November 23, 2007

The War on Thanksgiving

Filed under: Film and Video — tomemos @ 10:37 am

(Updated below)

Ways in which TV advertisers sold the idea of going to their stores at (variously) 4 am, 5 am, or 6 am on the Friday after Thanksgiving, aside from simple appeals to deep discounts:
(based on advertisements seen on Thanksgiving for Target, JC Penney, Mervyn’s, Macy’s, Big Lots, and others)

1. Fear and social pressure. Shot of a suburban neighborhood at night. People running chaotically from their homes, across lawns and into the streets, reminiscent of people evacuating or fleeing in disaster movies. “Mom, where are we going?” shouts a little boy. Mom answers that they are going to take advantage of an early-morning After Thanksgiving Sale. Details of savings and deals follow.

2. Good-natured reminders of personal responsibility. “Set those alarms!” a voice says merrily, as an alarm clock rings. A small dog, representing the buyer, gets out of its dog bed and trots away as the voice recounts all of the deals available at the early-morning After Thanksgiving Sale. As the dog returns to its bed, exhausted (or goes to bed early in preparation for the early-morning sale? Ambiguous), the voice brightly chides us, “You’ve got a lot of shopping to do!”

3. The invigorating thrill of a strenuous physical challenge. No voice-over. Instead, The Go! Team’s “We Just Won’t Be Defeated” plays in the background as an animated stick figure pushes a shopping cart at a full run through a minimalist background. Shots of the stick figure doing shopping-themed exercises, overcoming obstacles, etc. Beads of cartoon sweat drip from his stick-brow. During the evening’s feature (The Incredibles), the little shopper occasionally reappears, running with his cart from the left side of the screen to the right.

4. Ironic directness. A touching family Thanksgiving scene, though a somewhat comical one: one of the older children, a late teenager, over-earnestly wears a paper Pilgrim hat. Mom brings out the turkey and sets it on the table, to the family’s delight; however, she immediately leaves the kitchen, pulling the tablecloth, food, and place-settings behind her. They fall to the ground with a clatter: “Who wants dessert?” calls Mom from the kitchen. The voice-over tells us to hurry and get to the store for the After Thanksgiving Sale, making it clear that Mom wants to get dinner over with quickly to begin shopping. After recounting of deals, a shot of Mom, still in her apron, standing at the store doors alone in the middle of the night. “Open, open, open,” she mutters, rattling the doors.

This one could stand more discussion: by “ironic directness,” I mean an advertisement that simply tells you to do something ridiculous or distasteful, or claims a ludicrous property for the product, but avoids offense by using humor to suggest that they’re just pulling your leg. At the same time, the advertisers obviously want you to do or believe exactly what they’re joking about. On Thanksgiving I expected to see more of this technique, which was incisively described (with the example of the Axe Deodorant ads) in Joe Kugelmass’s account of advertising, but I only saw the one ad; maybe America isn’t yet ready for this level of starkness regarding a family holiday. Within a few years, though, the concept of going shopping on Thanksgiving night may have been normalized to the degree that more advertisers can just tell us to do it, while leaving the “just kidding!” escape hatch unlocked behind them.

I also learned, watching these ads (and reading some of the catalogs that came in the daily paper), that the word “doorbuster” has become the standard term for an extremely good deal, one that will bring people crowding into the store, busting down the doors, etc. This seems like a case of Madison Avenue chutzpah, since for me “doorbuster” evokes everything that makes me not want to take part in brief sales events: namely, getting caught in a massive, door-busting crowd. But it would be a major coup if advertisers made the two worst things about these sales (going to a store at 4 am and packing yourself in with a thousand other shoppers) seem like features: exciting, part of the fun, even part of the holiday.

On the way home from Thanksgiving, we saw a billboard: an extreme close-up of a Budweiser bottle, with the caption “THIS IS BEER.” Obviously, it’s meant to be read with a certain emphasis: “This is beer.” But for a second my mind was freed from that enunciation and I read it for what it actually was: a simple declarative statement (“This is beer”). It sure is! This is somewhat in homage to Penny Arcade’s vision of the ideal Doritos ad: “Doritos are chips.™”

Update: While we’re on the subject…in the past I’ve generally been indifferent to Buy Nothing Day, but the crassness of the Black Friday ads has finally made me a fan. This graphic from designer Jonathan Barnbrook is a pretty thorough argument in favor.


November 14, 2007

Every day I write the book

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, General Me, Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 10:29 am

This is a good month for blogging every day; in fact, it’s the month for blogging every day. Friend and blogfriend Kindle (first blog I ever read, hand to God) is taking part, for the second straight year, and has so far discussed films, fashion, food, and ESL teaching.  In similar news, a guy I know has started a blog chronicling his 20-day quest (beginning Saturday) to watch 100 great films, run 100 miles, and grade 40 student papers.   So you want to put that in your RSS before you forget.  Finally, Sarah Lawrence friend Phaea Crede has a blog which, while not technically a NaBloPoMo participant, seems to update almost every day, and also each entry is titled “Today in…” which feels pleasantly like syndicated news.

I recommend all three blogs, both for their own merits (this is projected, in the case of Days of Industry) and for the feeling of plenty that comes from having a new entry to read each day. Me, I don’t have the material or the wherewithal to blog once a week, let alone once a day. However, in the spirit of the month, here is something quirky and trivial you can read about me:

I’ve learned to ride my bike without hands. I know that I’m a little old for this, but but the circumstances were never right before: there are too many hills in Berkeley, and I’ve always been a late bloomer in terms of not being a pussy (I couldn’t watch Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or The Neverending Story until I was in my teens, e.g.). Now, though, I find myself in Long Beach, home of flat, broad, one-way residential streets, and since I’m in my late twenties it can no longer be said that I have my whole life ahead of me. So I started riding no hands – tentatively at first, then confidently. Now I can do it for a block at a time, and I’m starting to learn how to turn.

The funny thing, though, is how addictive this method is; it’s started to feel like the most natural way to ride. Now, whenever I climb on the bike, my first instinct is to put my weight back, and for the first time in my life I want to own one of those upright cruisers rather than a bike that makes you lean forward. It’s too bad unicycles are so dorky, because that’d be the logical next step.

November 1, 2007

Playing with Power

Filed under: Halowe[']en — tomemos @ 11:12 pm

If it’s November, it must be time for me to blog about my Halloween costume. I went as Captain N, the Game Master, star of a half-hour cartoon commercial for Nintendo that aired on Saturday mornings in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I never watched the show, and honestly had forgotten all about its existence until a friend mentioned that it was available on Netflix. So Julie (who did watch the show, I’m just saying) and I rented it, and, well. Hmm.

Here’s a test to do when you’re considering renting a cartoon you remember from your childhood: do you have a single positive memory about watching that show when it was first on? If not, stay far away: that show is too terrible even to be funny, and it even doesn’t feature the toy ads which were half the reason you were watching in the first place. We made the exact same mistake by renting the Legend of Zelda cartoon one night and watching it with a friend. Between the three of us we couldn’t come up with enough jokes to make it worth it.

But nonetheless the guy’s hair looks like mine (visual reference here), so that’s what I went as. More Halloween ’07 photos are available at my long-neglected Flickr account, including the glorious sun and the three different people playing Hunter S. Thompson in I’m Not There, Either, the new Todd Haynes movie about Hunter S. Thompson.

As for next year, who knows. I enjoyed dressing up this year, including the usual quests to get the costume together—thrift store shopping, driving out to a used video game store in Torrance on the day of the party to buy the controller and gun, sewing on the N—but I can feel the enthusiasm ebbing out of me, and I can see myself being done with costumes by, oh, age 30 or so. What an early bloomer I am—that’s only seven years after I learned to drive!

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