Saturday, February 20, 2010

reality: what a concept

In his article on the essays of Zadie Smith in the latest New York Review of Books, Michael Wood writes that "in an epigraph she quotes Katharine Hepburn alias Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story: 'The time to make your mind up about people is never!'" Let me start by saying: great movie, great line. However...

Well—hm, O.K., this might be difficult to get across. Let's see here. Don't worry if it's hard to follow; you'll get it eventually.

Katharine Hepburn is an actress, see?* And Tracy Lord is the name of a character she played in a movie. With me so far? So, first of all, "Tracy Lord" is not in fact an alias for Katharine Hepburn. And, second of all—here's the really tricky part, so get ready—the line being quoted should not be attributed to Katharine Hepburn, not even under any of her many aliases.

Impostors and impersonators, every one.

The line in question is something that Hepburn delivered from a screenplay (which she herself did not in fact write), and that screenplay was based on a play; we can assume that the line being quoted is not by her but rather by Donald Ogden Stewart or Philip Barry—maybe Waldo Salt, according to the IMDb. You might even make the case that it would O.K. to credit the character she played, Tracy Lord (who is a fictional character, remember, and not simply one of the famous actress's pseudonyms). But Hepburn herself? No.

Another of Hepburn's many aliases.

I know this is hard. But once you wrap your mind around it, folks, you (and we!) will be able to step into an exhilarating world in which actors are no longer given credit for the lines they memorized, in which finally the distinction between fiction and reality becomes clear, in which it is understood that actors are only pretending to be the people you see on screen!

No, no, wait! Wait, don't get angry at them! They're doing it for your entertainment!

O.K., a little too much too soon. You sleep on it and we'll talk more in the morning.

* Some people just use the word actor regardless of sex, but that's not important right now—I don't want to confuse you.

Now this is just getting silly.

It has already been established that slut, tits, and cunt are not words. And if you put yourself in the mindset of a complete fucking Puritanical imbecile, you can see how the exclusion could be justified.

But so what the fuck is up with this shit?

Fart? Fart is not a word, now? Seriously? Like cunt, fart is in the goddamned Canterbury Tales, for Christ's sake—and it isn't even arguably the worst "bad" word in the English language! Seriously, Electronic Arts? Seriously? I'm not allowed to use fart?

But it gets worse:

This would be perfectly consistent—except that Electronic Arts has no problem with pee and pees!* Huh? It's O.K. as long as it isn't in the past tense? Similarly:

Rape is fine. Raped is not. (I'm tempted to argue that Electronic Arts implicitly takes the side of rapists—it's O.K. to rape, not O.K. to be raped—but man would that be unfair.)

Oh, and I almost forgot. Adding insult to injury, I found recently that when you try to pick these forbidden words, the game officially files them away as..."Bad Guesses."

Fuck you, Electronic Arts. Get fucked. Go fuck your fucking mothers, you fucking fuckjob FUCKS.

* I'm pretty sure that I remember pees turned out to be O.K., but I can't say for sure because I have no screenshot documentation as I do with the others.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Star Wars: Return of the Empire (the origanal)

Yesterday, in a great purge of my storage space, I uncovered the Star Wars sequel I wrote when I was—I don't know: judging from the art and handwriting, I'm going to guess kindergarten or first grade.

And reading it, I was like, "Jesus, the prequels would have been so much better if George Lucas had hired me to write them—when I was six."

I decided to post it without comment (although comment is so tempting throughout); I will note only that Salacious Crumb is the main bad guy—which on the one hand is kind of brilliant, since he's of course just about the only bad guy whom we don't specifically see killed during the course of Return of the Jedi, and on the other hand is just plain retarded.

(Also, Bib Fortuna has magical powers and Luke can use the Force to make a trampoline.)

Without further ado, I bring you Star Wars Episode VII: Return of the Empire.

Luke told Han Leia and Chewbaca that he was going to distroy the remanings of the empire. He blasted off in his X wing fighter. He flew over Salaces crumb on his throne. Crumb told his servent, Bib fortuna to blast Luke down. Luke was being blasted. He yelled, "This is your last fire Crumb!" CRASH! He hit the ground. The second he hit the ground, Bibby jumped at Luke. Luke ran away just in time. Bibby said, "I'll kill you with my magic hand!" He raised his left arm and shot a ray out of his hand. Luke duck. Luke used the force to make a trampaline. The ray hit the trampaline, bounced off, and hit Bibby. Bib fell down a pit that you will hear of soon. Crumb grabed Luke, and threw him in his throne.* Crumb said, "If only he were alive Jabba Duh Hutt would be happy with me!" A big monster, lieing down crawled toward Luke!

Luke saw a light saber. He knew who's it was. He had herd that Yoda's spirit died. He grabed the saber. He stabed the creature in the arm. The creature roared in anger. As fast as the force could carry him, Luke ran out of the throne with the light saber. The second he got out, he was pushed in the pit. There was Bibby's bones. There was a giant monster. Luke jumped in a cave. The monster grabed Luke! Luke turned on his light saber and cut off the monster's hand. The monster grabed the light saber, crushed it, and grabed Luke.

He put Luke in his mouth! Luke screamed. He looked up. The monster sure had a strange mouth. He pulled until he was out of the monster's mouth. He looked up. He could jump up! He jumped. Not much after, Luke was getting in his X wing fighter until Crumb said, "STOP!" Luke said, "why?" Crumb jumped on the front of the fighter with a knife!

Luke pushed a button and a little hand pushed Crub into the pit with the monster, pushed a button and started to fly. Crumb was done with a crunch!

[star of David, star of David, star of David]

A biker scout [cousin]† speeded along in his speeder bike. From the melenium falcon han and chewie jumped on the rider. The bike went out of control. Han and chewie jumped off just as the bike blew up! They landed safely on a grass island. Leia ran up to han. "A monster!" she said. Sure enouf, there was a monster with a cut. But, there were the rest of the speeder Bikes couisans!† Then a fermilyer‡ voice says, "the game hasn't started!" "Luke!" screams Leia. "what's that?" She pointed to a monster next to Luke. "Oh!" say's he. "my freind!" The first monster already killed the scouts. Now he marched up to the good monster. They had a battle. Leia tried to amuse them by saying, "Goddy's up! Nope! Baddy's pushin him 'own! Nope! It's Goody! 1-2-3 OUT!

Goody was eating up Baddy. But he was still hungry. He walked towerd the good guys. An ewok wit a shirt on swung by. Then he pulled off his shirt. It was wicket pretending to be superman. He stabed nowBaddy until he was dead.

The end.


Back cover:

* As far as I can tell, this is a reference to the Jabba the toy's throne, which itself made only the most jumbled and incoherent reference to the film.

† This is spelled either coiisun or cousun—really the letter following the O is to I as U or V is to W (depending on how you write it). This of course all begs the question: biker scout cousin?

‡ Here the spelling is unambiguous.

§ The L and the Y are really a single letter. I saw something like this one in some like 17th- or 18th-century document, where the W and the L in lawyer were the same letter.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

You know what I just realized?

When the first iPod ads came out (at least the way I remember them) they illustrated the concept of portable music by showing some guy listening to music on his computer, then shutting down his computer, getting up and leaving, but continuing to listen to the same music—without interruption. (Or, well, not exactly without interruption, but picking up just where he had left off. What do I mean to say? Without having to restart. I want to say seamlessly, but really I guess what I mean is "with nothing more than a seam.")

Now, I've praised Apple in the past for having ads that are relatively straightforwardly honest and informational, but we seem to have hit a kind of a snag.

I want my iPod to play music from exactly where I left off when I leave my computer—or at least from where I last synced. It does this with movies. Where's the Keep Listening to Whatever I Was Just Listening to When I Left Home feature, huh?

Apple! Keep your campaign promises, damn it!

Yeah, I know, I was right. No big deal.

something that shouldn't bother me as much as it does (or at all, really)

I just called my dentist's office to make an appointment, and the answering machine says, "Thank you for calling the office of Dr. Redacted. The office is now closed and will reopen on Tuesday, February 16, at 10 a.m."

The date and time as I write this are Tuesday, February 16, 11:04 a.m.

This is not a big deal, and I get it: they thought they were going to open, didn't, and failed to get it together to change their message. But there's something about being told to wait until a time that has already passed—particularly in the tone of voice that doctor's-office receptionists seem invariably to use in outgoing messages (a slightly raised voice, speaking a little too slowly and overenunciating—probably because many of the patients are elderly and hard of hearing?), which always feels like something is being explained to you, with infinitely tried patience, for like the fifth time—that makes me want to yell back at the phone, "Check your fucking clock, idiot!" But then I'd be yelling at an answering machine, so who'd be the idiot then?

[ANSWER: The answering machine would. It doesn't have a central nervous system.]

Monday, February 15, 2010

more on the moron ads

[The more on / moron joke doesn't quite work because of course the subject of this ad campaign is "stupidity," not moronism; fortunately, the joke is just so funny that it's worth the slight discordance of inaccuracy.]

Another thought about these ads:

Looking at these ones (particularly side by side) this morning, it struck me suddenly as relevant that these ads presumably were conceived—and the copy written—by "smart" people, whereas the people pictured, who are meant to represent the ideal Diesel is putting forward, are models, and are therefore... Well, I don't want to engage in stereotyping, but a recent study indicates that 12 out of 12 models are clinically stupid.*

This results in a couple of interesting...resonances?

  1. "Smart critiques. Stupid creates." One response I had to this ad when I first saw it was that it's a pretty clever way of shutting up anyone who wants to criticize this particular ad—a rather excellent method of self-defense. But taking into account the behind-the-scenes smart–stupid conflict, all of a sudden an objection or contradiction rises up. Whereas the critique is theoretical (either being done by us or simply something we can imagine in opposition to the creating), the creating is something we're supposed to see before our eyes...and yet the people we see in the ads—the stupid people we're meant to admire—surely did not come up with the idea of this sideways streetscape; on the contrary, some art director—somebody "smart"—came up with the idea and set it up and then sent in the models like meat puppets to lie down and look beautiful. In other words, there's another message in addition to—in opposition to—the explicit, stated message, and it is: "Smart creates. Stupid goes along."
  2. On the other hand, the second ad (which I can't in good faith pretend that I hate) is rather neatly in line with its message, even taking into account the advertising–modeling level. Yes: in this case, "smart" did "[have] the brains," in the sense of coming up with this idea, and "stupid" was the one who actually had to "[have] the balls,"† in that she's the one exposing herself in public—even more in public in real life than in the fictional reality of the advertisement. A counterargument might be that the ad folks are the ones who'll have to take the heat for defying a kind of cultural taboo, but honestly the ones who'll have to take the heat probably aren't the "brains" behind the ad but the execs who approved it—and let's be honest, here: they're not exactly the embodiment of "smart."

In the end, though, in both cases, it's extremely distracting to be reminded that these photos are planned-out affairs starring models who were hired not because of their ballsy "stupidity" in the Diesel sense but because they're sexually attractive—and who are doing what they're doing not because it's the kind of thing they do but because they were told to do so by "smart" people. Or no, it's not distracting: on the contrary, it highlights the essential problem with these ads, which is that they're incoherent and nonsensical and, above all, insincere.

* I'm really just kidding about that. I don't even know any models and don't actually assume that the average one is especially stupid—and indeed I'm quite certain that at least some must be smarter than the average advertising executive. However, modeling is a career based less on brainpower and more on looks, and the work being done by the models in these ads is not intellectual work, whereas the work being done by the writers of the ad in fact (broadly) is—and that is relevant in looking at these ads, to us who know nothing at all else about the people who wrote it or appear in it.

† I do sort of enjoy the joke—based on (or I guess probably amounting to no more than) simple dissonance—of referring to a woman as having "balls," particularly when her being a woman is explicitly highlighted (in the form of secondary sexual characteristics). But what I'd enjoy even more, I think, is the same ad with copy that read, "STUPID HAS THE TITS." Any helpful citizens out there want to get on that for me?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Electronic Arts: keeping your dictionary safe

So I was playing Boggle on my phone—a version adapted by the same good folks who adapted the version of Scrabble I was playing a while back—and, surprise, surprise, Boggle has some strong opinions about what words you are and are not allowed to use. E.g.,


Tits: not allowed. No, but that's not even it! As with Scrabble, as discussed, tits is treated no differently from something like tgitgs. I would have a slightly different reaction if a little notice popped up saying, "Obscenities not accepted," but iPhone Boggle acts as if tits just plain weren't even a word.

Which is totally fair because it isn't a word! I mean, it isn't a real word, like a legitimate word, right? Like, it's not as if it's in the dictionary...

O.K., well, so it's on, but come on: are you really going to trust a dictionary that inserts leering advertisements into its entry? What does it say about a word like tits that some online dictionary wants you to click through to pornography after looking it up?*

A more respectable dictionary would never...

Well, so maybe Merriam–Webster acknowledges the existence of the word, but the OED, man, the OED surely...

"Well... That girl ought to go to Hollywood."

O.K., so maybe tits is a word. (And maybe to get on one's tits is an expression, which...yay!) But it's offensive!

I'm not sure I have anything substantive to add, really, to what I already said when I ran into the same problem with Scrabble (that link again). I just want to take a quick second to add, or to underline, that this is the stupidest bullshit in the entire fucking world. Electronic Arts, this is a word game. A word game! And not just a word game, but a word game the entire function of which is to recognize and identify words—to know what is a word and what isn't a word. Scrabble at least requires a kind of construction, more like a puzzle: Boggle is really just about, "Hey, a word!" And the rules even mention explicitly that you can refer to a dictionary as a final judge of what is and isn't a word! I mean, thank you, Electronic Arts, for protecting us from the fast-acting poison of arbitrarily forbidden words that somehow haven't yet been purged from the word-books, but also, meanwhile, please, please, if you get a chance, I entreat you to fuck yourself good and rough and thoroughly at your soonest possible convenience, because you are a bunch of fucking morons.

God bless America!

* Just realized it's not an ad for pornography: it's an ad for a dating site. Which—honestly I'm not sure I've ever come across another situation in which a dating site is actually creepier and slimier in context than pornography would have been. "You're interested in tits, huh? Sign up for our dating site!"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

a direct object, and plural


Clearly what's meant is "Fuck Valentine's," not "Fuck Valentines"—right? Analogously:

Valentine's is an abbreviation of [St.] Valentine's Day; valentines are either cards or—more entertainingly here, in context—people.

I will now allow you to complete this thought. [Hint: it ceases to be a dismissive statement and becomes rather more a friendly suggestion.]

Friday, February 12, 2010

something I'm no good at


So I was talking to a friend on my cell phone just this afternoon, and this guy who was also on the phone nearby came over and started waving his hand at me. At first I literally had no idea what he was doing, and then when I realized that he was gesturing forcefully for me to "quiet down," there was also a moment of incomprehension on my part—because it is annoying when people are too loud on the phone, and I have no reason at all to imagine that I'm never guilty of that, and indeed I may well have been guilty of it at the moment, but on the other hand it wasn't like I was screaming, or talking somewhere I wasn't supposed to be talking (like outside a sleeping baby's bedroom), or anything like that; nor did he have some position of authority over me—he wasn't a librarian and I was not in a library, for example—so I was a little baffled by the way he was gesturing at me. So I think I said something like a polite, "I'm sorry?" And he just started yelling at me: "Keep it fucking down! Other people are trying to talk on the fucking phone!"

Now, I'm perfectly happy with the way I reacted to this: I said, "Jesus Christ," to which he responded with a shrill, "Fuck you," while beginning to beat a retreat, and I just basically made a face that communicated what the kids would probably express as "WTF." All good so far. I mean, the dude went immediately to rage as if we had been arguing all day or as if I had been doing something outrageous, none of which was true; if he had come to me and said, "Hey, excuse me, would you mind keeping it down?"—even if he had dropped the excuse me, just as long as he presented it as a request that one adult was making of another—then I would have conceded politely, apologetically, and immediately. But the jump right into anger is a classic crazy-asshole move, both alienating and ridiculous, and—

But, see, this is just it: here's where we get to the problem, my problem, a problem with me—what I've sat down to write about. I, as I believe I've discussed here before, am no damned good at just letting this be a disagreement—by which I mean that I'm still kind of humming from that interaction and feel like this guy and I need to talk it out or something. More to the point, I feel affronted by the fact that this guy is off somewhere thinking, "That jerk!"—when he's the jerk!

You see what I'm getting at? You see the problem?

I should be satisfied (and I am temporarily close to satisfied if I make a concerted intellectual effort) by the fact that I handled a crazy person (or, to be fair, at least a person's crazy behavior) in a relatively level-headed, nonexplosive way, neither getting into a fight nor simply conceding to his assholery. I wouldn't go back and do anything differently: in a perfect world in which I get to do everything exactly the way I want, responding to an inappropriately belligerent weirdo with a look of bafflement and disapproval and maybe a muttered, "Jesus Christ," is at least reasonably close to how I would handle it.

However, I'm not satisfied, and the reason I'm not satisfied is that this guy—although the way in which he retreated suggests that my response may in fact have deflated his rage a little and he may in fact have been a little embarrassed... But, see, I'm going to interrupt myself here because that's the problem in a nutshell, right there in the way I'm talking: it's my old setting-the-story-straight problem. The simplest way to put it, maybe, is that I care about it at all, care about how this guy felt. And among other other issues with that attitude, maybe most important is that, quite frankly, how he feels is none of my business.

The most practical, least crazy version of my concern is that he'll go around telling people how loud and awful and rude I was—which I think would bother many much saner people than I because nobody wants to be the victim of a character assassination, and if it's not even a well-grounded character assassination, then some degree of indignation comes in, as well. The trouble is that, while more understandable, this concern is both I think a rationalization for a much less logical anxiety and in itself something that any human being would be better off transcending anyway—that any human being must transcend, I might even say.

The earliest glimpse of this truth I think I ever got was when I had broken up with somebody who was very mad at me for it, and I was trying to talk to her and answer questions she had and to be as honest as I could, and my imaginary friend "Gottlieb" said, "It doesn't matter what you say to her. She's going to hate you one way or the other." And he was right. I was committed to this fallacy that a conversation between two people is always—or often, or even sometimes—an actual logical exchange in which the ideas and truth itself are tantamount. This is false. Conversations are messy, emotional interactions and to mistake their content for their essence would be like witnessing a huge accident on the highway caused by a Hostess truck and concluding that Twinkies are extremely dangerous.

If your concern is that everything you say and do always be construed and judged fairly and accurately, then you are guaranteed to be disappointed. Sometimes people aren't going to like you. Sometimes people aren't going to like you for reasons that have nothing to do with reality! What's going on in other people's heads, even if it's about you, is, again, none of your goddamned business: they can think whatever they want, even about you. And, finally, if they go around spreading lies about you? Man, that sucks. But that happens in the world, and you've just got to either just have faith that "the truth will out" (I mean, if what I witnessed was true to the guy's general behavior, then I think most people would be inclined to view whatever he rants about with some degree of skepticism) or, better yet, you've just got to accept that you cannot control your own PR.*

So did that guy think he was being totally reasonable? Did he think he was right and I was wrong? Maybe, maybe not. One thing's for sure, and that's that he's even likelier to take the position that he was right and I was wrong than he is to believe it. And it bugs me—man does it bug me—to think that he's off somewhere taking that position. I am no good at just letting it go.

And that, my friends, is nuts.

[DISCUSSION QUESTION: Is what I just wrote confessional—legitimately penitent, you could say—or is it just a way that I can do exactly what I'm saying it's both crazy and impossible to do: getting the last word, writing the history, annihilating the other side of the argument? Or both?]

portrait of the artist turning himself inside-out

* One lesson about this is that, man, being famous has got to suck in a lot of big ways. No wonder Salinger and Pynchon and I think also Kundera decided to retreat from celebrity in one way or another.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

the unhelpful citizenry


I try to be fairly relativistic and aware of cultural differences and to see that people can legitimately see things in ways that are difficult for me to comprehend or to accept—I said I try, not that I'm good at it—but I think it's only fair and objectively unassailable that whatever motivated whoever wrote the graffiti above ought to be readily classifiable as a form of mental retardation.*

* Speaking of which, the other day a friend was saying that she's been meaning to cut retarded out of her vocabulary (as a pejorative term meaning, roughly, stupid—e.g., "That's retarded"), and I suggested replacing it with Republican. But then of course now I've just told a story the whole point of which is something that I said that I think is funny. How Republican is that?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

coupla ads on the goddamned subway

For a while now I've been trying to figure out what to say about this weird ad, but today I learned, thanks to some helpful citizen, that sometimes the best commentary is a piece of gum on the nose.

When you have to color-code the cast list, the cast is too big—or at least you're naming too many names. I mean, wow, congratulations, a bunch of people are in your movie. A bunch of people are in every movie;* you don't have to name them all. If you need help cutting out some names, allow me to submit that the following people are not famous enough: Bradley Cooper, Eric Dane, Hector Elizondo, and Taylor Lautner. (In fact I'm not entirely sure that the last three even exist. You do realize that you can't just make up actors, right?) Dump 'em. They'll get famouser on their own time. Or they won't. NOT OUR PROBLEM.

Also, I understand that Valentine's Day is on a Sunday, but the big "VALENTINE'S DAY / 2.12.10" is a little uncomfortable—only slightly better than releasing a movie called New Year's Day: The Movie with a release date of like Jan. 3. I know, I know, I don't blame you, and there's maybe no getting around it: it's not like you aren't going to put the release date on the poster. So I'm just going to go ahead and advise you to pull the movie altogether. Release another one. With a cast like that? You'll have no problem.

* Except Moon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


There's been a bit less Alt85 lately because I seem to be in the middle of orchestrating some sort of major life change.* I intend to fix this soon (the less-Alt85 part, not the major-life-change part) and blow violently back onto the scene with a veritable Vesuvius of—I don't know, what do you call what I do on this blog? Hmm. Oh, I've got it: let's call it writing.

Note in the meantime that Headfoot continues apace (being mindless—indeed, arguably constituting a kind of mental degeneration). Here's a little random garbage from Headfoot for that ass—just to save you the mouse click. (Save those calories. You're gonna need 'em.)

* This consists of little more than discovering that "Puss" by the Jesus Lizard is the greatest song ever recorded.
† Just remembered I spent some time thinking about this when I originally reblogged it from Brown Lazer because Dark Side of the Moon doesn't have a picture of a moon—and I actually sat there for a minute trying to figure out, SAT-analogies style: prism is to taco as moon is to...?

Friday, February 5, 2010

A commonplace but important and revealing fallacy.

Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real? I remember at the time of the wreck—people were so kind and helpful and solid. Everyone pretended that our lives until that moment had been every bit as real as the moment itself and that the future must be real too, when the truth was that our reality had been purchased only by Lyell's death. In another hour or so we had all faded out again and gone our dim ways.
-Kate in The Moviegoer

Our culture does seem generally to take for granted that the qualities we reveal in times of crisis are "truer" than those that normally characterize us: the you you are under duress is "the real you." But does this make any sense?

Years ago (maybe around the time of Midnite Vultures?*) Beck gave some interview—I thought I had this written down somewhere, but it appears that I was mistaken—in which he said something to the effect that people assume that the crying you is "realer" than the laughing you, but that he didn't see why that ought to be true. And I'm with him 100%. Is the crying you, or the angry you, or the post-apocalyptic monster-battling you relevant? Sure. Is it revealing? Of course. But is it like pulling back a curtain and seeing the "actual" person you "secretly" "are"? No. An ex-girlfriend of mine was also instrumental in making me realize this: she was pretty smart in the head† and pointed out that what one might dismissively call the "mask" you wear is also very relevant to who you are. Think about it. How you choose to present yourself: is that not relevant to your personality?

the real you?

I've come around to thinking that the idea that you're being more yourself when you're unhappy or in some kind of danger is a fundamentally anti-humanist attitude—also maybe weirdly limited and myopic, not to mention fundamentally opposed to the notion of free will. Makes me think also of the idea of the whole human being (as opposed to something more like a Cartesian split) and the thing that I think I first realized when I was a "tween,"‡ that any division between "natural" and "human" requires turning a blind eye to the fact that human beings are animals and part of nature, such that whatever concrete and steel we erect is as much part of nature as an anthill...

But I'm getting distracted and confused (writing in an L.A. coffee shop, which is not the norm for me: I'm spoiled by silence). My whole point is actually pretty small: you are more than your behavior in any particular circumstance, and there's no good reason to trash or trivialize the way you behave when things are good and you're happy. That's you, too.

* Back when he was still good.
† You heard me: smart in the head.
‡ Back before the term tween existed (as far as I know).

a few misspelled words common to the Internet

yea/ya/yah [for yeah]
baited breath
f*ck, s#%t [etc.]

Monday, February 1, 2010


Did anybody else see this article in the New York Times about how boys are spraying foul Axe products all over themselves because they're morons (IQ: 51–70)?

Here's what I couldn't believe about this article: fairly early on we read, "The surge [in popularity among younger boys] is certainly due in large measure to new marketing strategies," and the reporter does acknowledge that this has to do with boys' attempts to "position themselves with their texting, titillating, brand-savvy female peers" but then focuses on tie-in deals and viral marketing; nowhere does the article explicitly acknowledge or bother to focus on the content of Axe's advertising campaign, which seems to me to be the entire story.

Axe's ads all focus on the claim—a lie that they get away with making by winking while making it—that Axe is a magical love potion, essentially a mind-control gas, that will make its user sexually irresistible to beautiful women. The closest this article comes to acknowledging that is the following passing (and dismissive!) note: "while men's colognes have been marketed since at least the last century for their irresistibility to women..."

People: Axe's ads may fit into a long tradition, but they aren't just another in a long series of essentially identical messages—even if there's nothing new in the concept, at the very least they up the ante. Observe:

Is the above video the same deal as this one, linked to by the Times article? Yes and no, innit?

Anyway, comparing it to other ads is not the point. The point is that boys' reason for choosing Axe in particular is that Axe is the brand that's currently telling them that Axe is directly linked to sexual attractiveness—that there is an "Axe effect"—a causal connection that the article weirdly seems to ignore. The focus on an increase in sexual insecurity among younger boys is reasonable—I mean, that is a story—but the failure to focus on this company's exploitation of that insecurity troubles me: it almost seems to endorse the idea that Axe's products actually do have some connection to sexual attraction beyond the, I'm sorry, lies in their advertisements.

What the article does not acknowledge is that these boys are just young enough that they are just stupid enough to consume these ads with a singular credulity, particularly in an ad-laden culture that discourages critical thinking—as perhaps is best demonstrated by a newspaper article adopting a kind of "How about that!" attitude toward Axe's popularity without stating plainly, clearly, and up front, "This product is best known for its ad campaign that basically asserts to boys that using it WILL GET THEM LAID." Treating that as irrelevant forgives and enables ad companies' tendency to pass lies off as jokes; our youngest (and dumbest) citizens pay the stinky price.

A parent quoted in the article might as well be speaking for the article itself: "Axe has commercials?"