Cancun is a Long Ways Away
The commercial opens with a shot of an old man packing his suitcase, and behind him is a black and white picture of an American soldier. The viewer assumes that the man in that picture is the old man. As he continues to speak, the viewer learns that the place he is going – a place with great significance in his life, judging by the tone of his voice – involved young men storming beaches. The viewer now has enough information to piece together the reasonable expectation that this man is a WWII veteran (WWII veterans who are still alive are necessarily old men, WWII was the war in which more beach storming was done by American soldiers than in any other), and that he is returning to the site of a battle he was involved in (since those places, understandably, leave deep impressions upon those who’s actions at them give them noteriety). Instead he turns out to be returning to a famous vacation destination.
What is offensive is the implication that those veterans who do claim that their finest hours were their heroism in battle are lying. It gives the impression that when a man claims to have been forever changed by war he is simply saying what is expected of him. Although it is entirely possible for a man’s “finest hour” to be his youthful vacation in Cancun, that is being extremely charitable, and given the context, it’s certain that that was not the position Kayak was taking. Again, being charitable, perhaps the old man finally summoned the courage to propose marriage to his wife on that beach in Cancun – and that that’s what he considers his finest hour. That would be pefectly valid (and actually show a uniquely admirable orientation towards values, rather than simply the defeat of disvalues), but given that he mentions the presence of many women (“bombshells”) on his vacation, that can be ruled out. He was there to do nothing exceptional; but simply to relax, party, and have more or less meaningless experiences. Kayak was readily conceding that the most cherished experiences of most men come when they are tested and they succeed, not when they take time away to rest and to celebrate those successes.
Why would Kayak be willing to denigrate the significance of war’s effects upon it’s participants by elevating the effects of an unchallenging vacation? Why is such an advertisement considered safe – let alone positive – for a company’s reputation in today’s culture? The answer has to do with three philosophical ideas running rampant in today’s culture: egalitarianism, subjectivism, and mysticism. Egalitarianism allows those who’ve achieved nothing to feel as though their lack of achievement – their habitual gravitation towards leisure and escapism – is equal in moral stature to the decision to challenge oneself and achieve. Next, subjectivism allows the viewer to justify this feeling by maintaining that everything – every experience – cannot be understood by an external observer. If someone asserts that his consistent pattern of eschewing opportunities to meet challenges was itself just as challenging, subjectivism tells any would-be detractor that those feelings, because they are feelings, are beyond the scope of rational scrutiny. And, finally, mysticism allows the failure to indulge the notion that he will be able to reach the same sort of personal satisfaction in his old age as the achiever has reached. This commercial provides him with “proof” of that fact, in much the same way as descriptions of heaven resemble the best places on Earth provide believers in that delusion with a saving grace for their sense of personal failure.
Anyone who is not deeply offended by this commercial, at least after the comedic effect of surprise and incongruity has worn off, is drawn to is precisely because it gives him a momentary relief from the chronic axiety brought about by a meaningless life.