Metro’s Retro Ad

From the old-school newsreel introduction, to the Star Wars-like schematics in the opening credits, the Metro ad from the 1970s that’s been making rounds on the Internet this week is glorious. Originally posted in 2012, it’s nearly 14 minutes of absolutely perfect propaganda. Technically titled “Metro: Here and Now,” it begins with a schlocky voice-over that sounds like it’s from a guy straight off the set of “Anchorman 2.”

“Rapid transit has become a part of the metropolitan Washington scene. The result of efforts that date back almost to the turn of the century,” the voice bellows.”Today, it’s a reality. No longer just a hope, or a dream. It has become an efficient, fast way to get from place to place.” We could break down the obvious irony of such a statement (and many more in the clip) decades later, but for now, let’s take a look at the highlights of this incredible footage.

1:33 mark: Look at that map! D.C., Maryland, Virginia. That’s all you get. And 5 squiggly lines that indicate absolutely nothing about the system, except that it exists, and runs at some point in those places.

2:00 – What on earth is that guy looking at? Oh, wait. A newspaper. Note how long it takes him to fold that thing just to get it into a comfortable position to read. The guy next to him wants no part of that operation.

2:03 – Is that young lady reading aloud to her seatmate? Do these people even know each other? Can you imagine dealing with such a thing now? The death stares people get for their headphones being too loud, or for playing music on the train are vicious these days. I can’t imagine a public read-a-long would go over well if someone were to try it today.

2:17 – Look at all that potential ad space behind the woman sitting down. That’s the cleanest Metro train wall I’ve ever seen.

3:30 – No real comment, I just want to highlight that one guy’s fantastic sportcoat and ’70s strut. My dad would be proud. Also, is that a food truck mobile vendor I see in the back?

4:05 – Folks are waiting on the platform. And that’s all they’re doing. No Candy Crush, no Words With Friends and (gasp) nothing to even tell them when a train was coming. I remember those days as a kid when a long stare down the platform or tunnel was the only “Next Train Info” you got, buddy.

4:32 – Guy with tremendous Afro pulls off a sweet ambulatory photo bomb on John Q. Public just going to work.

4:41 – That Metro sign post has no information on it, other than the system logo. It’s clearly at Judiciary Square, but how would the tourists know where they were? This seems super confusing.

4:56 – “Wheaton to Stadium-Armory in 32 minutes”, the text on screen says. That sounds like pure fantasy, even today.

6:16 – Vertical scroll of the old Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden logo in monochromatic brown tones? Yes, please.

7:03 – I see you Metro, throwing in the tricky special-effects to make it seem like there are constantly trains zipping back and forth along the same track. I believe there’s a name for this now, and it signals bad things, typically: single-tracking.

7:48 – Voice-over man announces that Metro’s design is based on studies from systems all around the world. The names that pop up on the alphabet soup of a list on the screen are interesting. Budapest is a long way to go to put together train tracks.

The video drones on for another five minutes, explaining how the cars and the system actually run and are operated– which must have been super whiz-bang  back then (Except there’s that absolute show-stopping nugget at 12:18). But, my favorite thing about this video are the looks on everyone’s faces. Riding Metro – as compared to other systems — has never really been a particularly exhilarating experience, even when it was new. People sat in their seats, did their best not to be annoyed by people around them and went on their way. Some things never change.

Clinton Yates is a D.C. native and an online columnist. When he's not covering the city, pop culture or listening to music, he watches sports. A lot of them.
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Clinton Yates · June 7, 2013