Big Ten BMWs

This season BMW and the Big Ten Conference announced a partnership to make the BMW the “official luxury automobile”  of the Big Ten.

I suppose we all just have to accept the fact that college athletics is awash in cash and that conferences like the Big Ten want to maximize their generation of money by selling the naming rights of championship games and entering into “partnerships” with corporations that then can use the affiliation to market their products during TV broadcasts.

Still, it seems odd for the Big Ten to enter into this kind of deal at the same time that Ohio State — one of the Big Ten’s flagship schools — is wrestling with NCAA sanctions because some of its football players traded athletic gear for tattoos and allegedly were paid a bit more than they should have been on odd jobs.  I’m not excusing their conduct, but the money involved in their activities was chump change compared to the cost of a BMW automobile.  Isn’t it flat-out hypocritical for an amateur athletic conference to have an “official luxury car”?

Farewell To The Beemer

Cars, like people, deserve a proper retirement send-off.  Today we bid adieu to Kish’s little blue BMW station wagon.

We’ve had the blue Beemer for nine years and put on more than 100,000 miles.  The car has patiently endured paint splashes, clipped side-view mirrors, fender benders, coffee spills, and lots of dog hair.  It has borne us to and from faraway places, lugging loads of happy people, dozing dogs, suitcases, paintings, and stray furnishings.  It has delivered reasonably good mileage.  And it has continued to serve for years after it was paid off, requiring only periodic maintenance in order to provide the essential of reliable daily transportation. It has become a kind of member of the family.

But to every thing there is a season, and for the little blue Beemer the season of change came when the alternator gave up the ghost on I-77 and had to be replaced.  The worm of doubt about its continuing reliability was introduced, and with that its hour of career change inevitably drew nearer.  So today we trade it in for a new Acura mini-SUV, but we thank the BMW for its years of faithful service and wish it the best in its future endeavors.

And now, we’d like to present it with this plaque and a gift certificate to Jiffy Lube.

Product Placement in Movies

When I saw The Ghost Writer last week, I noticed that nearly all the cars in the film were BMWs that looked like they had just left the car dealership – not a speck of dust on their shiny paint jobs. I could practically smell the “new car” smell during scenes in their leathery interiors.

In one scene, Ewan McGregor’s character hijacks someone’s BMW and turns on its navigation system, which announces itself, in a futuristic female voice, as “BMW ConnectedDrive.” The voice gives McGregor directions to the last place the car’s owner, a former British Prime Minister, had driven to.

I don’t doubt that a disgraced Prime Minister and his cronies might drive BMWs, but something tells me that the filmmakers weren’t going for realism in placing the cars so prominently. They probably received a thick wad of cash to scatter sleek new BMW models all over the screen and even make the use of one of their features into a major plot point.

It was probably a sound investment for BMW. An artsy, political movie like The Ghost Writer is likely to attract an audience that would find BMWs appealing (and affordable). The people in the theater when I saw it seemed like the type that would appreciate a top-notch navigation system.

I question, however, whether it was a good investment on the part of the filmmakers. I liked The Ghost Writer a lot, but the handful of scenes where product placement was obvious distracted from the plot of the movie. The scene where Ewan McGregor used the navigation system to uncover a secret from the Prime Minister’s past should have created a lot of tension and anticipation in me, but instead I was thinking about how much money BMW must have shelled out to get that smooth female voice in there.

What if BMW, as a condition for the product placement deal, had demanded that The Ghost Writer’s political message be toned down, a few swear words removed, or a sex scene cut? I trust that Polanski wouldn’t agree to such a thing, but most of today’s Hollywood doesn’t share his artistic scruples. We’ve already seen corporate sponsorship affect what can be shown on TV. When Ellen Degeneres came out on her TV show in the nineties, several sponsors withdrew their support, and her show was promptly cancelled.

I don’t know anything about The Ghost Writer’s development process. Maybe the movie couldn’t have been financed without BMW’s help, in which case the product placement was certainly justified. But I doubt that was the case. I’m disappointed that a legendary director like Roman Polanski would stoop so low (not that I had a high opinion of his character before). In a film industry where every other movie is a remake or sequel made for the sole purpose of raking in cash, the last thing we need is a bunch of corporate logos littering the screen.