Tag Archives: DNA

How to make a good ad

There are two DNA ads running at the moment. They illuminate the art of advertising today.

The first is called Testimonial: Livie and it’s for AncestryDNA.com. This is perfect serviceable. And that’s a problem.

This gives us a woman, Livie, living a safe, tidy life. Her DNA results come as a revelation. It turns out she is, as she puts it, “everything.” She now checks “other.”

An entire world opens up, and, and, and Livie checks a new box. Good lord.

This is identity as ornament. This is that girl who cornered you at a party in college to say she is 1/32 Choctaw. This is identity as a cocktail chatter, a party favor, a way of showing how absolutely fascinating you are.

And never mind the hair raising assumptions being made about the difference genetic origins make to who we are. (We love to think they do, but the science is of course stubbornly unromantic on this score. We are made by our upbringing and the culture in place. That “Choctaw difference” makes no identity difference.)

Ok, now have a look at %100 Nicole.

The music! So splendidly wrong and antique and odd. Perfect. This is how we make some of the best culture now. We run things together that don’t go together…until they do…sort of, but not quite.  These culture meanings deliberately act as what Weinberger might call, to borrow the title of his book, “small pieces loosely joined.”

The sunglasses and helmet of the second scene. So completely “what?” Here too the ad maker (in this case Diego Contreras of [or for] Venables Bell and Partners LA) is asking us to pay attention. This is not culture served up according to genre. This is culture flushed out of its conventional categories. We are driven up out of our couch potato stupor to ask the ancient’s immortal question “huh?”

In the place of Livie’s perfect sitting room, we have Nicole plunged into the world, seizing her DNA connections has an occasion to engage with the world. (Here too, sitting in the background there are troubling assumptions. We hope we are not being asked to assume that Nicole has some essential connection to East Asia or West Africa. Right?) In a more perfect world, we would all travel often and with Nicole’s joy to countries and cultures to which we have no DNA “connection.” Right?

So many details are arresting. The joy of that dance. The shock of that fiord. The delicacy of soccer. The animation of this actress.

Livie ticks boxes. Nicole embraces life. Livie looks for identity in the old fashioned way, by adding badges to her sleeve. Nicole finds it by taking the world by storm.

Hat’s off to the agency in question:

23 and Me
Venables Bell and Partners
Los Angeles
Diego Contreras
Martin Leroy


DNA, string theory and what might have been

Dear Grant McCracken,

The automated search has found a new match that meets your current mtDNA search criteria:

Jeffrey Blankenship, 0 mutational difference.

Every so often I get an email from a company called Genebase.  It informs me that they have found a match.  Good news! An addition to their database matches my DNA signature.

Yesterday, Genebase informed me that I was a match with not only Mr. Blankenship.but Marshall Eltzey, Carlos White, and Delmar Albert Dyreson.

Delmar Albert Dyreson!  Tell me more!

That’s the problem.  Genebase tells me almost nothing about the people to whom I am matched.  Take Delmar Albert Dyreson.  Genebase says only that he is living and male.

But I want all the details!  Where does Mr. Dyreson live, what does he do for a living, what’s he like as a person?

I don’t want to befriend Mr. Dyreson.  I just want a glimpse of his life.  And why?  Because if we really have DNA in common, Mr. Dyreson is an opportunity to see what might have been. If the universe exists as endless variations of itself, why not make this the grounds for variation?  At least for imaginative purposes.

Yes, of course this is fanciful.  But people have used much smaller similarities to identify with one another.  How about: "our parents both came from the old country.  We kinda feel like brothers."

Mr. Dyreson and I have a more substantial connection.  None of that "sons of the soil" crap for us.  We are actually made of the same stuff. And on the strength of this connection, I can dream.  What might my life had been if I can been born into his family, country, language. Sure, it’s a footless enterprise.  I don’t really learn anything about myself.   But it’s fun.

A Google search tells me that there was a Delmar A. Dyreson at the 601st meeting of the American Mathematical Society held in New York City in 1963.  Interesting?  Not really.  But I do notice Dyreson institutional address is given as New Mexico Highlands University.   Somehow this man found his way to the deep obscurity of the high desert, a place that vibrates with a spirituality that evades even the most speculative math.  Much better, thank you.  I’ll take it from here.

Delmar, sir, if you get this message, let’s compare notes.


McCracken, Grant.  Transformations.  Identity Construction in Contemporary Culture.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press. here.

Note: this post was lost due to Network Solutions incompetence.  It was reposted December 26, 2010.