Star-Spangled Bonds, produced by Peter Mullett Films/Kershner & Co. for U.S. Savings Bonds.
Star-Spangled Bonds strings a series of luminous limnings aimed straight at the heart. It taps–and markets–the image of America as the land of milk and honey, of opportunity and prosperity, of freedom well earned and much valued. Nothing novel about the advertising techniques here: But they’re put to effective use, and are unlikely to offend in this era of peace and plenty, where the political battles in Washington seem so completely irrelevant that pollsters are hard pressed to elicit strong reactions from their public. Not that the spot raises the specters of isolation and apathy, of course. Star-Spangled Bonds’ America is involved, concerned, and while the spot does draw explicitly on the country’s speckled history, it is careful to take the edge off.
Set, appropriately, to the “Star-Spangled Banner” (à la Jimi Hendrix), and presented montage-style, the spot mines the collective memory for its material. There are shots aplenty from times of war and protest: the curve of a fighter jet; Iwo Jima, in black and white; a Black Panther’s finger snap; battlefield comradeship; a civil-rights clash; the dun and dunes of what appears to be Operation Desert Storm; an anti-Vietnam War rally; then the Vietnam War Memorial, in sunset silhouette. And there’s plenty of fuzzy stuff–a shot of a child playing with fluffy white pigeons; of a fiercely bespectacled towhead whooshing down a slide; of a happy, freckles-and-ice-cream-spattered face. No in-your-face politics, perhaps, but children and their rights remain sacred in the public eye–even Republican conservatives didn’t dare oppose the Kennedy-Hatch plan of health care for kids paid for by cigarette taxes, part of this summer’s bipartisan budget bill.
Threading the collage is the word “freedom,” presented on the unlikeliest of canvases–on a scrap caught on a wire fence, on the black-leather back of a biker’s jacket, on a green road sign. In each case, the word is first brought to life with a few images, then rounded off by a question that is answered by the images that follow. For example: A shot of the wire fence merges, via the pigeons in the park, into sepia scenes–winged feet in the wild West; an ancient merry-go-round–and comes to brief rest on a sign emblazoned on the side of a bus: “What is it?” The montage continues, familiar scenes reminding us what freedom has come to mean. It’s about popping a wheelie on your mountain bike, framed by the Golden Gate. It’s about acing a race, tasting the rain, reaping a new harvest, mourning a loss, watching a rocket blast into space. This is freedom hard-won, the fruit of wars and sacrifice and struggle. “How much does it cost?” “How do we protect it?” The unlikely–and more than slightly jarring–response reminds us that freedom is as tenuous as it is precious, that the current sense of plenty must be zealously guarded: “Take stock in America,” we’re told. And, against a shot of a savings bond, backdropped by a waving flag: “Buy U.S. Savings Bonds.” A discordant note, this one, but an effective reminder that there’s more to the feel-good feeling than just feeling good.
Robert Shrum is a leading Democratic political consultant.