Parallel Worlds

I’ve been reading a very challenging but rewarding book by the brilliant Michio Kaku called Parallel Worlds, in which he lays out the latest theories in string theory. I’m not sure why I torture myself trying to understand what is way over my head, but it’s exhilarating when I occasionally understand a passage, such as:

All around you, there are hundreds of different radio waves being broadcast from different stations. At any given instant, your office or car is full of these radio waves. However, if you turn on a radio, you can only listen to one frequency at a a time.. Likewise, in our universe we are “tuned” into the frequency that corresponds to physical reality. But there are an infinite number of parallel realities coexisting with us in the same room, although we cannot “tune into” them.

This led me think about how in both advertising and in filmmaking (two art forms that have many similarities and connections), we often create alternate realities, much like the television show Fringe, where Joshua Jackson travels between two very similar yet disturbingly dissonant versions of our planet. We are, as advertisers and storytellers, allowing our audiences to “tune into” a reality that is slightly different from what they’re living – which is why we use the expression “aspirational.” A life I aspire to live, a world we aspire to live in. Familiar, yet slightly better.

The classic “alternate reality” story is “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty“, a short story from the 50s that captured the spirit of a whole generation of mild and meek men who yearned to live a more exciting life. This story, and the movie that was made from it, inspired many advertising campaigns, most notably David Ogilvy’s iconic “Hathaway Shirt Man“, which in turn inspired the recent homage “Most Interesting Man in the World” by Dos Equis. I heard recently that a big budget remake of Walter Mitty is being made by comedian Ben Stiller. (In a parallel universe of my own choosing, I think I would cast it differently.)

But the best new iteration of this parallel universe/alternate self concept I’ve seen is the fantastic ads for the Call of Duty games, Modern Warfare and Black Ops, starring a bunch of blatantly regular people (including a fast food clerk) mixed in with Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Kimmel. The underlying idea is eternal but the expression is new:  With the wonders of video game technology, we can all enter parallel universes and adopt new selves. A powerfully seductive idea.