So a friend referred me to a short-lived but fun game show, Now You See It, from 1989. Not directly from 1989; it made some stopovers in getting to me. But in the middle of the show came this commercial for a cereal supposedly called “S.W.Graham” and, well, here. From about 12:56 in:
This … this is somebody’s prank, right? Somebody wanted to spoof some of John Nesbitt’s Passing Parade shorts from the 40s. And their friend with the camera wanted to spoof 80s music videos and the singing-three-quarters-view-in-front-of-stuff composition? And their friend who could write just heard about Sylvester Graham and could not shut up about his food wackiness, right? And they put that together and slipped it into the only known copy of this episode. That has to be what happened, right? Because I have been trying for ao long to think of another set of events that makes this plausible, and I can’t, and now I’m running late on everything.
There’s an advertisement in the local alt-weekly for “Chocolate your body understands”. That’s a mind-expanding exercise for you. My body, you may have gathered, never had trouble understanding any chocolate, no matter what funny accent the chocolate might have put on. But, we are asked to accept for the premise of this advertisement, there are chocolates that bodies can’t understand. The bodies try, surely, by such methods as speaking more loudly at the chocolate, but nothing comes across. Some other food group, perhaps a sauce of some kind, must come in to serve as interpreter. (Oh, finally the purpose of peanut butter is clear!) But now all these indignities of translation end, and we can just eat chocolate, so they promise.
I bet it’s not as simple as they pretend. There’s probably some classwork your body has to take before it talks with the chocolate again.
Really, I’d love to have something of greater import to write here. But in my readings this week I have learned things about the background of Cap’n Crunch, the man, that it’s taking me time to digest and I don’t know how long it’s going to be before I’m quite back on top of things.
I have never been on top of a thing, except for four of the times I’ve been on a mountain. One of those mountains was the highest point in Singapore, Bukit Timah Hill, which is nearly twelve feet above sea level. (Fun fact: the words ‘Bukit Timah’ are Malay for ‘tin hill’, but nobody seems to be able to agree whether it’s called Bukit Timah because there is or ever was a hill you got tin from anywhere near there, or whether the name’s coincidence.)
This episode, next to the last in the series’ run, originally aired the 13th of October, 1957. That is, not quite ten days after Sputnik launched, which would give the premise for an unusually timely sketch. It’s also got a reference to the Brooklyn Dodgers moving. There was another reference to the Dodgers moving last week. The move had been officially announced the 8th of October, although baseball had approved the move in April, and the Dodgers had played some “home” games in New Jersey in 1956 and 1957.
And here’s the rundown:
Open. The show is billed as “brought to you by Stan Freberg”.
Opening Comments. Stan Freberg promises advertisers frightened by last week’s sketch that there’s almost no werewolves in advertising. He tells Daws Butler he paid $100 to sponsor today’s show.
Commercial for Stan Freberg. The jingles are surely parodies of specific ads, although I don’t know what for. Little lines like “the all-American dog” and such suggest dog food, car, and drain cleaner. It’s hard not to wonder if Freberg was letting advertisers know, hey, he had some free time and a good comic sensibility ready for advertising by doing so many ads for himself.
Miss Jupiter returns. She’s back from the third episode. Includes a stray reference to the International Geophysical Year, which ran from July 1957 through December 1958. She’s “returning your basketball”, Sputnik. This has to be among the first comedy sketches recorded about the event. There’s a reference to “red tape at the Pentagon”, which has got to be alluding to the idea that the United States space effort was too bureaucratized to work swiftly. I’ll go on about this below. Miss Jupiter’s computer goes into action, delivering a fortune cookie from her ear that’s surprisingly explicit about the Space Race being a game.
Peggy Taylor sings “Love is Mine”.
Freberg goes to World Advertising. Meeting with advertising executives is a big, weird muddle of daft business-creative types and baffling metaphors, which is a standard take but offers nice goofiness. World Advertising claims to represent nations, and showcases an advertisement for America that’s a takeoff on Lucky Strikes tobacco, which is a nicely wicked joke the more you think about it. Another reference to moving the Dodgers. The commercial also ends with “Can It Be The Breeze”, which closed The Jack Benny Show when he was sponsored by Lucky Strikes (reruns of which ran right before Stan Freberg’s show). There’s a reference to Freberg having a hole in his shoe, making him more homely and “a cinch to win”; Freberg asks if he’s heard from Adlai Stevenson. There was a moment in the 1952 campaign when reporters noticed a hole in Stevenson’s shoe, and he riffed “better a hole in the shoe than a hole in the head”. “You’ll wonder where the Freberg went” riffs on a Pepsodent jingle still current when I was a kid in the 70s.
Sam Spilayed Mystery. Freberg tries to do a radio mystery. It’s nailed the over-expository yet mournful tone of shows like Pat Novak for Hire. Some nonsense about pronouncing “bracelet” wrong along with the over-written metaphors and impossibly complicated exposition and the sound effects either wrong or mis-timed. You can see the Firesign Theatre’s Nick Danger in formation already. And then at 20:45 a commercial interlude for Instant Freberg. At 22:45 he goes into his own commercial, one where he beats up someone who doens’t like the show, and then back into the main plot. There’s multiple references to stuff from earlier this episode. There’s also a reference to “Little Orphan Annie at an Aquacade” which I believe references one of the comic strip discussion panels in past episodes. The femme fatale being named “Yours truly, Jenny Dollar-ninety-eight” is a reference to Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. That mystery show’s gimmick was that Dollar was an insurance investigator and the episodes were framed as his expense reports, itemizing costs and what they were for, so the close of each episode was a summary and signature, “signed, yours truly, Johnny Dollar”. The sketch closes on another commercial for “Stan Freberg, the falling comedian”.
Closing Remarks. Freberg asks for cards and letters about what to do for the final show.
Okay, so the Space Race thing. Something that baffled many people in the early days of the space race was why the United States didn’t launch a satellite first, the way everyone would have expected. A lot of complaints boiled down to the US didn’t take it seriously. Contemporary thinking in space historians is that President Eisenhower did not think it all that important to launch the first space satellite. His priority was establishing the idea that, while nations might control their own airspace, outer space was a different thing and free to all passing vehicles. Specifically, so that spy satellites could be allowed. But how to establish the precedent that satellites may go about their business? Well, that would be a scientific satellite, launched as part of a major international cooperative effort, by an agency with a long history of research for the public good, on a rocket with no military value. That is, Vanguard, launched as part of the International Geophysical Year, by the Naval Research Laboratory, on a rocket derived from the Viking and Aerobee sounding rockets. His other priority was not spending a crazy amount of money on it, thus, not going any too fast. The Soviets launching a satellite was fine by him; they can’t complain about a satellite launch if they’re doing it too, right? That it set off a American paranoiac panic was probably inevitable but somehow not anticipated.
You maybe noticed these recordings of The Stan Freberg Show haven’t had any advertisements, nor spots where the action comes to a halt for a sponsor’s plug. This is not because they were edited out, nor because these recordings come from recordings made for the Armed Forces Radio Service. (Armed Forces Radio at the time had a prohibition on advertisement. Shows transcribed for rebroadcast on this would often fill out the time with music.) The show ran as a “sustaining” program, without a sponsor.
That’s a slightly odd status, today. The only shows run on United States radio without a sponsor are some public-service, breaking-news, or educational programs (and the occasional publicity stunt). It was not unheard-of in the days of old-time-radio. Mostly this would be for programs meant to experiment with the state of the art, such as the CBS Radio Workshop; or to serve educational and cultural support roles, such as the NBC University Theater. But it would also be for shows that filled a dull time slot. Or that were good but hadn’t yet matched up with a reliable sponsor. Vic and Sade, for example, ran its first two years without more than temporary sponsorship. Stan Freberg claimed that a tobacco company had offered to sponsor the show and he turned them down, which if true speaks well for his principles. Running the series for three months, as they did, suggests CBS figured they had a good show that might match up with a sponsor. Here, from the 6th of October, 1957, is the moment when Freberg maybe realized they wouldn’t match one, and he decided to just make fun of the people he also needed.
And here’s the rundown:
Open. No pre-show sketch once again.
Opening comments. Freberg just promises something for everyone and there’s not clearly a bit going on.
Billy May playing Cocktails for Two. Just the prologue; “everyone knows the chorus of this turkey”.
Questions from the Audience. On the topic of the circus. One wants gifts and is fine with the circus as is. One thinks Freberg might be Steve Allen. The topic gets dropped and the rest of the sketch forgotten.
Peggy Taylor asks if the Dodgers are really bums; a bum wanders around and has nowhere to go. Then sings “And The Angels Sing”.
20th Century Freberg films: Grey Flannel Hat Full Of Teenage Werewolves. Goofy little fusion of I Was A Teenage Werewolf with How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Freberg has a great squawky teenage voice. And it has the great lines “This is America, where any kid can grow up to be Dracula!” and “My head filled with senseless metaphor!”. Werewolves by night and advertising executives by day is a solidly goofy idea. The agency name of “Batton, Barton, Rubicum, and Thompson” is a riff on Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborn, a corporate name I think Fred Allen once said sounded like a trunk falling down stairs. (Wikipedia can find where Mary Livingstone said this on a November 1948 Jack Benny Show, and that it’s not known if Fred Allen ever did.) They’re still around, as BBDO. I don’t know if this sketch came from a fusion of trying to riff teen-horror and young-exec movies. Having werewolves to fall back on really helps when the advertising part gets dull. The advertisement for “Food!” at about 18:45 is (of course) a precise parody of a then-current radio advertisement, for Quaker Mills Oh! cereal (which opened on a reverb-heavy “Oh! Oh! OH!”. And the mock-movie is a goofy story about love triumphing, really.
Closing Comments. Freberg answers the people who sent “many card and letter, to say nothing of countless phone call” congratulating them on a sketch from the fifth show, making fun of The Lawrence Welk Show. He announces and advertises that the sketch, is out as a comedy record, “Wun’erful, Wun’erful”. Also this means I was wrong to say that the sketch was an adaptation of this record; it’s the other way around. Also Freberg announces that the show is ending in two weeks. So he asks what people would like them to do for the final show. I take it to mean to nominate favorite sketches, but he doesn’t actually quite promise that.
Yes, it’s my fault for trying to read a local newspaper article about something instead of doing what they want, which is buying a subscription to the local USA Today franchise for Clementon, New Jersey, or whatever just so I can see one piece about an amusingly shaped pumpkin or whatever it was. And I realize that many people have no trouble forming or giving opinions about stuff. But then they wanted my opinion on this to let me read on.
And this is after I had said what the phrase “C’est la vie” suggests to me. Well, as best I could approximate. What the phrase really makes me think is someone who accepts that yeah, this sucks, but it’s the way the game is played and if you get through this you can move on to some other phase of the doom. They wouldn’t let me write that down so I had to select ‘Neutral’ instead.
Anyway I feel like I have the chance to mess up somebody’s hummus marketing campaign here. Wish me luck.
No photograph, because I was driving and I’m not that reckless just yet. But if I didn’t read it wrong, the retirement community billboard said you didn’t have to be a Mason to live here. And I’m glad to know that, I guess, what with it not being like enough people have homes. And I’ve only had two encounters with Masons that I’m aware of, one when I donated blood at the Masonic Hall in grad school and then like fifteen years later a Red Cross flyer suggested I might make it to a donation drive they were having there again. The other was a guy I was chatting with online who mentioned he was off to a lodge meeting and I was surprised because I knew he was under the age of Like 80. Also I guess it’s nice to know this retirement community has gotten past the hot social struggles of 1856? Well, I’m glad at least someone has.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
Uncertainty gripped the markets today and drove the Another Blog, Meanwhile index down seventeen points when a letter arrived from the bank that bought out the accounts of the bank that bought out the accounts of the bank that bought the bank we originally started the account with. The letter explained that they were extending indefinitely some fee waivers that were due to lapse in September. That there wasn’t any explanation of why they were doing this stoked fears that they’re trying to build customer goodwill ahead of doing something awful or being caught in something awful they already did and nobody wants to deal with that.
OK, first, more comic strips over on my mathematics blog, because darned it I am not going to let a 1959 installment of Hi and Lois toss in a bit of calculus without explaining just what is meant by it. I hope you enjoy because there’s not going to be another of those comic strip explanation posts until Saturday.
Otherwise, I was reading the Comics Curmudgeon blog. The advertising server suggested a couple books. They came out as:
A book of Slylock Fox mystery puzzles.
A book of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith comics.
A book of Slylock Fox “brain bogglers” which are different from mystery puzzles in six ways and can you find them all?
A book titled A Do-It-Yourself Submachine Gun.
I have some snarky views about Tom Batiuk and, separately, the comic strip Luann. But I think a submachine gun is the wrong way to handle them. They should be handled in the traditional way of making YouTube videos in which the dialogue from the comics is read aloud by people who inflect the lines in the most uncharitable ways.
Still, I guess at least they made an advertising impression, which is a triumph in this day and age.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index was rising when someone came up from the basement and announced they’d found their copy of Ian Shoales’s Not Wet Yet and now everybody’s busy reading their favorite bits, like the essay about how Dracula is the perfect movie because it has stuff for guys (procedures, tools, men off to complete a task) and women (seedy romantic decadence, ancient mansions, food preparation). Also the essay on Elvitude.
So the billboard advertisement asked me to ponder, “What If Corn Knew Its Destiny?” I can’t handle that. I can barely handle what I suspect of my own destiny and I don’t need food to be having its own destinies, much less awareness of that destiny. It implies we might see the day some mighty hero corn might rise up to alter or defeat its destiny. If it ends up being part of a really stupid movie it might even do that because this sort of movie doesn’t understand what “destiny” means. Even otherwise good movies don’t get it.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The trading floor saw the Another Blog, Meanwhile index rise five points over the course of the day today. It then popped up another two points in the last minutes of activity, which prompted Lisa to joke loudly about how she’s a “big tipper”, yet again. We get it, Lisa. You don’t always have to make everything about yourself. Anyway everybody was so sure the year was going to end above 100 since that’s where we even started and see where we got? 2016, you know?
So this turned up in my Twitter feed as a promoted ad:
I’m sure that this is a perfectly legitimate service aimed at helping plastic surgeons not get sued but I’m really more a mathematician than a plastic surgeon. And my day job is doing web stuff. Also, I’m really not a plastic. I’m proud to be almost entirely an amethyst carving with an enchantment that gives me powers to command thylacines, a really cool kangaroo-wolf creature that’s been extinct since 1936. So it’s not something that comes up every day. But this makes me think that instead of being targeted for advertisements based on my actual browsing and consumption patterns (“you just bought an weather radio! Would you like to buy an weather radio?”) there’s just this guy sending out ads to see if he can be funny. This is probably a better model for capitalism anyway.
The index rose sharply in trading before the market opened, raising questions of how that can be possible and calling the very definition of “markets” into question. It’s like there aren’t even any rules anymore, not the way we were told there are supposed to be.
The banner ad warned “the first bacteria-killing paint is here”. It’s a badly placed message. While I’m as intimidated as anyone by killer paints, the simple fact is I’m not a bacteria. The banner ad service would know this if it were any good at its job, which it’s not, because it’s a banner ad service. The best you can hope for is they’ll be ready in case I need another hip-hugging laundry basket right away. As it is the existence of the ad is baffling. I’m not a bacteria so I’m not threatened by the paint unless someone drops it in the bucket on my head. And if I were a bacteria, why are they warning me ahead of the paint being applied? This would just warn me way ahead of time to duck out of the way or hold my cilia until the painting thing blows over. It’s a really badly-thought-out banner ad even by the standards of banner ads. No sense to it at all.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped again slightly today, as it was distracted when someone at Wendy’s ordered fifteen spicy chicken wraps and one regular fries. Not even a drink or anything, just far too many sandwiches and a normal order of fries. The index doesn’t even know anymore. Gads.
The consoling thing about every company building up massive databases of every bit of information about all of us is that they’re all fantastically incompetent at it. By this I mean, yes, Best Buy, do keep asking if I’ll consider buying the cable modem that I bought from you seven weeks ago. I could easily use a second in case I need to crush walnuts between the two, I suppose.
From the paid advertising lists at a bottom of an AV Club article recently:
So, if I look out my window, am I going to see Jay Leno standing on the lawn, waving at me and asking if I want to see five or seven or even eight of his cool cars? Is that what he’s doing with his time now? Or is he waiting by the side door for when I take the recyclables out? Why is it so important to him that I talk to him about his cars? Oh good grief, is that it? He’s paying money to the AV Club advertising servers so I’ll befriend him? I don’t need that kind of pressure. Who does?
We’re catching up on TV shows around here. There’s this commercial coming on just about every break of every show, though, advertising some program where you get to see animatronic dinosaurs. Apparently you could even ride some of them, which we have to admit would be cool. The thing is, here’s the first line about this animatronic-dinosaur “educational” show:
“For the first time, prehistoric Earth comes alive!”
I keep looking at that sentence. And walking around and coming back and seeing that it’s still that, once again. I try hissing at it, but it’s still the sentence, “For the first time, prehistoric Earth comes alive!” And it’s for a show of animatronic dinosaurs.
I kind of admire the advertiser for coming up with a sentence that logically self-destructs so completely.
The Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper I managed decided one semester the front page of the first issue should be devoted to an essay dubbed “Embracing the Doom: A First-Year Unhandbook”. Its thesis was that we are all basically, deeply doomed, and while it was easy to deny this or despair from this, we were all better off embracing that doom and carrying on proudly. At the time I thought it the stupidest thing we could have printed and almost ridiculously playing to our paper’s stereotype as made by people just educated enough to be idiots about everything. I was wrong. I’ve come to realize there’s wisdom in accept that even if we are in the long run doomed, that doesn’t mean we can’t be satisfied and see a lot of sunny days while we get there.
This brings me to Stan Freberg, the humorist and satirist and voice-actor and advertising-creator whose death was reported yesterday. His style was almost definitive of a kind of humor that I associate with a particular circa-1960 smart set: literate, absurdist, cynical but not dismissive, dropping out of a wry detachment when there’s a belly laugh just about set up. It’s the voice of people who noticed they might just be the smartest person in the room, but are worried that they’re not all that bright themselves. I might try to call it cartoon existentialism, since many of the most accessible examples of it were cartoons made with that Rocky and Bullwinkle spirit, and for that matter of the better Hanna-Barbera cartoons from when the writing had some edge: characters who know they’re in adventures and who know the stories don’t really make sense, but who embrace it because someday the cartoon will end and you can either be entertaining while you get there or not, and the entertaining side has a better time of it. In short, there’s doom to be embraced.
After a lot of voice-acting work and comic records — incidentally crystallizing the Dragnet quote “just the facts, ma’am” in a spoof of that program — and supporting parts in other shows Stan Freberg finally got the dream job of producing a half-hour radio comedy for a major network, CBS, though as the gods of irony demanded he got the chance in 1957, when the major networks had decided to shut down original scripted programming on radio in favor of television. Freberg’s show would probably always had a hard time on commercial radio, as its style of humor fits in the Fred Allen/Henry Morgan/George Carlin vein that makes advertisers wary and network vice-presidents worried about what he’s going to say on their program; the program ended up being a “sustaining program” — no advertising, no sponsors. That’s normally a mark of a program being broadcast as a public service, or as an experiment developing the state of the art. Freberg didn’t want the show to have a single sponsor, and didn’t want tobacco advertising either, and four months after the show debuted, it was ended.
Archive.org has a set of all fifteen episodes of this show, and I recommend it as a way to sample Freberg’s work, and to taste this particular era of comedy: it’s knowing, sometimes heavy-handed, sometimes silly, offended by the madness of the world but unable to disengage from it, the sort of thing that will merge the folly of Las Vegas casinos with the threat of atomic war. (The show also makes use of many of Freberg’s comedy records from the 1950s, sometimes in revised form, so you also get a taste of how he got to be someone noteworthy enough to have a half-hour comedy program.) We might all be characters in a mad, doomed story, but it can be fun along the way.
About a year ago I bought a pair of rubber boots from the DSW Shoe Warehouse, which I suppose ought to just be called DSW, but if I call it that then nobody knows what they are except that they’re a place someone can buy rubber boots from. I suppose that’s enough, although I don’t care for the ambiguity about what other things which are not rubber boots they might also sell. Canvas sneakers? Rubber telephone poles? Synthetic-fur-lined mortar-and-pestle sets? Leather guitars? Maybe I’m over-worrying this.
Anyway, after buying the boots I haven’t had to buy anything else from them, or any other shoe merchants, what with my having kept the same pair of feet since then. And then last week DSW S— W——– sent me a card saying they missed me and wanted me back, and sent a $20 coupon if I’ll just come in and buy something from them sometime soon pleeeeeease. This seems like a pretty good deal considering it’s not like I was boycotting them or anything, I just haven’t needed shoes. I still don’t, but I feel like I should pop in and say hello if they’re so upset by not seeing me for a year-plus. Also I’d just like other merchants to know that if they want to send me coupons I’ll consider coming in and making them feel less lonely.
I bought this neat little tea-making gadget, good for bagged or loose-leaf teas, because yeah, I’m that kind of person. You put the tea and the hot water into the main reservoir, and then you set the whole thing on top of your cup, and it drizzles out the center, and hope that when you lift the gadget up again it stops pouring, and if it doesn’t, you buy a replacement tea-making gadget, like I did in the previous sentence.
I noticed that packed with it was an advert asking me to “peruse our monthly newsletter with entertaining and interesting insights into the history and enjoyment of tea”, which is terrifying enough and a deeper connection than I really feel like for a company that sold me a tea-making gadget. Then it went on to ask that I “drop in on our lively bulletin board — you’ll meet tea-loving friends and find answers to all your tea questions.”
On the one hand, trying to strike up conversations with people with whom I share exactly one known trait — tea-drinking — is terrifying. The idea that I should have multiple tea questions ready for them to answer is all the worse. And on the other hand I’m fascinated by the idea of what an Internet community of tea-drinking people is like. And then I remember that since it’s an Internet community it’s a group of people telling one another that they drink tea wrong. Still, imagine the flame wars they must have.
It further encourages me to “take part in our monthly contest and discover the whimsical dishes created by people with a passion for cooking and tea”. That’s the sort of advertising copy to make me hide under the bed and feel vaguely bad about eating, having tea, or enjoying whimsy.
We got a flyer offering to solve our mouse problem, and I think it’s gone and misfired in a couple ways. First, it starts by saying, “It’s cold outside. It’s warm in your house. The mice want in.” When you lay out the mice’s case like that, it’s hard to say they’re wrong. It’s one thing to be annoyed at mice if they’re up to mischievous purposes, sneaking in to place long-distance telephone calls or to hypnotize the dog, but if all they want is not to be cold, well, haven’t the mice got a point? We don’t even have a dog.
The next thing is they include a picture of an absolutely adorable mouse standing up and wearing a little Santa Claus hat. How could you turn away a mouse that just wants to be warm, but is so interested in impressing on you that she’s not a savage and is eager to participate in decorations for the holiday? Just look at the picture of the flyer, if I’m not too lazy to put it up. If I am too lazy then just imagine an absolutely adorable mouse sitting up and wearing a little Santa Claus hat.
If you told your co-workers that your house was infested with mice that put on little Santa hats they’d tell you how lucky you are to have such a precious breed of mouse prowling around. They’d be envious and people would come from miles around to see, like if you were one of those crazy houses that puts up enough lights to redirect commercial traffic, only with much less setup and take-down time needed since all you have to do is launder the mice’s caps, and that’s probably only a small load in the washing machine. And I’m not promising that the Santa-hat-wearing mice would sing adorably squeaky renditions of Christmas carols, but I think it’s plausible. Just ask.
That is, if you can find a mouse like this one, because I’m not actually sure that is a mouse. I can’t be too sure in saying that isn’t an actual domestic-type mouse of the kind that sneaks into your house and decorates and probably writes letters to Santa about you, because roughly forty percent of all the species in the world are labelled “mouse” or “rat” with some set of qualifiers, like the “grasshopper mouse” or the “lesser Wolfson’s braying mouse bat” or the “middling brown-spotted Scandinavian tactical assault mouse”, and it’s entirely possible this is one of those species. But it’s also entirely possible that some species of giraffe are identified as, oh, “long-necked tiled plains mouse” too, so all I’m getting at is that I’m not sure this is the kind of mouse you get trying to sneak into houses around here. I’m almost positive if giraffes were trying to sneak into houses I’d have noticed something, what with my bedroom being on the second floor, so I’d be able to look them in the eye.
I wanted to get that cleared up but it’s hard asking people about mice when you’re on the Internet since everybody you know will hear “mouse” and warn you that you’re going to get the hanta virus, which causes you to feel perfectly normal for up to three years after seeing or thinking about a mouse and then suddenly you explode and dissipate into a fine, peppermint-scented mist. I got warnings just for touching the picture of a mouse on the flyer, and one guy I know from Binghamton (he’s in Seattle now) came over to wrestle it out of my hand, until he realized that meant he had to touch it.
So I figured the best way to get the species of the adorable critter straightened out was to go to the mouse colony out in the garage, where we don’t mind them being at all, and ask them. Unfortunately they’re in a bit of a snit because most of them set up shop in the wood pile, and I took some in for a fire the other day. Don’t worry, we have a fireplace, and every winter we keep meaning to use it to build a lovely fire and then forget to do until it’s April, but we’re still early enough in the season we haven’t remembered to forget it yet. When I took some wood off their nesting spot they complained “This is totally bogus, man” and scurried off growling about how they’ve been paying rent. They’re still upset, so I can’t say much on that front except that apparently in the slang of garage mice it’s still maybe 1992 at the latest? Go figure.
Anyway, they didn’t seem to be dressing for the holiday.
Advertising has always been driven by a pathological hatred of the consumer, on the grounds that if people really, really hate the commercial they’re going to remember that hatred, and therefore buy the product sponsoring it because the name is kind of familiar-ish from somewhere. The theory is incredibly sound, based on longrunning experience like the time the advertisers themselves bought their homes from a guy they knew nothing about except that one time he leapt out of a dark alley and bludgeoned them with a small caribou. They were so impressed they spent decades searching out their assailant and talking him into taking up a career in real estate just so they could buy homes from him. This is how powerful a sales and skeletal impression the caribou made.
Being annoying used to be a scattershot business, advertisers just guessing at what would irritate the viewer, but now that computers make it easy for them to harass web site users into describing their demographic niches exactly (“no, we can’t POSSIBLY set up an account recording what birds you saw in the yard unless we know whether you’re male or female, your age to within five years, and whether you’ve ever been bludgeoned by a caribou with a postgraduate degree”) they can get much more exactingly infuriating. For me, this involves making me sit through yoghurt ads when I’m just trying to watch The Price Is Right online.
But finally you get to your episode, losing only several members of your party to dysentery, sea monsters, and a utopian colony founded in the Carribes, and you can watch your show just after you watch the most annoying commercial that has ever been made. And then watch it again because even though folks have been watching TV shows on web sites for like a decade now, the advertisers figure every web broadcast has only a single advertiser ever, and if you have any questions about that we’re going to give you the same commercial five times in every commercial break, not counting the interactive Flash ad that promises to customize your viewing experience by crashing, freezing up the whole video so you have to start over at the start.
I don’t know why the advertisers figure yoghurt ads are the way to irritate me. I had no strong feelings about yoghurt one way or another. I generally approve of the existence of yoghurt, as something that casually trolls people who spell it the other way and as something to eat in those contexts where society would frown on your eating pudding. But there it is; if I just want to see this contestant, that the connoisseurs of this stuff say is the most cracklingly incompetent The Price Is Right contestant ever to play Bonkers, I have to have yoghurt pitched at me fifteen times. It’s better than a caribou, but it’s a lot more common.
I’ve been reading Jack Zipes’s translation of the Grimm Fairy Tales, and that’s been compellingly odd because so many of the stories just are. One I just finished was about three brothers who apprenticed themselves to various masters and came back to compete for their father’s affection and his house by showing what they could do.
The one who’d gone with a barber showed how he could lather up and shave the beard of a hare while it kept running, which I have to admit is pretty good. The blacksmith showed how he could re-shoe a galloping horse without breaking its stride, which is awfully impressive although it seems needlessly hard. The one who went with the fencing master showed how he could strike drops of rain so swiftly and so alertly that he could stay perfectly dry in the middle of a downpour, which I didn’t even know was something fencing masters trained for.
Anyway, the brothers stayed together, sharing their father’s house and prospering together their whole lives, and now I’m stuck on what was that? I understand the logic of a one-stop place for barbering and blacksmithing. That just makes good sense. But fencing? I would imagine most of the work for fencing masters involves jabbing people with swords and you can’t just arrange for most people who need jabbing to come by the old barber-blacksmithing shop, not most of the time.
Although maybe I’m just not understanding the partnership. Maybe the fencing brother gets a contract to jab someone, and his brothers send out offers of free haircuts or metalworking until the contracted victim accepts, and comes over, and that’s how it works.
No, wait, that won’t work, because advertising wasn’t invented until 1918, when John R Brinkley needed to sell the idea of implanting goat testicles into human bodies. (You can see why that idea needed some promotional push to get going, especially among the goats.) There must be something that I’m not understanding. That would be foreign exchange markets: when a bank says it’s buying, say, euros with dollars, doesn’t that just mean it’s switching its own database entry that says “dollars” on their account to “euros”? How is this even doing anything, much less affecting the world economy?
I should have written it down, but I was sure I’d remember it, and now I forgot one of the words of the pro-radio-station bumper sticker I saw in the supermarket’s parking lot. That’s forgivable, sure, except I wanted to have some fun based on the exact wording of the bumper sticker, and while I didn’t forget the words that go into the part I wanted to make fun of, the fact I can’t remember one of the other words exactly is just destroying my credibility in this.
Anyway, the bumper sticker gave the radio station — well, it gave a letter and a number, which is all radio stations use anymore to identify themselves, like “Q 26” or “112.3 the Aleph”. And then it read underneath, “Yesterday’s Hit. Today’s [ Something ].” I’m not sure what the something was. Today’s music would kind of make sense except for that yesterday’s-hit-today’s-something construction.
And you see the thing I wanted to make fun of, anyway: yesterday’s hit singular? Which hit could they mean? Al Stewart’s “The Year Of The Cat”, most likely, since that was playing in the supermarket, but it could really have been any hit: “Macarthur Park”? “In The Year 2525”? The Theme To Greatest American Hero? But look at the phrasing: it doesn’t have to be a one-hit wonder’s hit, it could be anything. “Let’s Get Physical”, perhaps, or “What A Wonderful World”, or maybe The Beatles’ stirring classic “Oh, Anything By The Beatles, Who Cares”? Maybe it’s a hit from even farther back, like the Romburg and Hammerstein standard “When I Grow Too Old To Dream”, on the theory that its listeners have had enough of this music that leaves them not feeling suicidally depressed. It could be anything.
Or it could have been, if I didn’t forget what the last word on the bumper sticker was, so you might believe me that I wasn’t making the whole thing up. I’m just sick about that. I’m sorry I mentioned it at all, really.
The offering comes in the mail from a corporation, one of those big ones that I suspect is a multinational although I can’t work up quite enough interest to look it up. It had the odd size of the smaller greeting cards, and a brown envelope, and that lettering that looks like handwriting if you haven’t looked a lot at handwriting. Clearly, the company, which my Love has been a customer for for years, possibly a decade now, wanted to make sure we had the experience of something with the flavor of a personal connection, so as to convince us to buy something we didn’t want.
The letter got our name wrong in no less than two prominent ways.
Mind you, that’s partly our fault, since the name used to be wrong in only the one way, and getting it fixed resulted in introducing the second glitch. Extremely boring conversations about this have allowed us to determine that the easiest way to get the glitches fixed is to wait for the company to go bankrupt and be liquidated, to be replaced with another company providing similar services which aren’t quite as good but which cost more, at which point we’ll get a chance to have fake handwritten greeting-card type advertisements with even more parts of our names wrong.
I’m just not completely sure that we’re any good at things anymore.
I don’t know when it was online advertising figured that the biggest possible selling point was to show a picture of nobody particular and declare that some big and somewhat annoying organization, like auto insurers, fears him. I’d like to know how this got to be so popular; I imagine someone went around to advertising agencies saying marketing directors feared him. Now I saw one that says grocery stores fear him, and I just can’t help but think: boy, there seems to be some kind of subject/verb disagreement in “… some big and somewhat annoying organization, like auto insurers, fears him”. All my normal methods of studying this don’t seem to give me a satisfying answer. If I strike “like auto insurers” then the sentence reads perfectly well, but I want to put some example in, and the proximity of “insurers” and “fears” looks like a number mismatch even if I keep reassuring myself that it isn’t, and that’s keeping me up nights. But I can’t change that to say it’s “an auto insurer” fearing him because I don’t know an auto insurer that fears him. I don’t even know who he is. I feel like I should take the sentence out back and diagram it. I’m scared to try.
I understand that with the advanced sophistications in marketing today, where marketers can gather even bits of information about myself I had no idea about, they’re able to target advertisements and free trial offers with unparalleled precision, but they mostly just figure to try out “everybody ought to buy everything, all the time”. All right. But why are they trying to get me to subscribe to Bussiness Week: The Journal Of Fussy Old-Fashioned Kisses? Also how is that still going on while Starlog died like five years ago and nobody ever mentioned? You know?
The history of a company usually has distinct phases, like the step where a small team of like-minded idealists with skills in an exciting new technology realize they’ve been coming to a garage workshop garage for four years now and have almost completed a salable product none too soon because the owner of the garage almost caught them last time. And then there’s a stage where everybody gets quite tense about selecting the right sort of cake for the birthday party for someone who’s out sick anyway. It wasn’t the right day anyway. And then there are also all intermediate stages like deciding what to make for their fifteenth product, and deciding that the company logo has to be redone so it’s at an angle. It can make for fascinating reading to follow all these stages. I plan to do so by putting the logo at an angle and changing its typeface to something sans serif that badly imitates handwriting.