Imagine there is a Heaven.
Imagine John Lennon is in Heaven, and he is retching over this.
John Lennon’s image, and an imitation of his voice, has been exploited in a television ad to ship laptop computers to poor children all over the world. Calculatingly altruistic, but it is sickening to watch.
I began my opposition to the commercial exploitation of The Beatles’ and Lennon’s music in TV ads almost 25 years ago. It began in 1985 when the first commercial of that year’s Grammy awards was a Chevrolet ad using “Help”…the first time a Beatles song was used in such a manner. I objected to The Beatles music, copyright ownership by Michael Jackson, being used in advertising that had no correlation with the intent of the song or its lyrics.
Back then, I formed a shoe-string organization called “F.A.C.E. The Music” (Fans Against Commercial Exploitation) which gathered petitions and sent letters to major advertising firms, and the major TV networks, to stop accepting advertising using Beatles music. The NBC legal dept threatened to sue me over my alleged “harassment” of their advertising dept. Sending them two letters, and a petition was too much for them. I told NBC to go ahead, sue me, and make my day. Of course, their feckless lawyers never did.
Eventually, “F.A.C.E. The Music” faded away. Over the decades I’ve become inured to Beatles songs as background music for TV ads, but now comes this….the actual image of John Lennon being used to promote a commercial product, with a voiceover saying things he never said. This strikes me as reprehensible.
I have defended Yoko Ono many times, publicly and privately, regarding the commercial licensing of products lending themselves to John Lennon (e.g. children’s pajamas containing some of his drawings), but this time I think her permission to have John’s image advertise laptop computers has crossed an ethical line.
It’s one thing to say that John Lennon would promote peace if he were still alive, it’s another thing entirely to say he would have advocated a laptop for every child in the Third World.
Some say that this commercial will benefit children. I don’t believe that. It’s actual purpose is to make the computer company money. Who knows if the computers will actually be used by children. More than likely they will be used by adults…and who knows towards what ends. And even should a child in the Sudan or Uruguay come to own one of these laptops, will it really be used to learn, or merely to entertain? Wouldn’t bringing food, clean water, sanitary facilities, and vaccinations be a more worthwhile goal for poor children throughout the world than shilling a computer, no matter how “noble” they label the endeavor?
Some will say that John Lennon was Yoko Ono’s husband, and that as head of his estate she has the right to do whatever she wants. Well, that’s true, but as with every freedom there comes responsibility. The misuse of Lennon’s image (figuratively and literally) is irresponsible, and not in keeping with John’s history.
The desensitization of our society by commercial advertising continues unabated. As a Beatles and Lennon fan, I am saddened that his image is being manipulated in this way.
Marc A. Catone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org