Jean Claude Van Damme Splits In The Face of Chaos
Transcendent Truck Ad
It’s a simple commercial proposition. You want to promote your company, to sell some new technology. So you hire some iconic actor to do some iconic stunt. Cue sunrise. Cue music. Cue the puns (“split second timing”).
Yet the effect is sublime. It makes a multi-layered statement of serenity, balance, and transcendent order.
Set in a stark, eternal landscape, it captures a profound moment in the dance of humanity and the universe. You see it clearly. Earth. Sun. The lines painted on the road in the middle of a wilderness, they are lines in the sand. Man, machine, universe.
And the dance of paradoxes. A fusion of union and opposition. Tension and serenity. A craggy human face against a backdrop of sleek metal trucks. The trucks pull apart, then hold, parallel. It’s a play on time travel and relativity with the trucks moving backward, into a rising (forward moving) sun. A union of Body, Mind and Spirit: JCVD, the engineers, the serenity of the whole.
Crowning the stunt is the man being pulled apart, holding the center in serene meditation. He is still in his pose, yet in motion on the road. He is a tribe elder, doing what few youths can. A distinctly masculine character dominating the scenery. Crowning him is the distinctly feminine voice of Enya rounding out the sound.
The mythic elements are unmistakeable. JCVD’s splits evoke the man on the cross, legs outstretched instead of arms. The trucks are like large obelisks. As we circle around them, the sun rises between them. It’s Stonehenge at the equinox.
Sublime. This is an enchanting milestone that tells us here is where we stand. We, as a people, have moved a few furlongs further into chaos. This is no small feat, as G.K. Chesterton explains.
Danger and Dancing
Per the story behind the video, JCVD wasn’t in any “real” danger. No doubt the company is playing it down to keep the insurance premiums low. I say he was in danger. The key danger was chaos. Failure. That danger was ever present. He could have toppled and fallen short of the moment.
This epic isn’t so much about mortal danger, as it is about serenity and the dance rising out of chaos. These epic elements are echoed in the teaser trailer that shows JCVD contemplating the stunt. His look is priceless. The dialog is spare, understated. And at the end, the men discuss flamenco dancing. They aren’t going for scares. They are going for transcendence.
Gut Wrenching Thrills
In contrast, the company did another commercial in which a woman walks across a tightrope held perfectly taut by two trucks. It demonstrates the precision of the vehicles better than the JCVD video. It’s amazing in a different way. Thrilling, but with the absence of serenity. A looming disaster is added which detracts from the serenity. She has to cross the rope before they hit the tunnels and snap the line. The music jangles. The rope shakes. The tunnel approaches. Will she make it? My nails are gone. Check out this excellent but nervewracking demonstration of technology and human bravery:
Chaos, Pros and Cons
The best case that I have recently read about the thrill of order comes from GK Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday.” In his novel, our hero, Mr. Syme, a poet, argues with Gregory, an anarchist, about the trains.
“An artist is identical with an anarchist,” he [Gregory] cried. “You might transpose the words anywhere. An anarchist is an artist. The man who throws a bomb is an artist, because he prefers a great moment to everything. He sees how much more valuable is one burst of blazing light, one peal of perfect thunder, than the mere common bodies of a few shapeless policeman. An artist disregards all governments, abolishes all conventions. The poet delights in disorder only. If it were not so, the most poetical thing in the world would be the Underground Railway.”
“So it is,” said Mr. Syme.
“Nonsense!” said Gregory, who was very rational when anyone else attempted paradox. “Why do all the clerks and navvies in the railway trains look so sad and tired, so very sad and tired? I will tell you. It is because they know that the train is going right. It is because they know that whatever place they have taken a ticket for, that place they will reach. It is because after they have passed Sloane Square they know that the next station must be Victoria, and nothing but Victoria. Oh, their wild rapture! Oh, their eyes like stars and their souls again in Eden, if the next station were unaccountably Baker Street!”
“It is you who are unpoetical,” replied the poet Syme. “If what you say of clerks is true, they can only be as prosaic as your poetry. The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street, or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose, let me read a time-table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw who commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!”
“Must you go?” inquired Gregory sarcastically.
“I tell you,” went on Syme with passion, “that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hair-breadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word “Victoria”, it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed” Victoria”; it is the victory of Adam.”
A great book! Get it for someone you love. It has some hilarious quotes. Later in the story, a character is campaigning for the role of chief anarchist. This is a line from his campaign speech:
I do not go to the council to rebut that slander that calls us murderers; I go to earn it (loud and prolonged cheering).
And that’s chaos, folks. Give me order. Thank you JCVD and the Volvo Team!
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