mean-spiritedness, and bad taste. And there is only one brand that could compose such a malignant symphony of fuckwittery: Breitling.
Breitling. The name sticks in my craw like a half-chewed cockroach. Breitling - the firm that has made mannered ugliness its stock in trade. Breitling - the company that has industrialized the design and production of horological atrocities like this, this, and this. The Breitling section of EBay is a freak show of inelegant, non-utilitarian, poorly-designed, illegible, ugly watch-like whatchamacallits. There are no exceptions - there is not, in this world, a single defensible Breitling.
This is an incredible achievement, to have driven everything good or beautiful or praiseworthy from your product. General Motors had a good try in the 1960s, but even then there were a few exceptions for the motivated contrarian - maybe you could fall for a Toronado, and convince yourself that it was the one GM product that was ok, that had it somehow evaded the company's stupid/ugly stick. But the Breitling mojo is too strong. Every single Breitling product is an aesthetic disaster.
Usually the free market takes care of such things. Most people don't want bad, ugly products, after all. Yet, somehow, they sell. Breitling styles its products as "tools for professionals," but no professional would be caught dead wearing one. Buzz Aldrin wore an Omega Speedmaster. Steve McQueen (professionally cool) wore a Rolex Submariner. Russian cosmonauts - not known for their delicate sensibilities - nonetheless like the undeniable functional austerity of Fortis. Airline pilots prefer better-designed watches as well - I personally endorse (and wear) the TimeFactors Speedbird II, which is designed for this exacting clientele.
(It is true that Navy SEALS use Tag Heuer, which shows the incredible damage the Bush administration did to this country...but that's really a different topic.)
I wondered if the P-51 ad might have been a mistake, or a low-level screwup - you know, like the intern who made up the goofy Asian names after the 777 crash. Maybe it was just a case of "mistakes were made"?
Orchard Road, Singapore, 2013. The dork in the commercial has been replaced on a gigantic billboard by another even more gigantic dork:
(Although Travola at least got rid of the silly helmet.)
Consumed now by a spirit of scientific inquiry, and blessed with a few moments between engagements, I traveled to the advertised address, and observed Breitling's Singapore headquarters in all its glory:
In case you're missing the subtle imagery there in the window, here is a closer look.
And it began to dawn on me that this is no mistake - this is no accident. The whole strategy became clear to me: they mean to dominate the asshole market.
Assholes are doing great right now. In all of human history, has there ever been a better half century for assholes? Not the true monsters, mind you, the first half of the 20th century was their playtime: I mean the little fuckers, the small men in big cars, the wannabes, the pimply mediocrities itching for an opportunity to fuck other people over without consequences, the loudmouth jerks who delight in taunting the weak. Yes, we have always had them, history is full of them. But was there ever an era where so many of them did so well?
Their pockets are full, and Breitling is there for them. In the age of Trump, Breitling has achieved incredible success selling to the Trump wannabes, men for whom the word "loser" springs to the lips more felicitously than "hello" for you and me. Breitling is the watch for someone who wants everyone to understand that they are powerful and have money and don't give a fuck, and need fear no consequences for their callousness and cruely. Not "tools for professionals," then, but tools for tools.
I don't hate them. I'm not a hater. But if Breitling and its enabling ads disappeared from the face of the earth, I'm not sure we, as humans, would be the poorer.
And then there is the little matter of the P-51. I understand that the ill-informed engineers of Air Warrior rated the P-51 below various Yaks and Focke Wulfs, and that is their own look-out. The fact is, the plane won the war. Goering said he knew it was over when he saw American fighters - the long-range P-51 - over Berlin.
Of course using an engineering triumph like the P-51 to sell schlock jewelry is aesthetically criminal, but we have seen that sort of thing before. No, it is the symbolism that is wrong - severely wrong - and needs to be corrected.
If the P-51 is to be a symbol of anything, it must be a symbol of a global triumph over mendacious tyranny, an affirmation of freedom, the chariot of the good guys, as in Empire of the Sun...
...and an affirmation of redemption, as in Saving Private Ryan:
These are images of the P-51 that deserve to endure, and should endure (thank you Mr. Spielberg).
If it could talk, the P-51 would say to Breitling: "you know nothing of my work." The P-51 is not the bully's plane, it's the plane that grabbed the bully by the nose and kicked him in the ass, and made the world safe for freedom.
Breitling and its customers need to find another symbol for their special brand of bully-boy posturing. I can think of one that fits very well with their aesthetics and values: the Stuka.