Thursday, May 30, 2013

Middle-Aged Suburban Guy Horror Stories

I believe I am going to write a series of books called Middle-Aged Suburban Guy Horror Stories. I think it's a great idea, not only because I think it will make boatloads of cash, but it's making a boatload of cash from a target audience ripe for creativity. I've already come up with some awesome titles:
  • Bees In The Attic
  • The Time I Pretended To Know All About That Important Current Event My Co-Workers Are Talking About
  • The Horror Of The The 10oz Packages Of Monterey Jack Cheese That Are On Sale But Only At The Grocery Store All The Way Across Town
  • The Tale Of Not Wanting To Stay Up To Watch A Stupid Thursday Night Game
  • Why Is This Radio Station Telling Me That Soundgarden Is Classic Rock?
  • So Help Me I Forgot To Mail The Mail Again
  • There Is A Zoning Meeting Next Week And I Think They're Turning The Old Dunkin Donuts Into A Tattoo Parlor. We Should Go.
  • I Think That Stinkbug Went Down The Drain But I'm Not Sure
  • Time To Paint The Porch A Slightly Different Shade Of Red
  • I Wish That Wing Place Was Still Open
  • Not That One, The Other One. The One That Had That Awesome Garlic Butter Dip And The Busboy With The Lazy Eye
  • We Can Wait For The Redbox
  • The Time I Couldn't Find Out Which Way To Turn The Key To Unlock The Front Door Even Though I've Been Doing It For Ten Freaking Years
  • Guiltily Buying Another Subscription Of US News &World Report From That School Kid For His Stupid Fundraiser Even Though They Stopped Publishing It Three Years Ago
  • This Shirt Is Good Enough For Applebee's
  • The Sad Account Of The Hamburger That Was Too Fat To Cook Evenly But Not Fat Enough To Not Fall Through The Grill
  • A Storm Is A-Comin' On Mow Day
  • I Remember When The Mom On That Show Was Really Hot
  • I Am 80% Certain The House On The End Of The Block Sells Dope
  • Diary Of What That Kid Really Thinks About While He's Making My Subway Sandwich

Friday, May 24, 2013

Let's Go Bucs! Again! We Mean It This Year!

Two years ago I introduced the Pittsburgh Pirates Care-O-Meter. Back then, the Pirates had just hired a brand new coach. The roster was still pretty abysmal but we had been promised that there were some hidden prospects lurking under the surface. After (at the time) eighteen consecutive losing seasons fans were, to understate things a bit, skeptical. The joke was (and, I suppose, still is) that fans will only care about the Pirates if they are winning; the era of the devoted hardcore fan was long gone.

It's two years later, and we now have twenty consecutive losing seasons.

Still, last year things were...close. Right up until the last fifth of the season or so* the Pirates were--well, they weren't exactly in playoff contention, but they were poised to have the first winning season in two decades. Of course, in true Pirate fashion, they managed to collapse and still end up losing for the year.

Which brings us up to today. Mirsculously--perhaps unbelievably--the Pirates are doing well. I mean really well. They are ten games over .500. They are tied to be the third best baseball team in the league. Their Power Ranking--for those who make, and follow such things--places them sixth. Pitching is doing pretty well. Everything seems to be going their way.

And yet, we've seen it all before.

Gone are the days when the Pirates stank up the clubhouse from day one. Now, the Pirates are masters of doing very, very well for a while, then making everyone nervous, then pulling off a string of awesome wins against good teams, and then finally collapsing like a cheap tent. So even though the Pittsburgh Pirates are one of the hottest teams in the game right now, the reception in Pittsburgh has been noticeably cool. A lot of this probably has to do with the fact that everyone's focus is actually on the Penguins, who are on the verge of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but there's been scant attention played to baseball in this city except for scared sports writers who know they are going to be laid off if they don't get enthusiastic for the Bucs.

Still, while it may take some time, I suspect the Pirates will get their appropriate level of attention here soon. Either the Stanley Cup victory will eventually fade (or a cathartic why-did-we-lose if they don't make it) and given the current state of the Steelers players (it's Ben and Troy and maybe Heath Miller and then the backup squad from St Andrews School Of Mediocre Football Players), this finally may be the Pirate's year.

But probably not.

*Which, to be fair, in modern baseball still means about 200 games.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Please Pay At The Door

I recently saw this article about ways to keep the cost of college down. Articles like this seem to coincide with a recent trend of complaining about how much college costs and how society and the government have screwed everything up by expecting the younger generation to meet the same standards as the previous one when they paid a fraction of the cost for much greater benefit.

It seems, however, that everyone on each side is missing the point.

First off, college, in general, is still a great deal. Whether it has a fantastically better rate of return than the college days of decades ago is still more or less up for debate (short answer: depends). So unless your college could be hooked up to a trailer and moved a county over, as long as you've graduated it's still generally a good idea.

Secondly, the dirty secret as to why college costs so much more than they did in the boomer years is that we now expect colleges and universities to do a lot more than they used to. Colleges used to be places to get an education, but that mission statement has spiraled out of control. College are now spiritual centers, social equalizers, therapists, incubators of expensive "life changing moments," and producers of incredible amounts of insurance liability. They are also forced by law to fund sports equally for both genders, forced by law to basically accommodate everyone regardless of cost, and forced by law to provide a laundry list of services lest they lose access to the federal loan system. Practically none of these things existed in the 60's and 70's, and even if they did it wasn't universal nor was it as expensive.

In addition, now that colleges make an active effort to enroll poorer students, the services they provide must go up as well. In previous generations, most college students were well-off enough to cover a lot of the costs of being a college kid; nowadays, those costs are covered by tuition. And everyone gets to pay in.

So college has gotten much, much more expensive, but that's because we, as a society, have forced them to do a lot more for the students. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course, but we can't ignore the fact that these things aren't free.

[As an aside, there's also evidence that the rising cost of a college education is less about actual rising costs and more about some administrative shuffling; for example, a lot more low-income students get scholarships now, so colleges can safely raise the cost of tuition without causing undue hardship to poor students. I'm not sure how widespread this is or how much of an impact it has in the overall scheme of things, but it sounds reasonably plausible. Actually, as another aside, simply typing "cost of college" into The Atlantic's search engine creates dozens of articles about how colleges are simultaneously making the cost of college easier for students and also harder for students. Basically, the short answer is no one has any idea.]

Still, to get back to the original article, I'm not sure how much of it will really make a difference. While I am always a proponent of "more information is good information," for some reason the charge that a "lack of information" is an ongoing crisis rings empty to me. It isn't that hard to get information from colleges. In fact, if you can't be bothered to get this information on your own initiative (as opposed to forcing the government to actively provide it for you, which is the current goal) maybe college really isn't for you.

Some other methods to lower costs involve alternatives to college, such as community colleges, "work" colleges, trade schools, etc. The sad fact is that, despite what politicians and your parents say, not everyone should get a liberal arts education. And that is fine--colleges and (especially) universities have always had a rather specific end goal, and that doesn't always coincide with universal higher education. Not everyone wants, or needs, a liberal arts education, and when the only alternatives are either four-year liberal arts degrees or nothing, you're excluding people who still want to learn but don't want to be discouraged from what could be a challenging educational path. Teaching aspiring electricians about European literature may make for a better society and is beneficial to everyone, but let's not pretend that when he do it to everyone overall costs are going to rise dramatically. Focusing on alternate educational institutions that don't focus on that is an ideal solution.

There's also a lot of distortion in the pricing, due to an unholy mixture of subsidized financing, grants, government-mandated costs, and brimstone. Some of this actively encourages the costs to rise, especially when there are no consequences to costs that are just going to be covered by the government.

In the end, the old economic adage is free: there's no such thing as a free lunch. Previous generations didn't pay as much for college because most colleges back then focused primarily on education and didn't operate as functional mini-societies. In addition, not as many people went to college, so there wasn't a sticky formula of cost-baiting that, while encouraging poorer students, also put into place an infrastructure of price distortion. Not, as is commonly assumed, some sort of grand conspiracy to keep young adults today from buying clove cigarettes and tickets to Lumineers concerts. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Things I Can't Bring Myself To Care About

  • The XBox One. I've never really been a console player (my very first one since the good ole NES is the Wii) but I am painfully aware of the various systems available since you can't talk about video games without someone bringing it up and giving me expert advice as to which one is better. I am latently interested in how the industry is moving (registering games to prevent selling used games; always-on technology, etc.) but in the end I can't bring myself to get overly concerned about waht amounts to a game box.
  • Jodi Arias. Pretty girl accused of murder? GET IN LINE, SISTER
  • The Sexing Up Of The Brave Girl: A firestorm was unleashed last week when Disney revealed that they were "revamping" Princess Merida, with critics accusing the company of taking a young, tomboyish girl role model and making her into yet another unrealistic princess. (As opposed to a realistic princess, I suppose.) I...I don't see it. It looks more like she was updated to more easily plaster on McDonald's cups than any attempt to crush little girls' self-esteem. At best, the update to makes her look slightly older, and I would call it a stretch to say she's sexualized. This seems to be more along the lines of a combination of activists pounding a minor issue with a sledge hammer plus people seeing what they want to see, which to me is more than just a little creepy.
  • Umbrellagate. WHY IS THIS A THING
  • Saturday Night Live Cast Changes: I'll lump in here a sort of generic "late-night talk show host" changes as well. I think that SNL has been only mildly amusing for decades now*, with maybe a sketch or two per season truly being funny enough on its own merits, and the rest of the show is a combination of poorly written sketches and decent character pounded into oblivion by overuse because everyone there is pretty much a lazy hack. But all of the talk of who is leaving and who is staying and what former cast members are doing really doesn't seem to make that much difference to me.
*Yes, I'm fully aware of the fact that, like Mad magazine and baseball, everyone thinks SNL is worse now than some mythical time when they were 13 years old.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Plot Sickens

I love a good story. I mean, who doesn’t? Television, movies, books—if the plot is constructed on a foundation of awesomeness and self-reflection, I am all over it. Fill your story full of fluff and garbage, however, and I will dismiss your work as a cultural trashheap contributing to the downfall of western civilization—unless you make me laugh, then it’s all cool.

Still, there are a few plot tropes that I absolutely cannot stand. There are some things that I find insulting, lazy, or just outright bad writing. If your movie/show/etc. utilizes any of these ideas, I am most likely going to dismiss the work for being unoriginal. Unfortunately, some of our culture’s most well-liked movies fall into some of these categories. Hopefully future creators will put their spin on this to make me less irritated.

Of course, there’s always that chance that someone will dazzle me with some new twist. Just be forewarned: I’ve heard it all before.

None Of This Actually Happened: You are halfway through a movie. The plot weaves and twists and turns. You can’t keep track of everything, but it all sort of makes sense in a cosmic way; something is connecting everything to everything else. You can just feel it in your bones that in the last few minutes of the movie, the Big Reveal is going to happen and everything is going to make perfect sense. Even if they end the movie by planting that one seed of doubt about the whole thing, it’s acceptable simply because it’s fun.

However…a common plot is that throughout this sidewinding journey of mindscrew, it turns out that half of it didn’t happen. Or none of it happened. The protagonist, it turns out, is crazy. Or maybe everyone was on drugs. Or it was a dream or a child’s imagination. In other words, the twisting plots aren’t the product of a well-thought-out plot, it’s a lazy scriptwriter who decides to throw everything at the screen and whatever doesn’t make since is just a fictional hallucination.

Examples: Suckerpunch, Vanilla Sky, Black Swan

If I Could Just Say One Thing: This is the bane of most romantic comedies, but applies to other genres as well. Usually the driving force of the story is one of unrequited love, almost always due to some petty misunderstanding. The girl sees a guy kiss another girl, and runs away with a broken heart. The girl blows off a guy because something more important came up. Turns out it’s his sister! Turns out she has a funeral! Turns out he was going to propose that night! You see, if one party simply said one thing to the other party the entire issue would be cleared up. It’s just bad writing. Sure, there has to be some reason that the main couple has some sort of conflict—that is what makes a movie interesting—but the actual reason is usually so weak as to be laughable. If the entire movie could be negated with a six-word conversation, then you should scrap your movie and start from scratch.

Examples: Does it star Hugh Grant or Jennifer Aniston?

The Incredibly Awkward Disjointed Symbolism Scene: You are a mighty director, or perhaps a tortured novelist, or a scriptwriter, and you have a point you want to make. No, seriously, there’s a point you HAVE to make because it will be the single greatest advancement of philosophy for mankind in the history of everything ever. Problem is, your point doesn’t translate well into a work of fiction, and you don’t have the patience or intellectual chops to go into academia. So what do you do? You shoehorn your idea into your work of fiction and cover it up by saying it’s “symbolic.” And since it doesn't actually fit into your storyline, you just occasionally reference it and claim it’s a visual representation of the protagonist’s tortured personality. Or the rare chapter that has nothing to do with the rest of the novel involving existential concepts. The important thing is that your important point isn’t lost on the audience by repeatedly bashing them over the head with the sledge hammer you’ve crafted out of the shitty dialogue and poorly-constructed plot. 

Examples: Brazil, The Matrix

Saturday, May 18, 2013

My Day So Far

So far today, my wife and I:

  • saw a trio of girls selling lemonade in cups from their kitchen (they assured us that they were washed after every serving.)
  • saw an operational DeLorean
  • went the wrong way down a one-way street (note to Butler: MORE SIGNS PLZ)
  • saw a guy playing a flute in a cemetery
  • witnessed some guy walking down the street singing a song very loudly while listening to headphones (overheard possible lyrics: "I'm busy runnin' my fingers through yo mother's hair"). Later down the street he stripped off his shirt. I think he was The One True Baller.
  • saw three friendly dogs who came up to us at a stop sign to beg for pats on the head
  • saw one very, very angry dog in the parking lot of a grocery store
  • saw a stop sign, except the sign--supplanted, no doubt, by an enterprising youngster with scarily drippy spray paint--now reads "Stop Snitchin'." Some serious shit must have gone down in Rural Valley, Pennsylvania.
  • saw another sign defaced from "One Way" to "One Love."
  • an old redneck from Florida who used to work for Corbin/Hanner and told the bartender awful jokes (Punchline: "Bring her over and I'll make you an offer.")
  • seriously considered crashing a wedding that had rented out the entire restaurant we planned on going to. (We didn't.)
  • saw a fat guy casing a health food store for a future robbery attempt (this was pure speculation on our part).
  • a pair of green neon panties in a parking lot
The day is not over.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The End of The Office

Last night was the very last episode of The Office ever.

Not a whole lot of people have watched these last few seasons of The Office. I mean, it was still one of the top comedies on the air, but given the sad state of today's sitcom market that isn't saying much. It certainly wasn't pulling either the viewers or the cultural cache it did for its first six years when Steve Carell was on.

And this is a bit of a shame. While Carell was on The Office produced this sort of balance between legitimate humor and cringe-worthy moments, all from the marvelous Michael Scott. If nothing else, it made the sitcom different. When Carell left, a lot of viewers left too, but they probably should not have. While all of the cringiness was gone, they had built up a scaffolding of characters and plots that the remainder of the cast--carried by Riann Wilson and John Krasinski--was still able to maintain the funniness of the original. And while some of the characters became caricatures of themselves (Kevin, especially, became almost unbearably stupid) by and large they were effective because they were real. Anyone who has lived in an office environment has worked with a grumpy Stanley or an overenthusiastic Erin or an uptight Angela or a creepy Creed. It is normally (and rightfully) cliche to say that viewers relate to the characters and feel like their friends/family, but The Office excelled in making the character fairly efficient representations of exactly the sort of people viewers work with every day.

It should also be noted that The Office almost singularly killed the multi-camera sitcom. The number of laughtrack-less single-camera sitcoms prior to The Office in the previous decade in the US could be counted on one hand; afterwards, it's difficult to find a new sitcom that doesn't. If nothing else, this is probably a net benefit to television culture.

Of course, The Office wasn't without its bumps. Season 8, with Robert California, was pretty awful; the writing and plotlines were boring and the scripts unfunny. They misused both Catherine Tate and James Spader, both great talents that were squandered in poorly-written shows. Thankfully, Spader left and Tate actually ended up being a decent and interesting character, although at that point there wasn't enough time to really develop her character into anything useful. The addition of Pete and Clark seemed kind of pointless in a show that already had fourteen characters (although Clark, at least,did end up producing some of the funnier moments of the last season, and Pete was somewhat necessary to drive Andy and Erin's plotline). Even before the late-series issues, occasional story arcs seemed out of place--the constant selling and re-selling of the company (and Michael's ill-fated breakoff venture) just seemed to be a way to generate a plot when the writers couldn't think of anything new.

As far as the episode itself was concerned, it was nearly everything it could have been. It managed two big events quite skillfully (Dwight and Angela's wedding and the panel for the in-show documentary) which also served as a convenient (and plausible) way for everyone to come together, past and present. Everyone's story was more or less wrapped up (I would have like to seen Jan and Holly, and Toby didn't really get a proper resolution, but those are small details). It gave opportunities to show how everyone had grown as characters (even poor Stanley and--surprisingly--a lot of screen time was given to Creed). Nothing seemed out of place (which, to be fair, is difficult given that the Schrutes were involved). In the end, it was surpising it would take so long to get such a satisfying ending.

That's what she said.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Hundred Grand

At some point in the recent past, some form of mass misjudgement must have infected the population. Within the last week or so, this blog hit 100,000 views.

I am not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, it makes me feel shameful because I don't write here nearly often enough. As I've mentioned in the past, however, it is sometimes difficult to update this blog as I would like. I generally don't have the ability to access this blog during the day, so by the time I have the opportunity to get my thoughts down an entire news cycle and a half has already digested and analyzed whatever the day's topic has been. And then I just feel self-conscious for simply writing what the conventional wisdom has been established by that point. That is the bane of today's internet and social media--you can get information out remarkably quick, but then so can everyone else.

On the other hand, there's a lot on this blog I am proud of. (As an aside, this serves as a plug for my old blog, American Lament, which for some reason I insist on renewing every year even though I don't keep it up anymore. There's a ton of quality entertainment on that site, if you don't mind it being a little dated, and I recommend you check it out.) I feel sometimes the focus on this site is a little too scattered--I'd write about board games and candy more often if that had the same audience as me bitching about the government...or perhaps the other way around. Then again, it's my blog, and I can do whatever I want with it. [Insert snarky emoticon here.] My main goal is to keep people interested, and I hope I've done that.

Anyway, thank you, everyone, for letting this blog hit the hundred grand mark. The board game enthusiasts have visited this site often, so many thanks to them; I would be remiss if I did not mention my hardcore Latvian audience.  I especially want to thank the Russian porn sites that make up about 80% of my traffic. Without you, I would be nothing.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Kickstart Me Up

Kickstarter has, by all accounts, been a huge success, and for good reason: It has found a way to make everyone a winner. As is always the case, of course, there are still loads of people who want to piss all over it.

Kickstarter, for those who do not know, is a crowdsourcing site. “Crowdsourcing” is a new enough concept that it fails my word processor’s spellcheck. (Oddly, so does “spellcheck.” At least my computer isn't going to be self-aware anytime soon.) Basically, people who have projects they wish to produce (be they gadgets, businesses, or creative works) put their idea up on the site. Open to all of the internet, other people may then contribute to the project, and if the predetermined target funding is reached, the recipient gets the money to make the product. Technically this is not an investment, so donors aren’t guaranteed anything, but oftentimes people will offer some sort of gift or product based on the level of contribution. (Donors know ahead of time that the project is a risk that may not pan out the way the creator invisions; business plans are usually put up, and creators must list any risks or unknowns with the project ahead of time.) For their part, Kickstarter gets a cut of each donation. 

So, basically, everyone wins: people get projects put up. People who want to see the project get done can put their money where their mouth is. If it doesn’t meet its goal, no money changes hands (and thus no risk to donors) and the project creator knows their idea most likely will fail and they need to either fix or drop it, all done without investing any money (or, at the very least, a token amount of money to produce a prototype). Kickstarter gets a cut. It’s all voluntary and basically everyone wins. The only thing that can go wrong (and it’s a rather big “only thing”) is that someone gets the money and then doesn’t produce the product. This is a risk (and not an insignificant one) but so far hasn’t been a huge issue.

It’s a fascinating idea that is here to stay. It’s been especially productive in the creative world. In the past, studios and publishers wielded control over the creative process, but if a writer or actor can get the funding ahead of time they are no longer beholden to an organization with more of a financial stake than a creative one. Crowdsourcing has given a huge amount of control over to creative types, and fans are notoriously generous when it comes to making more of the stuff they love. The poster child for huge media products is the much-missed and beloved Veronica Mars movie, which managed to far surpass its target funding date to create a movie from a TV show that’s been off the air for over five years.

And, of course, that brings us full circle to the complaints. Recently, Zach Braff launched a Kickstarter campaign to help partially fund a follow-up to his cult hit Garden State. It met its modest goal of $2 million (he used traditional Hollywood fundraising for the remaining budget, about $20 million more), but he faced criticism from many circles. Why use fan’s money to fund a movie when he has plenty of money himself? Why use something like Kickstarter when he is a reasonably well-known actor who could certainly pull off a larger budget without taking cash from average Joes—cash that is not going to yield any reward (aside from a few modest token prizes based on contribution level)? Braff’s defense—he has money but not that much money—is valid enough, but I think it misses the point completely.

So what if Braff wants to fundraise a movie? And how is this any different than the Veronica Mars campaign, which is almost identical? Everyone involved in each of these transactions did so voluntarily. Braff was upfront that the funding he was getting from fans wasn’t necessary—it was enough to give him casting and final cut options, but the movie could be made with funds already raised. If fans want to contribute and there isn’t any misinformation out there, who cares?

Likewise, in my own hobby of board gaming, Kickstarter has created a huge opportunity for small publishers to produce games. (The world of board games and Kickstarter is a column for another day. Summary description: It's fantastically awesome.) However, some of the bigger names in board gaming have jumped in as well. The current controversy is with Steve Jackson Games, who reprinted his classic game Ogre via Kickstarter. Many in the industry were upset, stating that the company had the money to front the game without resorting to Kickstarter. But as before—who cares? If someone wanted to get in on the Ogre action, they can do so. It’s not hurting anyone else, and even for large, established companies it’s incredibly useful for finding out exactly what the public is interested in—if a project isn’t worth producing, people won’t buy into it.

About the only thing that critics could legitimately complain about is that by throwing large products up, established companies are soaking up the available money that donors have. But, still, in the end, does it matter? If I really, really want Ogre or a Zach Braff movie, I’m going to see it when it’s produced and spend the money then. What difference does it make? And won’t spending the money earlier (and letting the producers know the exact sort of products that are wanted) going to eventually lead to a better final product for everyone?

In the end, I suspect the critics won’t change anything, nor should they. Like anything else, letting projects stand or fall is part of the process. It is rarely a good idea to interfere with it in either case.

The Pledge: People are dickholes who don't like other people to be happy. Anyone should be able to start, and fund, whatever they want on Kickstarter without people getting all butt-menstrual about it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sad Men

This has not been a good month for advertising.

In the past two weeks or so, the advertising folks for Hyundai somehow managed to convince someone that using a disturbingly realistic depiction of suicide was the perfect way to sling new cars. General Motors had to pull an ad after people realized the lyrics to an old song from the 1930’s used in the spot were raciallyinsensitive to Asians. And, finally, Pepsi had to pull an ad that somehow manages to make fun of both black people and domestic violence all in less than a minute. All in all, not a great time to be on Madison Avenue.

Or, of course, it is. The old adage, “bad publicity is still publicity,” still holds true. As is usual in these sorts of situations, Hyundai claims that the ad wasn’t approved by them and was just created as a potential ad (or some such nonsense), ignoring the fact that pretty much everyone was able to, you know, see it. A similar situation occurred by Ford, whose Indian subdivision a few months ago launched a print campaign that made fun of celebrities and public figures by showing cartoons of them bound and gagged in the back of their vehicle (it’s so much roomier, you see.) Given the state of India nowadays, even casual and incidental mentions of sexual assault probably isn’t the best idea, and trying to shield yourself from the allegedly satiric celebrity angle probably isn’t going to work. Ford, of course, claimed they didn’t “approve” it at HQ; it was just that pesky Indian division that they still somehow manage to take huge amounts of profits from. Ad agencies are very good at somehow allowing their work to be seen by the public and then claiming they weren’t responsible for it if the whole thing turns sour.

The other two examples given above, for General Motors and Pepsi, are at least a little bit more justifiable. The GM spot was just sloppy; it was an older tune that I’m sure everyone assumed was “safe” without actually listening to the lyrics. The Mountain Dew ad was created by Tyler the Creator and was also a continuation of a series of ads that make more sense in context (well, relatively speaking), but still, on its own, was pretty obnoxious. In both cases it seems like someone not involved in the ad needed to step back, look at the whole picture, and yell “Stop!”

This, of course, seems to be happening more and more often. A lot of it has been blamed on the “new” media landscape: ads need to be made in record time and have to be splashed all over social media, so the chance of misjudgment is significantly higher than normal. And, of course, trying to cater to the young Facebook-obsessed market means being edgier, which involves a lot of risks on its own. 

But I think it’s more than that. Quite frankly, advertising sucks in pretty much every format. Not that advertising has ever had this wonderful Golden Age of style and substance; ads have always been a pretty shallow business with a minimal shelf life. Most advertising is insipid and sad; the whole point is 1) to convince people to buy your product, not to make art, and 2) to lower everything to the lowest denominator to capture the most people to get the most out of your money. It makes sense. And, sure, times have changed; ads can be targeted in an almost creepily accurate manner. But the large money and large campaign are still about reaching the most number of people and tell them to buy your shitty product.

I realize it’s anecdotal, of course, but advertising is pretty rough across the board nowadays. Any time I watch live television—which is very rare in today’s age of DVRs and Netflix—the commercials just seem to be actively awful. Not necessarily boring or ineffective, but everyone is trying so hard to be “edgy” it is almost embarrassing, almost like Grandpa trying to rap or a dog sitting at the dinner table holding a knife and fork and licking his chops. (OK, I would pay to see both of those.) I have seen some ads lately that have actively wanted me to avoid their product.*
I am aware of the collapse of advertising; razor-thin margins for internet advertising, on-demand viewing, and the absolute collapse of print media have made getting eyeballs to ads the new white whale. And I’m fully aware that the days of commercial-free DVRs are numbered; I fully expect product placement to skyrocket and the bottom half of my TV screen devoted solely to a sliding crawl of car insurance mascots and greasy slogans for Burger King.. Still, the quality of advertising seems to have made a drastic collapse, and I’m not sure where the industry goes from here. My suspicion is nowhere good.

The Pledge: The modern advertising agency is a garbage dumpster filled with poorly executed mediocrity. Stop trying to use rap artists I’ve never heard of to sell me expensive cars I could never afford.

*In the advertising industry, this is generally seen to be a indicator of ineffective advertising.

Plant A Tree For Latvia

Long-time readers know that the official adopted nation of this blog is Latvia, thanks to the disproportionate demographic readership I have from that nation. No, I do not know why, and despite my efforts to pander to the standard Latvian blog-reader the viewership has dropped greatly in the last year or so, but I stand tall and proud with my Latvian brothers and sisters!

So it is nice to announce that Latvia has managed to be declared, by the authorities over at Mental Floss, to be a candidate for the next world superpower. It has done so by virtue of its reasonably impressive tree-planting efforts. Thankfully, no other nation on this projected superpower list is also a huge demographic for my blog, so they are safe from now. Granted, forestry is not exactly the thing one thinks about when assessing power projection and hegemony theory, but, hey, we'll take what we can get.