The out-of-left-field commercial success of grunge in the early ‘90s took practically everyone by surprise, and produced a lot of amusing and embarrassing attempts to play catch-up (couture flannel on fashion runways and the brilliantly played grunge-speak hoax at the expense of the New York TImes were among my favorites), but watching the advertising and marketing industries in particular caught with their pants down was illuminating. Never before or since have the massive promotional machines that drive the American status-anxiety economy been caught so unprepared, and forced to scramble so publicly to chase a demographic it hadn’t yet even begun to comprehend. Some of them nailed it—Fruitopia, for example, was pretty gross, and its pandering was shamefully transparent, but they sure did sell a metric shitload of sugar-water for awhile. But successes aren’t as funny as massive public failures.
In 1992, somebody decided that it would be a great idea to sell Subaru’s newly-introduced Impreza by filming a grunge kid making proto-Dane Cook gesticulations and explaining to us that “This car is like PUNK ROCK!” Nevermind (sorry) that in spite of grunge chart successes most people still thought of punk as the milieu of unhygienic, violent, misanthropic dropouts—because IT WAS. Never mind the utter absurdity of drawing an equivalence between an explosive expression of rage against complacency and a drab, modest grocery store assault vehicle. And never mind that almost nobody who might be moved by such an appeal had money or credit for a brand new car. There were so many perfectly sensible arguments against attempting such a stupefyingly dumb marketing tactic, and yet this happened anyway… Talk about Crass commercialism (again, sorry!)
Astute readers (and people who can see the plainly visible caption on the video) may recognize the young actor in this total mistake as Jeremy Davies, who would quickly overcome all this unfortunate business with his starring role in the well-received indie feature Spanking The Monkey. He’d go on to a lauded performance in Saving Private Ryan, and he even appeared in Lars von Trier’s daring experimental films Dogville and Manderlay. His filmography is impressive, but he’s probably most widely recognized from his portrayal of Daniel Faraday in seasons four and five of ABC’s cult hit Lost.