As devotees of this PBS Masterpiece series know, Downton Abbey is preceded by a parade of obligatory sponsors. The line-up invariable, I am not here to deconstruct the “story” Ralph Lauren never tires of reminding us he’s telling, but the sumptuous & escapist European visions offered up by Viking River Cruises.
The sweeping aerial vistas we’re treated to as we ready our wine and popcorn for the main event are ones we would never get on a river cruise. We can tell even with one eye on the microwave that what Viking River Cruises promises is at best an exaggeration and at worst a lie. Their weekly commercial promises what cannot be delivered, because as their company name suggests, they are not in fact selling helicopter rides.
At the same time, their ad does little to reveal the views that one would experience lounging on the deck of a modest sized vessel on the Rhein: the views from below. Views from below arguably offer up their own type of grandeur and majesty, the awe-inspiring sense of being utterly dwarfed by surrounding history, unfamiliar culture, and landscape.
So why does the ad privilege a vantage point it cannot reproduce? Surely they’re not in the business of giggling and smirking “gotcha!” after tucking us into our cabins at night. Do they think shooting landscape from above shows more? Are we all just a helicopter ride away from being inspired to drop thousands on dollars on a river cruise?
Something the ad does get right is the vague sense of cross-cultural adventure. The Vikings were a society of traders, after all, exchanging goods with many different peoples in northern Europe (http://www.schloss-gottorf.de/haithabu/das-museum/viking-museum-haithabu). And it’s entirely possible that patrons of these river cruises discover new horizons to expand along with the inevitable swag and deluge of digital photos.
But would it be so hard to be upfront, instead of up top? We are intelligent viewers of the best soap opera on television–show us what you actually got!