Sunday, May 06, 2007

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up

Awhile back, I blogged about the appeal of retro commercials. There is a website devoted in part to the celebration of such commercials: While perusing this site, you might encounter the classic early 1990s commercial for Life Alert Emergency Response. If that doesn't ring a bell, it's the "I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up" commercial.

Since I was 11-years-old when the spot premiered in 1989, I watched a lot of daytime television at the time, and certainly remember seeing it multiple times. And since I actively enjoyed reruns of the Batman television series, I had formed no sensibilities regarding the presence of such a thing as "camp." As such, I was completely bewildered when I started to hear this line quoted and mocked on multiple occasions. I had previously regarded poor Mrs. Fletcher's predicament with concern and sympathy. After all, it's not illogical to expect such a thing to happen to the elderly. My honest to goodness reaction to the emergent popularity of the line was to assume that it contained some hidden sexual meaning that I wasn't privy to. That hypotheses gradually faded as I heard the line uttered in polite company, as well as noted it's arrival on T-shirts for Morry's Bar in the form of "I've fallen and I can't reach my beer." (As a side note, I was disappointed to read on Wiki that this was actually a national phenomenon. Here I thought Morry's Bar was special.)

Eventually, I played along and assumed that the phenomenon could be attributed to a general mockery of the elderly. (Sometimes I think we don't credit children enough for the levels of cynicism they can attain. In many ways, I was more cynical as a child than I am now). In hindsight, though, I'm not sure if I was all that wrong. Viewing the commercial from today's perspective, I can certainly note the campy overacting, but I'm not sure if those elements were enough alone to elevate it to such levels of infamy.

Taking a psychoanalytic approach (assuming that humor is a way to deal with repressed fears) it certainly makes sense that this mockery would be a way to cover concerns of future helplessness (and the absolute degree of helplessness that Mrs. Fletcher exhibited was such that one had to either laugh or be terrified). There is also something disconcerting in how articulate she is given her abject status. If she had said "I've fallen...can't get up!" would the statement have resonated? Or is there something more horrifying, and hence humorous, about using compound sentences in dire circumstances?

In any event, this commercial was clearly a product of its time, and wouldn't have become famous today. In the viral world of youtube, there is such a proliferation of campy scenarios, that the shelf life of all of them is limited. No way a catch phrase can last for years anymore. Daytime advertising camp has fallen, and...ah, not gonna go there.


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