Thursday, September 27, 2007

My brain has no business with business

A couple things I shouldn't think, which reveal how little I understand advertising (and, by inference, how little I am like the typical American):

While flipping around the radio dial on a recent morning, on the "oldies" radio station I caught a commercial by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that was actively promoting the use of food stamps. However, it wasn't merely reminding people that, yes, there's still federal funding for the underprivileged--I'm sorry, the alternatively privileged--to get food; it was actively encouraging those who might not think they qualify for the program to look into getting food stamps. It sought to drum up more business (so to speak) for the government to pay for people's groceries.

I could only interpret this as indicating that there's fewer people using food stamps than the program's funding is set up to support, and they need to get their numbers up to keep from getting their allocation reduced. That may or may not have any accuracy; it was merely what came to mind. It could be completely wrong.

I don't think there's much of question about there being at least some stigma associated with the use of food stamps, so it could be that the ad also sought to reduce the shame of admitting one could use help putting food on the table. I won't go so far as to suggest the ad was trying to make food stamps seem cool, but to make it less embarrassing. And in my middle class experience had always tacitly made me think the whole point was for there to be some shame to encourage people to make enough money that they didn't need to use food stamps. It's what allows those who are no longer using food stamps to feel good about themselves. Or at least to feel superior to those who still use food stamps.

There was a bit of shame on my part at admitting there was supposed to be shame on their part. I wouldn't be investigating the promotion (of sorts); I'm not sure whether they take such options at Trader Joe's, but I find it unlikely.

I switched over to listening to a CD.

Then I flipped open the new Esquire and noticed a full-page ad for a watch. Not just any watch, but a waterproof watch. And not just any waterproof watch, but one that was supposedly strong enough for use to a depth of 39,600 feet. In the background of the ad was one of those fish with the jutting jaw and huge teeth that show up in those specials where they drop a camera to the sea floor in depths where the sunlight never reaches.

I'm not a diver, nor a biologist, but I'm reasonable certain that the pressure at nearly 40,000 feet would crush the person wearing the watch, even if the watch itself was fine.

Obviously, the advertisers wanted to imply that the watch was good for diving in general, and to associate the product with daring and adventure, presumably traits that those who dive would fancy themselves to possess.

But this was Esquire, which made me question whether there's enough actual divers reading the magazine to warrant spending the money for the ad rates to solicit it to them alone. It was really directed at those who merely fancy themselves daring and adventurous without actually engaging in activities like putting on scuba gear and a strong watch that one could wear down in the dark waters. Which may be the typical Esquire reader.

(I still don't understand why it is that Esquire wanted Chuck Klosterman to write a column for them. He would only poke fun at the notion of such a watch while making allusions to pop culture. Yet by doing so they got me to read it.)

Anyway, having been shamed by feeling elitist by the radio spot for food stamps and befuddled by feeling non-elitist by the magazine ad, I composed this with some scant hope of proving how I don't fit in to either category, as though that somehow makes any of it better. Obviously, I've proven nothing other than, according to the evidence of how my mind operates, that I don't fit in with any group.

Which was more or less what I proffered in the opening sentence. So, uh, mission accomplished, I guess.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I'm not a screenwriter...

Line from a screenplay that would seem profound in the context of the scene but which would not hold up to scrutiny well:

"The sooner you realize that everyone else is miserable, too, the happier you'll be."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ya-who cares?

On the Yahoo home page at the moment, in the "Featured" area, one of the stories is titled "Eyebrows: why and how?" That linked to a question on their Yahoo Answers, where someone inquired about the evolution of eyebrows, and the answer selected as the best (by the asker) featured multiple references.

The featured stories on the home page include sub-links to other items on the same general topic. The sub-link for the story above was called "The purpose of eyebrows and lashes."

That text, I presume, is set by the powers that be for the home page.

That one linked to another question on Yahoo Answers, where a user asked about the purpose of eyebrows and lashes. The answer he selected as best noted several purposes for eyebrows and lashes, starting with:
"They were meant to be absolutely for reasons.
1. Beauty since god created human in teh [sic] best shape to differentiate him among creatures."

(After that the answerer mentioned protecting the eyes from sweat, communicating non-verbally, protecting the eyes from dust, and another allusion to "god" making they eyes beautiful.)

Not surprisingly, the comments left in response to that start with someone lamenting the inclusion of God in the "best" answer, with others declaring the question and answer a "joke" and stating "'God did it' is a cheap answer."

And whether or not it's cheap, it doesn't tend to be that convincing. Until one notices the asker's screen name: goodisgod.

Well, there you go. Whether one agrees with the answer or the selection of that answer (over all the other, more scientific answers offered), it becomes clear that none of the objections in the comments are going to convince the asker of anything.

Personally, I am fascinated by the amount of emotion spent on both sides (those who agree and those who disagree), implying that there was the likelihood of either side being swayed even a tiny bit.

(As though anyone ever changes his mind in the 21st century.)

And apparently, those who select the featured stories for the Yahoo home page wanted to spotlight that. Along with pointing (in one of the other featured stories) how people are searching for the singer in the new iPod commercials (Feist).

It's the internet, people; it's about what's popular, not what's right or wrong. And it's definitely not worth getting all worked up over.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One likes to believe in the freedom of music

Recently I was talking about music with someone who had borrowed someone else's iPod and was making notes about what to download. She did not restrict the notes to songs, but to artists. 

It did not take much to discern that she would not be paying for the songs. 

Concerns about the legality and morality of file-sharing aside, I pondered having such an arrangement from another angle (that I do not get the impression is something those who engage in such things worry about): If one need not restrict one's input of songs based on monetary restrictions or based on what's available at a store, how would one know when to stop? Obviously there are issues of memory, but with hard drives as large as they come these days (and the ease of getting external ones to augment the storage capacity of the computer) that's not much of a hurdle to overcome. 

So if one has access to what is essentially an unlimited selection of music, without the restriction of what one can afford to spend, conceivably the only limitation one would have is the amount of time one has to devote to downloading. What reason would one have to refrain from simply downloading everything one thinks might be even of vague interest? 

What would be of concern to me in such a scenario: How could one listen to that much music? Certainly one could play that much music, by loading it on a portable device and putting it on while one went through one's day, but that wouldn't really be listening to it; that would be hearing it in the background while one conducted one's duties. One could devote a certain level of concentrated attention to some tracks, but not to the entirety of the collection. Much of the collected music would simply be collected for the sake of collecting it. 

Not that there is anything intrinsically awful about that. However, it is not so much fueled by liking music but by liking the acquisition of music, which is a different thing. 

To "listen" to a song once is, by and large, not enough times to get a true appreciation for it. Once may be enough to determine whether it is something that holds appeal for one's tastes or does not, but even that's not much of a test. However, to really get to know a song, to be able to sing along with it, to really get it inside of you, one needs to listen to it. Many, many times. But how is one to do that if one has more songs at one's disposal than one could realistically listen to unless one did nothing but listen to them without focusing on any other activity (including sleep)? 

My rumination on this amassing of downloaded music and the impossibility of listening to all of it to the point where one would have true familiarity with every single track seeks only to establish that: one has more than one can handle. I do not claim that there's anything wrong with having more than one can handle, however. 

Obviously the people who just download en masse in that manner have no issues with doing so nor with the challenge of actually listening to it all. The question was what would prevent one from downloading everything in the absence of outside circumstances (like running out of money) to stop it. 

I imagine the answer is that eventually the novelty wears off. The thrill of acquiring all those music files wanes. At some point the effort to maintain and track all those songs—especially if there's only a certain percentage one really likes—becomes… effort. 

It is entirely possible, however, that such people are simply way better at managing their time than am I. They may also have greater mental capacity for getting a feel for a song with only a listen or two. 

So all I was doing was explaining a question that was not asked, in a manner that ultimately was not that interesting. 

I kind of figured I'd springboard into why I bother to pay for a subscription to emusic (rather than just find out from these people who download how they do it), but that's not likely to be interesting either. 

(However, I will note that part of my reluctance to download from file-sharing sites is the feeling like I'd be obligated to, you know, share. And I'm not inclined toward that, which is why I don't mind paying a modest fee for what I get.) 

It's all about being fair to the music. Or something. (Sure, that ending sucked, but just wait until it's remixed.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

TV Party... averted

Under other circumstances, I might be tempted to compose "Doug's completely unnecessary and utterly pointless set of glib reactions to the upcoming fall TV schedule." I would list what upcoming shows held any interest for me based on the highly unscientific criteria of what I thought of them based on the commercials and other promotion I had seen. (Given that I am not a television reviewer or in any way involved with the entertainment industry, I have seen nothing else on which to base opinions.)

While that could conceivably be rolled into a general statement about the efficacy of the ads and billboards and stories in the press (like the last week's EW), it would ultimately be rather worthless data on a very specific demographic group (me), and as I don't tend to be heavily influenced by the commercials that sponsor the programs on network television, I doubt I am the sort of individual sought by those who make decisions on the networks. Thus, the only thing to come of such a venture would be to further demonstrate how reading my opinions are not the best use of anyone's time. I assure you that I wouldn't have insightful observations nor witty remarks. Frankly, I doubt I'd really be inclined to offer even brief explanations about why I was interested or not; such a venture seems more like justifying my reactions when the reactions are not based on intellectual investigation but on knee-jerk pseudo-intuition, so there was no justification other than to tell the reader that the reactions were as genuine as I could muster. That would render them pretty well devoid of humor, as any modicum of irony would have to be avoided.

So it would pretty well boil down to the readers either agreeing with my unconsidered assessments based on their likely unconsidered assessments and thinking that we have something in common (eh, there are worse methods for determining commonality), or disagreeing with my unconsidered assessments based on their likely unconsidered assessments and thinking that I am an idiot (which they should have concluded based on reading everything else) and utterly dismissing the point of ever reading even my semi-considered opinions. It would be a shameful attempt to jump on the bandwagon of the current pop cultural event (the coming TV season) for the sake of attempting to jump on that bandwagon.

Truth be told, I'm not sure what these other circumstances (implied by the opening sentence) might be under which I might be inclined to compose such a piece. I suppose I figured there must be such circumstances, but that was probably a mistake on my part.

Thank goodness I caught it before wasting everyone's time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Generally useless

"To generalize is to be an idiot." - William Blake


The only accurate general statement I could hope to make is the ridiculously obvious one: All generalizations are inaccurate. The attempt at pseudo-paradox there is likely to be off-putting for readers in a way that negates any power the statement have had otherwise; it reeks of trying too hard to be clever (even though the thought itself came with relative ease, truth be told). Of course, the speculation about how readers would react could very well be construed as a paltry attempt at reverse psychology, where they are only turned off by the notion of me suggesting what turned them off. And the way the sentences in this paragraph keep following this pattern runs the very real risk of losing whatever readers have bothered to stick with it this far.

So the only recourse left available to us at this point is to delve back into the specific, but that throws down the proverbial gauntlet to the reader to decide whether he/she agrees with the details of the example offered.

Honestly, I am as flummoxed as you regarding why this is still going. The only explanation I can offer: I really am as screwed up as you're thinking I am. And now you're thinking that the ploy of self-deprecation is intended to steal the argument (so to speak) in a rather pathetic attempt to elicit some modicum of sympathy, when all I can say about that is if that was my motivation it was unconscious. However, you're not buying that, not merely because you cannot believe me that oblivious to my mind's inner workings but because I've made you dismissive of everything I say by suggesting you're dismissing everything I say.

For the love of all that is decent in the world, please stop reading! I implore you—cease running your eyes over the words in front of you! It's entirely likely that I'll keep on going, caught in a loop of neurotic self-analysis.

No! Don't refute that this is not particularly self-analytical, and that any implicit neurosis is not to blame for the way this continues. There is no point in you trying to render any sort of logical conclusion from this; I assure you that one is not coming, and you would be well-served to limit your expectations now to avoid inevitable disappointment.

Egad! I just did it again. There's little point in apologizing; you wouldn't believe it to be genuine after all these implicit and explicit moments of ostensible manipulation that were nothing more than trying to anticipate your reactions and account for them in how the piece went after that, and which succeeded only in burying itself all the further.

That deprecatingly accurate assessment you found off-putting, but if you're still reading at this point you have expressly ignored direct pleas earlier in the piece, and I doubt either of us can really have much empathy for our combined suffering. This went as it did, and if you're reading this far you stuck with it for reasons about which even I cannot guess. That's on you.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Area of mild intrigue: Cal Plaza

An area of downtown L.A. that mildly intrigues me, but which is probably not that interesting, all things considered, but of which I took some mediocre pictures nonetheless, in an entirely half-hearted effort to kinda document it:
The eastern portion of California Plaza, which is built over Olive St.

Looking up Olive St. from 4th St. as it passes underneath the portion of the Water Court built over it.

The different layers of California Plaza... at night, no less!

Why stop building just because there's a four-lane street in the way?

Don't turn around

Recently I was in a food court having lunch and I overheard two individuals seated behind me. I couldn't make out their conversation that well (nor was I trying to), but every so often I caught a line about "paladins" or the beginning of a sentence starting with "If they don't die right away…" (or references along those lines). After discerning a few of those I concluded they were either vigilantes or (more likely) discussing a fantasy-themed video game. (In years past I would have jumped to thinking they referred to a role-playing game, and that may very well have been what they were talking about, but that's not my default assumption any more.)

I happened to glance up when they departed the dining area and was a bit disappointed. It's not that they didn't meet my slight expectations; they more or less exactly met my expectations. Black t-shirts, shaggy hair, glasses, somewhat overweight. They may not have been the spitting image of the stereotypical geeky gamer, but they weren't far off.

I was a little bit sad that what I would have imagined they looked like proved to be pretty close to how they appeared.

Now, I concede that they have the right to look like whatever they please. They are under no obligation to intentionally derivate from a stereotype. I'm sure there's ways in which someone might look at me and think me stereotypical in some ways, and I'm not saying they'd be wrong. I grant that, like anyone else, they presumably move in social circles where their appearance is tacitly reinforced, and it is such that they are comfortable with it. They are who they are, and there's nothing wrong with that.

My reaction reveals only something about me, nothing about them. I must have some inclination toward breaking stereotypes. I'm not sure why. I don't think I've been the victim of such pigeonholing to put a chip on my proverbial shoulder about it. It must be more a matter of liking to believe not everyone falls into a clean little demographic group, because I suppose I fancy the notion that I don't. Perhaps I like to think there's more to people than meets the eye, and conforming with a stereotype serves to undermine that (even though it's perfectly acceptable, and of course, there must be some basis for how the stereotypes get started); our minds are inclined toward classification anyway, but it's likely there's something about when that's not so easily done that interests me. I'm not sure.

It's not a dilemma for me, of course. I got over it within seconds of when they disappeared from view. If I were to consider it a source of distress, the only recourse would be to assume that most people really are as predictable as they appear to be, and where's the fun in that?

I already have my moments of abject misanthropy without succumbing to that level of pessimism about my fellow humans.

And the fact that I don't play video games has nothing to do with fear of being associated with that stereotype. At least, I don't think that's why. Of course, I am hardly in a good position to explain all of my behaviors.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bent it on Becks

On the high traffic area of Hollywood Blvd. near Highland Ave. (with tourist draws like the Kodak Theater and next to the El Capitan Theater and especially Grauman's Chinese), not only are there billboards on top of buildings but also on the area above the storefronts. Coming out of the underground Metro station one's field of view is dominated by whatever billboard is above the stores directly across the street.

Last month, that billboard featured L.A.'s newest sports superstar, David Beckham, hawking Motorola cell phones.
Not only was he on that one, but also on the somewhat smaller billboard closer to the corner:
You can see the same Metro marker in both shots, so you get a sense of how close the two were. Total Beckham overload.

So whether or not the residents of L.A. were genuinely enamored with the famed footballer (who was barely playing), he was considered golden by advertisers wanting to appeal to visitors to Tinseltown.

Then this month, mere days after Becks suffered a serious injury that likely keeps him from playing at all for the rest of the season, the billboards still feature Motorola phones, but with a babes-with-knives theme:

I'm sure they were due to be changed anyway. Coincidental timing, no doubt.

It's not like he was playing enough to get Angelinos pumped up by his prowess on the pitch (even though the press tried to posit the possibility of his presence making sports fans care about soccer, which didn't pan out) that he suddenly became any less powerful as a pitchman for products by being hobbled by spraining his knee.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Judge not, lest ye--eh, whatever

Earlier this week I was up late and on the computer and saw a link on the Yahoo home page for a column by a so-called health expert who was decrying the harmful effect of the term "whatever" (such as what one says when holding one's thumbs together and extending one's index fingers to form a "w"), noting how it held a tone of dismissal and arrogance that was not a healthy attitude. The negative aspects were broken into paragraphs with identifying headings.

The first heading was (right there on the site): Judgement.

Yep, the British spelling of what we in American English spell as "judgment." (And the writer is American, writing for an American audience.) I'm not saying it's a logical way for us to spell it without the second e, or that it's an uncommon error (because "judge" has the e at that spot), but it's difficult to refrain from being at least a tiny bit judgemental—er, judgmental toward one who has allowed himself to be identified as an "expert" (perhaps not his choice, but I doubt Yahoo held a gun to his head about it) who cannot have someone else proofread his rather obvious assertions before they get posted.

I suppose I think running a spell check isn't all that difficult. Heck, when I left a comment on the piece, the little field in which I typed "judgement" even flagged it as misspelled.

Eh, whatever.


That was ridiculously glib. Obvious beyond belief. Not a hint of cleverness in it. (The pollyanna tone of the piece essentially cries out for that reaction. Reviewing the comments left by others, that proved to be the most common response, which undoubtedly allows the writer to consider all of us to be people who desperately need to buy his book.)

It reveals one of my neuroses rather blatantly. I've touched on it before: the way that having a slightly above average familiarity with spelling and grammar and that sort of thing is proving to be of increasingly little importance in contemporary American society. What little my brain has bothered to remember is noticed by others who've made the same mistake with their minds, but not to those who hold sway over what gets noticed by society at large. It's envy of a sort.

This is what the time I have to devote to this hobby allows me to put out for the world to see. There's a reason why I'm not putting myself out there to become one of the risible lot who get tacitly lauded by those who control these avenues of information. I am nothing more than a dilettante and an amateur; I claim nothing more. I make mistakes, certainly. I don't always review my pieces as thoroughly as perhaps I should. While being a small-time operator doesn't justify the mistakes, I more or less believe it does explain them.

And when someone points out a mistake, I rarely make that same one again; I do pay attention enough to improve, even if in tiny ways. I delude myself with the belief that such thoughts somehow justify the way I am.

There is little justifying how I am. That's about the best I can claim to justify myself: I'm not trying to justify myself, so it is, in a roundabout way, the only justification I can possible claim.

(Ooo, that was clever. Eh, now all I need is to write a book and maybe Yahoo will sign me up.)

Morning shots

Why would I put up this picture on the photo site? Click here and find out.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Professing to professionals

The things one gets in the mail. Or in one's mailbox at the office.

Having attended a seminar-type event once several years ago and allowing someone to get a business card, I got on a mailing list. I don't get too many items delivered to my mail slot at the office, and most of what I do get I file in the recycling bin because it really has no application to specifically what I do, but being circumstantially involved in "the industry" they are willing to give me a shot. At least for the first issue of new ventures.

(The specifics of what I actually do are not worth getting into, I assure you.)

Last week I got a glossy magazine with the words "professional" and "management" (and "week") in its title. As I specifically eschew being "management" in any capacity, and I more or less can only be considered "professional" by virtue of refraining from telling co-workers (who desperately deserve it) to go to hell, I concluded the only way the publication applied to me might be that I do participate in the "week."

Nonetheless I did flip through a few pages, finding it filled with the same sort of typical ads for products and services that I've seen in other similar periodicals directed toward the "industry." Same old same old. Lots of smiling people in suits with text extolling the benefits of the product/service. They're not the slickest ads one will ever see, but they seem obviously geared toward the stereotypical professional, with a properly politically correct mixture of gender and race represented. Some effort clearly went into them.

Then I came across the ad on the inside back cover (to the right*), for a document disposal service, touting the importance of knowing what pieces of paper, if not shredded but merely thrown away, could prove a liability later. Certainly something that could be of interest to those in a managerial capacity.

As you can see, the ad features a relatively attractive young woman bending at the waist, holding a stack of papers over a wastebasket, with her mouth slightly open (presumably to indicate confusion). Full color. Prominent in its placement.

The first thought is beyond even mentioning. I'm not suggesting it's a source of pride that the woman's posture elicits a particular association; I'm merely suggesting it's blithely optimistic to think that it was accidental when they were shooting the photo for the ad. However, her blouse is not low-cut or anything overtly provocative in that regard, so one can grant some benefit of the doubt regarding the intent of those who came up with the ad.

Not much doubt, but some.

Further overlooking any sexist overtones by having the person doing the stupid act of improperly disposing of papers be a woman (and blond!), I found myself wondering: Who the hell bends over like that to throw something away? Egad, that is ergonomically atrocious! Bend at the knees, bend at the knees!

Perhaps I expected too much of the advertisers in such a publication.

* In the image, the names have been blurred to protect the... well, not necessarily innocent...

Strolling down memory lane

For those of you who give a hoot about the inane rambling I was doing back in college, you'll be pleased to hear I've finally gotten around to posting my final Another Useless Column (the one written just before graduation) from my days writing for the Long Beach Union. So for those of you who didn't know me during my days at university, you can finally see how that whole series concluded.

And here's a fun drinking game to enhance your enjoyment of said column: Do a shot every time I mention a hackneyed quote or am abjectly sentimental. You'll be unconscious before you reach the end!

And if you're wondering if the name of the column had anything to do with the name of this site... you need to do another shot; you are entirely too coherent.