Every summer has its anthem. Two years ago everybody was bumping Rihanna's "Umbrella," while Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" dominated the dog days of 2008. This year the competition is fierce, but one song is rising to become the defining jam of the season: Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2, otherwise known as the funeral march.
Yes, it's a good summer for death! Over the past few weeks we've lost several cultural icons, including Michael Jackson, Billy Mays, and, this past Friday, Walter Cr0nkite. However, the most notable passing, at least in terms of method, was probably that of British conductor Sir Edward Downes, who on July 10 (my birthday!) committed assisted suicide along with his terminally ill wife.
Sir Downes was not terminally ill himself, although at 85 he couldn't have had a whole lot of time left. Since assisted suicide is illegal in England, he and his wife Joan had to travel to Switzerland to procure the services of Dignitas, a Swiss suicide clinic.
Obviously this event raises many moral and ethical questions. I'll leave those for others to ponder, but I would like to state that Dignitas probably isn't maximizing its profit-making potential. They provide a service which is unavailable in most of the world, and every human being on Earth is a potential customer. I don't know why Dignitas doesn't already have an aggressive marketing campaign in place, but in order to help them out I've written the script for a TV commercial they could air in the US:
EXT. CITY STREET--NIGHT
It is raining. A depressed, disheveled-looking MAN is walking down the sidewalk amidst a crowd of people.
NARRATOR: Are you unhappy?
INT. SUBWAY TRAIN--NIGHTThe man is standing in the middle of the crowded train, hanging on to a rail. He is soaking wet and stares off into space.
NARRATOR: Do you feel constantly alone?
INT. DANK APARTMENT--NIGHT
The man sits alone at a kitchen table eating a TV dinner. A yellowish light on the ceiling flickers on and off.
NARRATOR: Do you feel like things are never going to get better?
EXT. DIGNITAS CLINIC, ZURICH--DAY
ALLSTATE GUY: Well, they probably aren't. But now, someone's here to help.
INT. DIGNITAS OFFICE--DAY
The man from before, who is now smiling, fills out forms and flirts with a PRETTY SWISS GIRL at the front desk.
ALLSTATE GUY: For over ten years, Dignitas has been helping everyday people end their miserable lives and pass on into sweet non-being. It's the choice of the rich and famous...
Fade through images of Socrates, Virginia Woolf and Kurt Cobain.
SIR EDWARD DOWNES is standing on a cloud wearing a tuxedo and holding a glass of champagne.
DOWNES: Dignitas provided the solution I needed, and now I'm partying with Beethoven and Mozart!
BEETHOVEN and MOZART walk onto the cloud and start dancing. A subtitle at the bottom of the screen reads, "ACTORS' PORTRAYAL."
ALLSTATE GUY: ...And now it can be your choice too. Whether you're joining a loved one in the afterlife...
The camera pans across several beds which are set up along the wall. The first pair of beds contains an ELDERLY COUPLE in hospital gowns who are holding hands and smiling at one another.
ALLSTATE GUY: ...Can't bear to live without a beloved pet...
The next pair of beds contains a MIDDLE-AGED MAN in a hospital gown and a confused-looking MANX in a cat carrier.
ALLSTATE GUY: ...Or are simply having a bad day...
The last bed contains the man from the beginning, who is smiling as a NURSE hands him an unmarked bottle.
EXT. DIGNITAS CLINIC--DAY
The Allstate guy is standing outside the clinic looking dignified.
ALLSTATE GUY: ...Dignitas is here to help.
The man from the beginning frolics in a cloud with a group of BIKINI-CLAD ANGELS.
ALLSTATE GUY: Dignitas. Because to live is to suffer.
Fade to the Dignitas logo, a smiley face above a pair of crossbones.
I wanted to include some customer testimonials, but I guess that's not really an option. Still, this kind of exposure will really increase Dignitas's revenue stream. In time, they should be able to open franchises, or maybe even automate their services.
For now, though, it's enough to know that Chopin's sonata will remain the signature melody of the summer of 2009. Unless, of course, Lil Wayne releases something that gets even more play than "Lollipop." If that happens I might end up boarding a flight to Switzerland myself.