“I can’t pay no doctor bill,” Gil Scott-Heron famously snapped, back in 1970, “but Whitey on the moon.” Setting the $25 billion cost of the space race against the struggle for basic civil rights, this line catches the moment that Afrofuturism kicked its way into the national consciousness. It was still a marginal scene, yet to find a name, but by the end of that decade you couldn’t miss it. George Clinton was airborne with his P-Funk Earth Tour, accompanied by a crew of “certified Afronauts, capable of funkitizing galaxies”; Sun Ra was tripping through Ancient Egypt with the Intergalactic Solar Arkestra; and Marvel Comics had let a black superhero star in his own story, with Black Panther’s Jungle Action #5 (July 1973).
Now beam forward 50 years, give or take, to the present day. Fade in on a television set, tuned to ITV during an ad break. The camera zooms into a mountaintop hideout: Usain Bolt is hanging out, decked in metallic superhero gear, waited on by a scientist who appears to be a clone of Bond’s Q. Bolt’s mildly pissed off because his Bolt Signal isn’t working; Q points out a nifty solution – courtesy of Virgin Media – and the hero grins. His signal sparks to life, job done.
Cilesta Van Doorn, brand director at Virgin Media, has laid out the idea behind this BBH-created broadband commercial: “The ad is the next chapter in SuperBolt’s journey,” she points out, “and it sees him struck by connectivity conundrums before our Intelligent WiFi steps in and saves the day; just like it will for our customers.” Over at Virgin Media’s webpage, the campaign is fitted with a tagline: ‘Is your arch-enemy unreliable WiFi?’ Well, maybe. But what if your arch-enemy is police brutality, the rise of neo-fascism, or, say, still being unable to pay your doctor’s bill?
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