Friday, April 11, 2008

God Damn You, Nikon

I remember this old camera commercial from the early '80s, maybe. The message the company wanted to get across was that most consumer-grade cameras had too slow a shutter speed or had lenses that required this. The problem they were stating was that, when you took pictures of action scenes they came out blurry and crappy looking.

The example they pushed to embody this was of a nice summer picnic with friends. A bunch of mid-20s men and women are playing frisbee, jumping around and laughing, and then one dude whips out a camera. Immediately everyone freezes in place: bodies are caught in mid-leap, holding perfectly still off the ground. Frozen rictuses plaster the faces of his man's companions, silence overtakes the grassy park landscape as the dude runs to one corner, gets a shot of everyone, runs to another spot for another picture, finds another angle, etc.

It struck me as terribly sad. This guy just wanted to preserve a fun moment with his friends. He wanted mementos to look back upon maybe 20 years later, admiring his body before it had gone to pot. He wanted to recall those glowing, warm, sunny days after life had dragged everyone in separate directions. But he couldn't because his camera was that crappy. Only a space-time anomaly could permit him to take good pictures.

I felt awful for him. The poor guy probably knew nothing about cameras. He probably got an invitation to this picnic a month in advance and tripped out to some general store to pick up a camera. He probably hefted a couple plastic models, turning them over as if to suddenly glean the specifications he would need to evaluate them by. A cherry red Kodak in his right hand, a turquoise blue Canon in his left: his brow furrowed and his mahogany irises flicked back and forth between the two models, making up criteria on the spot, assessments based on size and apparent function. Huh, he probably thought, the Canon has all these extra numbers that the Kodak doesn't. But the Kodak comes with a strap. He probably began envisioning scenarios in which a strap would come in handy, like locking his legs around the base of a tree to enable him to dangle over the edge of a cliff and get a shot of a nest of eaglets. If the camera happened to slip from his fingers for whatever reason, the strap would prevent it from spinning down to the rocky beach many yards below.

He imagined he might actually find himself in such a situation. Something awakened in his heart, something young and bright. He had a curiosity about the world, one that he'd lost upon entering high school.

And then it died again, at the picnic, as soon as it became painfully aware what a crappy camera he actually bought. As his vibrant young friends held in the air, he saw his legs slipping and his body falling, cartwheeling to the jagged rocks below, the cheap camera exploding on a boulder as violently as though it had been packed with TNT. As he imposed upon the patience of his friends to angle for another shot, he came to realize that the world was much uglier, much more tawdry than he'd ever imagined.

That commercial made me feel terrible. The fact that they were trying to sell a camera that compensated for this difficulty didn't improve anything.

No comments: