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Sunday, April 18, 1999
By Paul Ford
Ah well. Sometimes the writing turned to squalorous sloppiness. Here's a good example.
A teenage girl on the train reading The Dharma Bums. I wish I cared about Kerouac, but he rings no bells in my head. Ginsberg is okay but not great, Ferlinghetti--these men belong to a certain kind of woman, a woman who dates a man with a beard when she's 25, then grows up into a good-paying job, stuffing her husband's stocking with a Norelco.
That's a good life. It's nice when people live that way. I wouldn't mind being the guy on the other end of the razor, some days.
Right now, more than Pound or Maugham or Kerouac, give me advertising. I downloaded a Jaguar ad today, for no reason, and began to break it down. Looking carefully at a commercial 30 seconds long, watching this compressed moment 100 times, you begin to see the work of researchers, artists, scriptwriters, rhetoricians, video editors, all scrambling to finish the thing and implement a vision, simply so that cars can be sold. Commerce brings together the disciplines long before the universities can, forcing image and text to work together, manipulating history through history, applying pure math to magnetic tape to make the pictures shimmer.
In this one advertisement, 30 seconds, there were 38 separate shots, dozens of people. There was a buried narrative, told through a collection of images, a visual vocabulary of thousands of elements--water, flashbulbs, fisheyed angles, wind in a little girl's hair, the reflection in chrome, a cityscape. The background music was a collaboration between Electronica dorks the Propellorheads and chanteuse Shirley Bassie. The song, called "History Repeating," is a small rant about timelessness of human behavior, a slower, smaller "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" with an organ groove and stretched-out, quiet rhythm.
All together all those shiny pictures say "love this, buy this." But one level further down it says volumes on our culture, on our desires, the way we manipulate ourselves to believe that we are better, more individual, smarter.
I'd like to break the ad down further in another essay, to start to talk about what I see--I wish I had time. I could take 38 screenshots and walk through the process, imagine the discussion and the options at the agency, create the back story. You may not find it thrilling, but I do; what you see on TV is powerful, blipverts right through the skull, and every second is calculated to make you feel, respond, emote. This is the heyday of rhetoric, a second coming of Cicero and Caesar, except this time the campaigns are for soap and cereal, not for conquering India. I want to question the message, since I'm partially responsible for creating it with my minor role in advertising.
Then again, everything worked out for the Roman Empire, right? We don't need to worry that our capitalist eyes are too big for our stomachs, trying to squeeze the wealth of the world down our WallSt.Com gullets?
As for that commercial, it took dozens of days, 100's of people working, from receptionists to account executives, and it fades in and out of your eyes like a winter breeze. But if it works at all, you get a cool feeling from the song and the images, and you identify the coolness with the brand--Jaguar--and when you see another ad for Jaguar later, or a real Jaguar, or a Jaguar in a showroom, you bring back the association of coolness, the collage of images in the ad flashing through your mind.
These are random notes, unconsolidated thoughts on an unconsolidated day.