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Mr. Turner

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Ballad of Narayama

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"Once I had a secret love..." (Royale with Cheese)

"Once I had a secret love..." -- Doris Day, "Secret Love" (1953)

"Everywhere people stare Each and every day I can see them laugh at me And I hear them say Hey, you've got to hide your love away" -- John Lennon, "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" (1965)

"Girls like me Have to hide our hearts away..." -- Kelly Porter, a fictionalized character based on Lesley Gore in "Grace of My Heart" (1996), singing the song "My Secret Love," co-written by Gore, Larry Klein and David Baerwald

From "Romeo and Juliet" to "Avatar," few romantic myths are as compelling as the Secret Love -- the love that dare not speak its name because society, or families, or the lovers themselves just aren't ready to face it yet. A lot of perfectly ordinary relationships go through this phase, too, for all sorts of reasons. I know a pair of high school seniors who've been seeing each other surreptitiously because his socially conservative South Asian Subcontinental parents don't want him dating while he's in school. But it's really no big deal for either of them.

So, I don't quite get why the French "Come As You Are" McDonald's commercial about the dad, the gay teenager and the secret boyfriend is such a matter of consternation for Bill O'Reilly. Other than, of course, that he is Bill O'Reilly, so it's kind of his job to say things that make him appear ridiculous. The ad employs a perfectly familiar formula -- only this "secret love" story isn't the traditional tale of tortured melodrama; it's a sweet little comedy, an unobtrusive private exchange played out in a bustling public place.

Watch the 45-second spot above. This miniature slice-of-life consists of 20 shots and about eight set-ups, associating McDonald's with a tender, funny moment between a father and son who obviously love each other. It's adorable. There's nothing that unusual about it -- ads often seek to link brands or products with concepts and emotions designed to make you feel good about them, even when they have little or nothing to do with the ostensible items being promoted. Here, it's the idea of McDonald's being a place in which family memories are made, where you can "come as you are" -- which means not just how you're dressed, but whoever you are. Everybody's welcome. This isn't their first trip to McDonald's together, and it won't be the last. It's a third place in their lives, where they meet each other... as they are.

So, look at the skill with which the simple story is told: The boy, sitting at a table, takes out a school group photo. His phone rings. We see his dad from across the restaurant, standing in line at the counter. "I was thinking about you, too," he says to the caller, gently touching the likeness of one of the kids in the photo, which we only glimpse (a bit of intentional misdirection), but we assume the person he's singled out is the one on the phone. "I'm looking at our class picture. I miss you too." He looks up and sees his dad returning with the food. "My dad's coming, I have to hang up."

Dad sits down and tells his son, "You look just like me at your age." He boasts about being "quite the ladies' man!" (A sly Jerry Lewis reference, perhaps?) The boy looks at him, with a frown and a smile, the way any teenager would -- like, yeah, OK, I don't want to hear about it. Then dad delivers the quiet zinger: "Too bad your class is all boys... you could get all the girls." The whole piece turns on the this (penultimate) shot of the kid's reaction: he pauses, considers the absurdity of the moment, stops as though he's about to say something, then gently dismisses the comment with a little laugh as he looks directly into his dad's eyes. In the final shot, from across the room, the father is still talking. A young girl in a red baseball cap (McDonald's employee?) walks by and checks out the boy. The female voice on the soundtrack sings, "I'm going down my road..."

A classic, understated, feel-good spot, I'd say. The first time I saw it, I came away with the feeling that I was already watching a memory-in-process -- that the boy and his dad would look back and laugh at this funny little almost moment that passed between them. I don't see it as a vignette about a closeted kid or an aggressively heterosexual dad; they're just going down their respective roads. If anything, I get the feeling that the kid is ready to come out to his dad any time, but decides that this particular moment isn't quite the right one. It's almost as if he's choosing not to interrupt pop's little self-flattering trip down memory lane... Or maybe he just wants to savor his "secret love" in private for a little while longer... Sometimes waiting for the right moment can be a delicious pleasure.

Then again, imagine what might happen after that last shot. It's fairly open-ended. As I re-watched it, I could envision the boy changing his mind and deciding to use the opportunity his father's remark has handed him. Or, wait, what if dad isn't as goofy and clueless as he appears? What if he already knows his son is gay, and is trying with delicacy and love to bring up the subject the best way he knows how, to open the door for a possible conversation on the subject? What if he's telling his son he's proud of how he turned out?

It's a smart ad that stands up to repeated viewing (as a TV commercial should); well-written, -acted and -directed; and admirably subtle and low-key -- especially when you consider that it's for a monstrous multi-national chain of fast-food restaurants.

In O'Reilly's TV comments about the ad, he intentionally missed the point ("Does that make you hungry for a Big Mac?"), then attempted to comfort himself by proclaiming: "OK, they want to make a political statement selling burgers, they are entitled to it. It will never run in the USA."

Well, never's a long time, and I wonder how many Americans -- even those of O'Reilly's age -- would view it as a "political statement" rather than a family moment, like the Kodak commercial with the parents giving the kids a puppy on Christmas morning. According to a recent Gallup poll, acceptance of gay relationships is now the majority view in the United States. And, as NY Times columnist Charles M. Blow noted, "the percentage of men ages 18 to 49 who perceived ['gay and lesbian relations'] as morally acceptable rose by 48 percent, and among men over 50, it rose by 26 percent."

Bill, your days are numbered, you Bold Fresh Piece of Inanity (not Hannity), you. Go get yourself an Angus.

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