Missing Flight

Why the Malaysia Airline Crashes has Redemption Narratives

It has been an utterly awful year for Malaysian Airlines, with three airplanes tragedies all due to stupendously bad luck. And while hundreds of deaths is no laughing matter, what’s peculiar is how many narratives have been in the news of those who weren’t on the planes but almost were. From the dutch cyclist who missed two Malaysia flights to the former beauty queen who just missed the AirAsia flight, they have received a lot more attention than the number of deaths per plane.

Dutch Cyclist Malaysia Flights

However, it’s not just missing an airplane flight. We have always been fascinated by people who have escaped death because of fate or luck. And it’s because near-death experiences are narratives in our own character development. 

Protagonists Survive

A pastor once complained that we tend to single out those who survived while many died. And notice that “Dutch Cyclist” and “Former Beauty Queen” is more characterization than a list of nationals that died.

Former Beauty Queen AirAsia Flight

What’s amazing is that if none of those airplanes crashed from the cyclist to the beauty queen would have just been one of the many unlucky folks that missed their flight for which I don’t think there is a statistic for. However as I’ve pointed out before, we sympathize with their narratives because they are a face, not a statistic, and serve a positive narrative that in the face of such tragedies they “survived”.

A “Moment of Destiny” or Moment of Self-Development

It’s almost a cliche for characters to change in some way when nearly dying. For example when Jules, Samuel Jackson’s character, from “Pulp Fiction” is not even grazed when a criminal unloads a entire clip at point blank range, he undergoes one of the strongest character developments of recent film history. It’s why when Hitler nearly got killed in 44 he believed he had a “moment of destiny” to not give up a hopeless war (not that I’m comparing you to Hitler, everyone’s Hitler if your on the internet anyway).

Hitler Plot 1944

It’s because we want to believe that our lives our bigger, that we want to feel a sense of enormity behind our lives, that we upraise those who missed a flight or who were late for work little inconsequential missteps that allows them to survive. Their narratives validating our own that we can also survive and that our survival means something.


From the passengers who missed the AirAsia flight there is a sense of fate. While I don’t know how their lives will change after, in pop culture there is character redemption. Again pointing at “Pulp Fiction” Jules decides to lead a more spiritual life even sparing the man who was going tor rob him (his partner, Vince, chooses not to and is not as lucky). Hitler, instead of thinking maybe he needed to rethink his life instead wiped out any last internal resistance in his shrinking empire and even commissioned a special medal for the survivors (said decision also also did not work out for him).

Pulp Fiction Jules Quote

While almost dying doesn’t necessarily mean we will change, but significant life events can be attached to our own development in our narratives. In marketing, whiles not smart to put customers life in danger, it’s inserting a product or a service that provides a need or opportunity to change their life, and them being a customer is how they find redemption. See Al Pacino’s great “You Rent It” monologue in Glengarry Glen Ross as a great example. That’s why we love these narratives, you don’t have to nearly meet death (though it’s a great motivation) rather they allow us reflect our own life, and how improving it is worth it.

Rob Lowe DirectTV commercial

How Rob Lowe selling DirectTV is a Narrative in Redemption

To be in a DirectTV commercial with a redemption narrative would be a odd choice for Rob Lowe. He seems more like the guy you would stick in a billboard that needed a generic middle-class white guy with a Hollywood smile. However it’s that generic middle-class white guy that is the target audience for a commercial series that Rob Lowe stars in along with various flavours of himself: creepy, scrawny arms, hairy crazy, less attractive, and painfully awkward Robe Lowe.

The purpose of these commercials is to convince cable-users to switch to DirectTV, and by using Rob Lowe playing himself as a comparison of two different people, this ad becomes genius for evoking the narrative of decisions and redemption.

I coulda been a contender

The “I coulda been a contender” line is one of those movie quotes that has transcended it’s movie (if you can guess the name of that movie, then yah for you and have your daily dose of smug self-satisfaction). However the point of that quote is Marlon Brando (yes hint for you, Marlon Brando stars in it) is upset for how his life turned out if it wasn’t for one pivotal night.

In Rob Lowe’s commercials all his comparisons are emulations of what Rob Lowe would have been if he had not exercised enough, succumbed to hiding-in-the-bush-wanking tendencies, had never learned to be confident, been too lazy for personal hygiene. All failures that the target audience fear could happen to them. 

Redemption is out there

Everyone loves a good redemption story. In “The World’s End” Simon Pegg’s character sets the plot events in motion in order to relive his glory day and in his own way to start his life over again (spoiler alert: he succeeds in a roundabout way). In real life while it did not happen, the possibility of a Rob Ford redemption narrative when he returned from rehab was frequently raised by the news.

The point of commercial is to get the target audience to switch from cable to DirectTV and while the ad doesn’t do a perfect job of that (that Rob Lowe seems to be a alternate-dimension traveller doesn’t seem to help) that it plays up the possibility that painfully awkward Rob Lowe can be confident Rob Lowe is a redemption narrative that the audience can be invested in.

Target Audience

Rob Lowe is the white middle-classed middle-aged guy who epitomizes the audience. Even the settings portrays various locations of the audience, where Rob Lowe lives in various forms of success, surrounded by friends, in nice hotels or living rooms and the other Rob Lowes all seen screwing up in their lives. It sets up a perfect comparison for the audience to see how they compare to their idealized life (attractive Rob Lowe) or to their insecurities and failures (failure Rob Lowe). For creating a narrative of choices and redemption, not bad for a 30-second TV commercial.