2010 British Television Advertising Awards to make a somber impression at the Walker Art Center

If you're not getting hungry for chocolate, this ad isn't doing its job. Image courtesy Walker Art Center.

If the advertising firms of the United Kingdom have done their jobs well this year, after the Walker Art Center's sold-out run of screenings of winners of the 2010 British Television Advertising Awards, there will be several thousand Minnesotans slightly less likely to do cocaine, drive after doing cocaine, smoke cigarettes, get into an unmarked cab, tolerate being the victims of domestic violence, drive over the speed limit, take an airline flight, have unprotected sex, carry a knife, or drink and drive—though slightly more likely to drink in general, though slightly less likely to drink to drunkenness. If you notice a lot of mildly buzzed people riding the bus...oh, wait, we have that already.

The BTAAs are a well-attended annual holiday-season tradition at the Walker (screenings of this year's winners begin on December 3), and many attend the awards seeking visual wonders and dry English humor. This year's crop predictably has both, but last year's ads were relatively dark, and this year's are darker still. While there are plenty of cute and charming clips, there are few laugh-out-loud funny ads and a lot of disturbing cautionary ads. I'll repeat my warning from last year that these ads are not suitable for young children: ads showcased this year depict a backseat rape, a kitchen beating, and a stabbing in the groin.

2010 british television advertising awards, presented through january 2 at the walker art center. for tickets ($10) and information, see walkerart.org.

One particularly memorable ad depicts polar bear corpses raining down upon a city, leaving bloody streaks on skyscrapers as they fall. (Each one represents the weight of carbon dioxide emissions from a commercial flight.) Another has a man haunted by the mangled corpse of a young boy, which he sees everywhere. (The man drove over the speed limit.)

Other ads are more palatable. In an advertisement for electronics, "extreme sheep herders" strap lights onto sheep and herd them as pixels into complex illustrations. Another has a jockey, bumped from his horse, running the remainder of a race himself—and winning. ("Somebody had his Weetabix!")

More than any feature film I've seen, the 2010 BTAAs conclusively demonstrate that computer-assisted special effects have fully matured. Based on the evidence here, by combining live action and digital effects, directors today can convincingly portray just about anything you can imagine. Seeing so many different kinds of effects and techniques successfully used in so many different ways is a fascinating experience, and reason enough to recommend watching the BTAA winners.

One thing I've always loved about the BTAA presentations, as an experience, is their forthright commercialism. When you buy a ticket to the BTAAs at the Walker, you're paying a nonprofit institution to show you advertisements for products. The BTAA phenomenon is just one of the many weird and wonderful aspects of contemporary advertising, which is becoming more complex by the minute. The BTAA presentation at the Walker does in a sense represent a reappropriation of the commercial sphere by artists—it's the video equivalent of Warhol's Brillo box—but its genius, like Warhol's, is in its recognition that brands and their advertising campaigns are part of the fabric of our lives, and we wouldn't want it any other way.

Sent from my MacBook

This production is featured in the Daily Planet's complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you'll know who's been naughty and who's been nice.
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    Jay Gabler's picture
    Jay Gabler

    Jay Gabler (@JayGabler) is a digital producer at The Current and Classical MPR.

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    BTAA Awards

    Thanks, Jay, for another witty, LOL review. I flashed on the popularity of the "Mad Men" series when I purchased tickets to see the BTAAs again this year for the 3rd time. Your reference to Warhol is right on. In the same way that his Brillo Pads and Campbell Soup Cans captured cultural imagination in the 60s, the popularity of the BTAAs is a sign of how thoroughly the commercial esthetic is ingrained in our culture.