During yesterday's discussion of inexplicably frightening logos and TV intros, this bizarre 1990 commercial for Time-Life's Mysteries of the Unknown book series was mentioned. Immediately intoxicated by its stupidity, I've watched it a dozen times over the last 24 hours.
I couldn't place while I was entranced by this ad. Was it the poor acting? The worse dialog? Its limpid sales pitch? After rewinding the YouTube video until my eyes ached, it all made sense — this inept ad for books on spoon-bending and Stonehenge and shapeshifters was actually an erotic film is disguise. Improbable? Yes. But so was the coelacanth, and look how that turned out.
Here's my dissection. You're free to disagree, but the truth is out there...
0:00 - 0:08: We begin in the deserts of Sedona, Arizona. A Native American mystic is conducting a ceremony while an unseen flautist of some sort warbles away in the background.
0:04 - 0:08: The ruggedly masculine ritual leader has forgotten his undershirt. Is this some sort of fertility chant? We can only hope.
0:09 - 0:10: We meet the protagonists of our story. They don't have names, so I'll henceforth refer to them as Johnny TotebagSeed, Ms. Illiterate, and Jock Hubby. The logic behind this nomenclature will be screamingly apparent in a moment.
0:10 - 0:13: Ms. Illiterate asks Johnny TotebagSeed what's going on. He responds with a slurry of words half-remembered, perhaps a Vampire the Masquerade campaign he once played in college stoned.
0:14 - 0:16: Ms. Illiterate's aroused by Johnny's logorrhoea. She asks him if he buys into the incantation. Jock is secretly shocked by wife's sexual gambit, his face impassive (but soul bruised).
0:17 - 0:20: We're led to think that Johnny TotebagSeed is oblivious to the lady's advances, but then he mentions he likes to read. A learned man! Our man-purse-wielding lothario inquires of her literary preferences. Clearly this sun-baked mesa is some vintage of open-air swingers' market.
0:21 - 0:26: But our expectations explode yet again! Johnny produces a Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown book out of his eponymous totebag. Is he oblivious or simply heightening the erotic tension? Time will tell.
0:26 - 0:31: Ms. Illiterate parries deftly. "Not my thing, but it looks like you're into it," she grimaces. This woman knows the jiujitsu of seduction.
0:32 - 0:35: Johnny realizes he has been too oblique. "I beginning to think there are special powers to these mystic places" is code for "Let's cut the shit and mount each other like hussars."
0:35 - 0:38: Ms. Illiterate doesn't budge an inch. She's in control. She name-drops such milquetoast hamlets as Mystic, Connecticut and Mystic, Georgia. By associating his interest in mystic places with boring towns, she is doubting his virility. (PS: I like the aquarium in Mystic.)
0:39 - 0:41: Johnny claims that mystic places are "a lot closer." Like in his pants.
0:41 -0:43: "What's mystic about that?" Another harsh burn. She's making Johnny pay for his coyness.
0:44 - 0:49: Johnny overcompensates and shows her a picture of "incredible giant figures." He's shameless, this guy.
0:50 - 0:53: He tells her to "read the book" if she wants to know more. He also brings up "the Bermuda Triangle," which is code for Jock Hubby to join their love triad.
0:53 - 0:55: Jock Hubby, desperate that his wife is flirting with a murse-sporting stranger, blurts out the most insane line of the commercial:
That's right! A pilot we know once had a wild experience there.
Under normal circumstances, people would stare at you like a goddamn lunatic for spouting this nonsense. This is hands-down the stupidest line in the history of Time-Life marketing. But at the Sedona Sex Market, it's simply code that he's down for a threesome.
0:56 - 1:05: Johnny's entranced by Jock's gusto and shows him a picture of a plane plunging into a "mysterious star-shaped cloud." Looks like Jock's in for more than cuckolding! Johnny says, "And then the paranormal experiences really started!" This is a promise of gratification.
1:09 - 1:13: Johnny loses all sense of decorum and shows Ms. Illiterate pictures of obelisks.
Seriously, he's not trying anymore.
1:13 - 1:15: Now Jock is sold. "Read the book," he implores his lady. All those obelisks were titillating.
1:17 - 1:32: At this point, some unwatchably sexy sexiness happens offscreen as the narrator burbles a sales pitch. Remember how on The Truman Show they put the camera on the curtains whenever Jim Carrey had sex? It's exactly like that.
1:32 - 1:39: The camera pulls back to our protagonists. It is the aftermath of their dalliance. Ms. Illiterate and Jock agree to join Johnny on "The Sacred Earth tour," which I assume is another cruising spot. This was clearly a satisfying dalliance for all parties. Johnny has planted his seed — the seed of knowledge.
1:40 - 2:00: For the last 20 seconds, the Time Life spokesman prattles on while a phone number sears itself into the viewer's retinas. If you took this commercial at face value, you'd have no reason to call this number, as you'd have no idea what was going on and would've switched to The Dobie Gillis Show (or whatever the hell was on TV in 1990). But if you were hip to the subtext, you'd know the score.
Let's take a look at that number, slightly rejiggered on a touchtone telephone. "1-800-262-9900" also spells "1-800-COC-ZZOO." Now, I've never seen a COCZ ZOO advertised in the Yellow Pages, but I'm pretty sure I saw one in the back pages of The Village Voice.
So there you have it. The most incomprehensible advertisement I've ever seen. Was this a jettisoned porno outtake or a rejiggered KY commercial? I have no idea. All I do know is that I'm going to be carrying a rucksack full of Time-Life books the next time I'm at a bar. Hey honey, ever hear of Uri Geller?