We're having a party. Invite the lamp.

 

I first saw this advertisement in a taxi cab. And like many taxi rides, I saw it about seven times before I reached my destination. By the second time around, I knew I wanted to write about it.

It begins with a simple whistled tune. That old John Denver favorite, "Country Roads." Your mind immediately fills in the next line: "Take me home." This is about home.

But after the long helicopter shot, we see that this is the Norman Rockwell "home" re-imagined for the 21st century. We see a rainbow flag, and a biracial child, in quick succession.

The images are traditional. The message conveyed by the images will rankle some traditionalists. In this video, the holidays are everywhere - this feels like the holidays - without reference to any specific holiday.

The advertisement expands our expectations even as it rearranges them.

I think all these rearrangements are intentional. They are to distract us from the even bigger rearrangement at the heart of it all. Namely, that Google is suggesting we put a robot servant in the middle of everything, and attach it to the vital innards of our house.

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For more than three decades, Americans have been fighting turf wars over "multiculturalism." The notion that "America" somehow first and foremost means "white America" has transformed.

It is a cliché that uncomfortable conversations have often raged over the holiday dinner table. But for many of us, the thought of going home and visiting relatives has meant that we were gearing up for ideological battle.

This ad is subversive of that notion, too. In all their diversity, these are families getting along. They gather because they enjoy each others' company. They are dancing, and meeting new friends, and having fun.

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Is it the robot that makes all this possible? Or does all this kindness make possible the inclusion of a new culture: robot culture? At this point, the ad is unclear.

All we know is that none of these folks seem uncomfortable that Mom has just asked the lamp how to make cardamom. None of these folks seem uncomfortable that the lamp answered.

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Right now, during the holidays, all around the world, the robots are at work. American unmanned drones are dropping bombs on woman and children and - occasionally - bad guys. We call with a customer service need, and a robot answers the telephone. And this year, we let the robots drive.

But all those things are other. They seem like they are elsewhere. This holiday season, though, Google is asking us to welcome the ultimate stranger to the dinner table.

Multiculturalism, indeed.

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I first saw this ad right before Thanksgiving, right after the election. I couldn't help but think that the folks who made it imagined a very different holiday season than the one we have experienced.

I think when they shot this ad, they were imagining a Clinton presidency. As it is, it is hard to imagine a more subversive message in the dawn of Trump's America.

But maybe this is the message we need to see. That there is a world where robots are helpful, not mercenary. And Mexicans are not rapists. As gay folks can enjoy Christmas, too.

That's a good world to live in, even if it is a little weird that the lamps talk. That is a world worth building and caring for in 2017.

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