Right versus right now

Have you ever noticed how a film can be brilliant the first time you see it but crap the next?

How a much-loved restaurant is off-par for no discernible reason?

How track seven on your favourite album goes from being a mediocre also-ran to a heavy rotation favourite?

I’d guess there could be many reasons for that, some of which would be down to a change in you; after all your tastes change in clear and obvious ways (from The Spice Girls to P.J. Harvey, perhaps), so why not to less obvious extents? You might be able to point to the moment you were given proper buffalo mozzarella to eat, which led to your subsequent forsaking of Dairylea, but other alterations are bound to be less obvious. Could a line from a poem or an article in a magazine begun a deep loathing of San Sebastien or a lifelong devotion to Gloria Gaynor? Difficult to tell, but it sounds plausible.

I think there’s also something external that makes us like or dislike things more or less: the moment. Take Charles Dickens: the man was a critical failure in his day, but he has since been reassessed as a literary giant. Is that because the words changed? Obviously not. It’s because the environment into which the books were released has altered, allowing once tepid opinions to become mass enthusiasm.

The 1944 winner of the Oscar for best picture was Going My Way. It beat Double Indemnity. Which has become the ‘classic’? Which have you heard of? Why did everyone go crazy for the Seabreeze in 1999 and the Apple Martini in 2002 but no more? You could cite fashion, but that doesn’t explain the undurance of the gin and tonic or Martini. Maybe there’s a particular time when people collectively accept or love certain subjective things.

Are the successful merely better, or did they appear before us at just the right moment? When that seems clear and obvious we call it capturing the Zeitgeist, but surely most of the time we have no idea when or why it happens. People can often find explanations in retrospect, but no one really knows what the Zeitgeist is or when it changes, so all we can do is make attempts to capture it (and often fail).

But that must have a massive impact on advertising. Would the Meerkats have been loved in 1976? Will they still be gracing our screens in 2036? And if not, would that be because the scripts have run out of steam or because the moment has been lost? I suspect we’ve all got favourite ads that were neither publicly loved nor awarded. Does that mean that they were bad, or just mistimed? And is the essence of that timing the essence of producing great art? Of course, no one can predict what the Zeitgeist will demand fifty years from now, but perhaps certain fundamental principles endure.

So next time your ad falls flat on its face, it could be that it’s simply ahead of or behind the times, destined to be reassessed in the decades to come.

Or it could be that it’s, y’know… shit.

I guess we can never be sure.