Category Archives: tv

Nissan-Sentra and the Tyranny of Rocking Out

This ad has been carpet-bombed on TV, and vexing me for weeks:

The music is Billy Idol’s cover of Tommy James & The Shondells’ hit Mony Mony:

That they used a cover rather than the original is the first thing that pisses me off. My favorite Billy Idol song is “Dancing With Myself” which, while irresistible, is everything I dislike about him. It’s subject is Idol’s narcissistic male sexuality, which is pretty much his entire persona. He has a face that wants punching, and his half-octave vocal range barely qualifies him as a singer.

By contrast the Tommy James’ version is as stupid a bit of garage rock as “Louie Louie” but it is functionally effective. And Tommy James’ send-up of James Brown is so sincerely cartoonish that you can’t get mad at him. A song from 1968 may seem a bit old-timey, but we musical aesthetes need to maintain standards.

More offensive is the commercial’s scenario. Here’s Mr. Young Guy With New Car, a 20-something white man wearing white sunglasses. Either he’s on a methamphetatime jag, or he’s so deliriously happy about how his new Nissan has filled the yawning emptiness at the center of his soul that he can’t help singing.

Mr. White Sunglasses
Mr. White Sunglasses

As Mr. Sunglasses drives around Los Angeles, he cranks his stereo, and interacts with people in other cars and on sidewalks. Since Sunglasses is a consummate narcissistic, he doesn’t make connection with actual people, he connects with stereotypes.

Scary Biker Dudes
Scary Biker Dudes

Since he’s driving around in the objective correlative of White Privilege, he commands those around him to “rock out,” to “party down.” He points at them like a conductor cuing the oboes.
Hipster-esque Black Couple In Convertible
Hipster-esque Black Couple In Convertible

He demands that others share his manic glee, even as he deafens them with his bitchin’ Bose stereo. He knows true joy, through the acquisition of a metal phallic symbol that he’s ramming through traffic. He is the master of all he surveys; other people are only there to reinforce and validate his position at the top of the food chain. He doesn’t ask people if they want to sing along with his crappy Billy Idol song, he assumes that he, his car, and the song are so perfect as to be irresistible.
Unrealistically diverse cute kids on school bus
Unrealistically diverse cute kids on school bus

This is Nissan targeting a specific demographic — young white males — who no longer buy cars the way previous generations did. This group used to be the core of the auto-buying public; their love of ‘hot’ cars began in adolescence and continued to senescence. The young man going into debt to buy a Mustang becomes the retiree trading in his Oldsmobile every other year.
Lumbersexual On A Motorcycle
Lumbersexual On A Motorcycle

Fair dinkum; if your company exists to sell cars, go ahead and sell the living shit out of them. But this advertisement appeals to the most obnoxious, toxic part of Bro culture: Their overweening confidence that they are the people other people wish they were, and that they were born to be leaders. They feel entitled to share their joy at their own primacy in the world. Other people’s concerns — and eardrums — don’t even occur to a Bro. They’re bitchin’, rockin’ dudes and you need to get with the program or get out of the way.

And that’s why I hate this ad.

Olive Kitteridge Music & the synchronicity of chord changes

The new HBO series “Olive Kitteredge” is great television, and the music, composed by Carter Burwell provides a lot of the moody atmosphere for the show.:

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But I was sure that I’d heard the main theme music before, or something very similar to it. It nagged me all day and then I remembered: The song “Paradise Circus” by Massive Attack, used for the theme of the British crime drama “Luther.”

This is also, in the form of a Gui Borrato remix, used in a 2011 car commercial in the United States.

This is a really simple chord progression:
F minor, A flat Major, C Major, E minor diminished.
ParadiseCircus

But quite evocative. You can never know for sure whether Burwell had heard the Massive Attack song, and incorporated that core chord sequence, or if he came up with it independently. I’m reminded of the Axis of Awesome’s “40 songs, same chords” performance:

Trailer for “Olive Kitteridge”

Double Plus Butter, Double Plus Un-Butter

A new product at my Supermarket is called “Move Over Butter.” I thought this was so hilarious I bought some. OK on toast but not as good a butter replacement for cooking as Smart Balance.

In researching a post about this topic, I found that there’s actually a definitive post on SeriousEats about stuff people buy when they think they shouldn’t buy butter.

And apparently “Move Over Butter” is a resurrected brand name, because there’s early 90s commercials for it that are just awesome:

And here is the classic riff on “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”

In Praise of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

This post has been making the rounds this week and I had to respond. Not so much because it needs defending, but because I believe this post fundamentally misunderstands Peanuts and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

“F*ck You, Charlie Brown.” Poor Charles Schultz would cringe to see that; he was a pretty old fashioned guy for whom outbursts like “Darn it!” were strong language. But these days, when coarseness and vulgarity are the order of the day, Schultz is an anachronism. He grew up in Minnesota after all, where being nice is the state religion.

What Peanuts brought to the funny pages was only rarely more than mildly funny, but the occasional wry chuckle it evoked was just a spoonful of sugar to make the strip’s exploration of human failings more palatable. Charlie Brown was insecure and depressed, a victim of the thoughtless cruelty of his friends and his own self-doubt. Lucy was sadistic, self-centered and vain. Linus was in his own world, clinging to his blanket and sucking his thumb. Peppermint Patty was well-meaning but clueless, oblivious to the embarrassment her misguided, blustery invasion of Charlie Brown’s life caused him. Snoopy was just plain nuts, a chymera of doggish impulses and fantasy. Schroeder was self involved, and the only person whose indifference could wound Lucy emotionally.

These characters were the only ones with any emotional authenticity in the funny pages. Peanuts could be occasionally jokey, but it always had heart. Schulz was a committed Christian — one of the real ones who actually worried about what Jesus would do, instead of wearing a plastic bracelet about it. The Peanuts kids had conflicts, indulged in each of the Seven Deadly Sins, but they each had a saving grace: Linus’ compassion, Lucy’s fearlessness, Charlie Brown’s humility, Sally’s innocence, Peppermint Patty’s good cheer. Moreover, Schulz’ treated his characters with loving kindness, even as he looked directly at their failings.

All of the qualities that made Peanuts special were on display in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Maybe you had to be there, but when this show came out in 1965, it was a revelation. There were kids who were sad, angry, cruel, vain, and silly. If you’d grown up on Frosty The Snowman, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and even Miracle Of 34th Street, you were used to candy-colored fantasies and, not to put too fine a point on it, being lied to. Peanuts kids were like the children you knew. They felt real, and you could share their point of view.

There was funny bits, like the Snoopy Dance, and oddly touching stuff, like Linus’ long quote from Luke 2. The message of A Charlie Brown Christmas was that people can set aside their differences and baser impulses and join in community, with compassion for each other and shared joy.

As a Thomas Jefferson Christian, I have learned to appreciate what feels like the true Christian spirit of caritas and let all the supernatural stuff slide. Life and history are stories we tell each other, and reality (as Paul told the Corinthians) is essentially unknowable. Peanuts illustrated the uncertainty, loneliness, and anxiety of life, but also the loving kindness that is the only thing (as Paul said) that abides.

Another thing about Drew Magary’s post: he dismisses the work of Vince Guaraldi as “horrible slow Jazz.” Dude, seriously. I’m admittedly biased because my dad commissioned an orchestral arrangement of the Guaraldi’s music for the Peanuts special, called “The Charlie Brown Suite”, which Guaraldi performed with my dad conducting. Guaraldi used to come to parties at our house and play my mom’s Steinway, before climbing underneath and falling asleep.

“Christmastime is Here” is my favorite modern Christmas song, and Guaraldi’s version of “O Tannenbaum” rescues it from a million hideous Muzak rendition. “Linus and Lucy” is as close to perfect as a Jazz pop song can be. His “A Child Is Born” (Greensleeves) extrapolates the traditional chord sequence into something unexpected and exciting. I loved this music as a child, and as an adult I hear a rare emotional depth in it.

As my Grandmother taught me, it’s impolite to say “I don’t like tomatoes.” One should rather say “I don’t care for tomatoes, thank you.” It’s OK to not enjoy the Peanuts TV specials. Frankly they started out strong with the Christmas and Halloween specials and devolved into annoying kicking-a-dead-horse potboilers. But if you can’t appreciate a work of art in the spirit in which it was intended, “F*ck you” seems like a pretty mean way to address it.

Subway says Pepperoni Makes You Gay

The fuck? Watching this commercial makes my brain hurt:

If I understand the scenario, two guys are eating sandwiches at a Subway restaurant. They enthuse about the flavor-enhancing qualities of adding pepperoni to a sandwich. They are then launched into a shared hallucination where they’re being poled along a canal in Venice by a gondolier. Someone (not the gondolier, though by tradition, they sing for tips) sings a song about Pepperoni to the tune of “O Solo Mio.” Their eyes lock, the spell is broken, and they awkwardly make small talk about sports.

The point is that in their fantasy, the sandwiches and the gondola ride awakens homoerotic feelings in them. What I don’t get is how this in any way is supposed to sell sandwiches. It’s like that insane Quizno’s advert where it’s implied that the sandwich chef has burned his dick sticking it in a gay sandwich oven.

What’s especially disturbing about this is it enacts the specious narrative that it’s possible to Catch The Gay. If you’re not vigilant, deviant desires might catch you unawares and turn you into one of those butt-sex-loving nancy boys. The absurdity of this is premise is rivaled only by its durability in the American imagination. Even if it is possible (and every variation of human behavior is possible!), why would two men discovering they desire each other be such a horrible thing? And why are they using it to sell crappy sandwiches?

Up until a few years ago advertisements seemed to follow a recognizable narrative with an obvious subtext. You could deconstruct them, and even if they were dishonest or sexist or whatever, they made some sort of objective sense. They sought to awaken or create a desire in the viewer, that can only be satisfied by the product being advertised. The moral implications of that aside, at least you knew where you stood.

Now it seems like they’ve added a new rhetorical strategy to the field: arguing from the premise of what the fuck? In other words, come up with something implausible, maybe a little risque, that in no way makes any sense. Then you remember the product because you think “what the fuck was that about?” I guess it works, since I bothered to write about it.

So resist. Don’t buy Subway — their sandwiches taste like newspaper anyway. And if you can’t resist or have no choice, do not add pepperoni to your order. Pepperoni adds nothing but nitrites, salt, and saturated fat to the meal.

Of course, this ad fits perfectly with my theory that nothing advertised on television is good for you. The healthiest diet available to an American is the one where if it’s advertised on television, you don’t eat it. When was the last time you saw an advertisement for kale? Or brown rice?* The whole basis of the corporate food business is Added Value: You take foodstuffs, bought as cheaply as possible, adulterate it with salt, sugar, and fat, package it, and advertise it. Then you profit when people sicken themselves by eating it.

*and here’s another constantly reinforced trope of mass media — if it’s good for you it must taste like crap. How many times have you seen a sitcom where the joke is that people get stuck in a ‘healthy’ restaurant and the joke is ‘the food is good for you but it’s disgusting!” Haha very funny. Fact is, if you stop eating bad food and start eating healthy things, your palate changes and the healthy stuff tastes better.

He watches Project Runway so I don’t have to

My Brother Ian, Preaching on the value of Niceness Among The Ambitious

“…you’re never going to sell a book entitled “The REAL Secret: The Universe Doesn’t CARE What You Want” but I’ve seen enough nice guys (and girls) finish first to wonder why everyone else is being such a dick about it.”

I’ve resolved to post something every day, both as a careerist blogger move, and because I’d like to impose at least that much discipline on this effort, no matter how pallid and wan an activity blogging on this level is. So this is day 1…

Old Spice — Best Ads on TV?

Harry Allen posted about this, but it’s too good not to share. This ad is the culmination of the barmy series of ads that started with Bruce Campbell singing “Hungry Like A Wolf.” Not only are the ads really funny, they are a mirror maze of masculine signifiers, parodies of masculine signifiers, and affirmations of masculine signifiers. They have a dreamlike quality I don’t see often in advertising, and they look like everyone involved in making the ads is having so much fun it’s hard not to join in.

And I was already a satisfied customer, because most everything else you can get at the supermarket smells like ass to me.

TV Advert Volume: Threat or Menace (PS APPLE STFU)

This article got mentioned on Slashdot, and just last night I was bitching to M. about how commercials are louder than programs. I like how the FCC responded to complaints saying there was ‘no fair way’ to define loudness.

Apparently, even though they regulate broadcasts, including radio, which is all audio, they’ve never heard of the RMS volume measurement, which does a great job of measuring perceived loudness. A broadcast signal (or CATV/Satellite signal) is obviously limited with respect to absolute volume — digitally by the word size of the transmitted signal, and in analog radio, by overmodulation. But below that absolute maximum you can compress and brickwall limit the shit out of audio.

What I noticed in watching a couple of hours of TV last night is that the worst offenders were the Apple iPhone/iPod Touch ads, which were not just effing loud, but hyped in in the 1-3khz band to where it was earbleedingly harsh. Shame on them.

Dear Local TV Weathermen: Fuck Right Off MKay?

Jebus — every time there’s bad weather in Iowa, they preempt network shows for local weather dudes to gabble on and on while they fiddle with their fancy weather displays. ¬†JUST PUT A WARNING IN THE CORNER OF THE SCREEN DUMBASS.

Maybe the scariest thing is that the underlying assumption that everyone is going to be WATCHING TELEVISION all the time and they won’t take bad weather seriously unless there’s some putz fiddling with a doppler radar map in front of them. ¬† The SIRENS GO OFF if it gets bad and you need to go to the basement.