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Monday, August 17, 2009

Made Men

OK, I can understand why Campbell feels blindsided by the decision to make him a co-head of accounts with Cosgrove.  Pete’s a nasty little weasel, as his dealings with women have shown, and he has a well-developed sense of entitlement, as we saw when he insisted he was the man for the job that eventually went to Duck Phillips.  But I was surprised that his reaction was more “how could they do this to me” than “I’m gonna leave that Cosgrove bastard in the dust.” Cosgrove, by contrast, took the move in completely good humor, understanding that Lane Pryce has explicitly set this up as a competition and rebuffing Campbell’s antagonism by saying, “They want us to hate each other.  I refuse to participate in that.” Later, Campbell whines to Trudy, “why can’t I get anything good all at once?”

The reason I’m surprised is that Campbell’s one distinguishing moment as an ad man—the one time he one-upped Draper (and would have lost his job for it, but for his family connections)—came when he went behind Draper’s back on the Bethlehem Steel account.  Back in episode 4 of the first season, Draper had come up with a campaign involving stylized city skylines with the tag line, “brought to you by Bethlehem Steel.” Chicago, New York, and so forth, in big letters, “brought to you etc.” in a smaller font at the bottom. Walter Veith, the Bethlehem executive, objected that the ads looked more like campaigns for the cities than like campaigns for Bethlehem, and he was right; the Bethlehem account is the one campaign for which Draper’s idea was, imho, a total clunker.  Contrast the “brought to you by Bethlehem Steel” with the inventive “it’s toasted” for Lucky Strike, the brilliant rejection of copywriter Paul Kinsley’s “space-age” theme for Right Guard in favor of “What does every woman want?  To get closer,” and of course the jawdropping “carousel” pitch for Kodak that closed season one.  The “brought to you” idea is just flat and unimaginative.  Pete, seeing an opening and still smarting from Draper snapping at him, “You do your job—take him sailing, get him into a bathing suit—and leave the ideas to me,” decides to sell Veith on “Bethlehem Steel—the backbone of America” while he’s, er, taking Veith “sailing” and getting him a “bathing suit.” Veith, of course, assumes that Draper deputized Pete to do so, and credits Draper with the idea the next day; Draper, of course, responds by accepting the credit and then firing Pete on the spot.  (The denouement, for those of you who haven’t seen it:  when Draper is overruled by Cooper, Roger Sterling tells Campbell that he and Cooper wanted to fire him but Draper went to the mat for him, thereby blunting some of Pete’s hatred for Don.  Not that that stops Pete from swiping Don’s mail and revealing Don’s seekrit identity later on.)

So Pete, for all his many faults, occasionally has a good idea, and certainly has a killer (or at least backstabber) instinct.  Perhaps that will come out over the course of season three as he clashes with Cosgrove, but for now it’s all whining.  I expected a bit more fight from the weasel.

And oh yes, my own tiny little experience in advertising?  Thirty years ago this summer I worked (typing, clerical, a little training for copywriting) for Sussman and Sugar, a small agency that dealt exclusively in advertising for the publishing industry.  Mr. Sussman had one corner office, Mr. Sugar the other.  Not a very exciting firm, since it didn’t do television; it was all print, very predictable, none of that fancy Della Femina stuff or that high-toned J. Walter Thompson brand.  And it was eated by Ogilvy and Mather later that year.  I continued to work summer jobs like that one, and for a while planned to go into advertising after graduation.  I went to graduate school instead, and saved my copywriting / creative talents for band posters and such things.  I really wasn’t bad at the campus-poster drill: when I was trying to sell my little refrigerator, my ad not only sold the thing in hours but got me a call from WKCR-FM asking if I would write copy for them.  But I totally would’ve gone with the “space age” theme for the Right Guard campaign, just like Kinsley did.  Draper’s genius was to ignore the whole aerosol-spray thing altogether.  Speaking of women and male personal-care products, has there ever been an Axe ad that didn’t suck?

Posted by Michael on 08/17 at 10:27 AM
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Friday, August 07, 2009

ABF Friday:  If only we could get rid of X edition!

Woo hoo!  For years I’ve believed that I have no hope of winning universal assent to anything I say.  But finally, species-wide concord!  Everyone in the world agrees that the zither soundtrack to The Third Man is an abomination in the sight of Moloch. Now, at last, we’re getting somewhere.  If only we can build on this foundation a plausible doctrine of “humanitarian intervention,” all will be well with the world. 

Likewise, it appears that everyone in the English and Elvish-speaking worlds agrees that the epilogue to the Harry Potter series is the worst thing ever written, so awful that even B. Hussein al-Obama has declared it ineligible for trade-in under the socialist “cash for clunkers” literary program.  (Lance Mannion joins the universal concord here, and has a bunch of perceptive and intriguing things to say about the HP6 movie as well.)

So, because it’s Friday and because some Fridays are Arbitrary (don’t ask why some Fridays are and some Fridays aren’t), here’s today’s Fun Game.  We have all agreed to strike the zither music from The Third Man and the epilogue from Harry Potter and the Couples Who Found Their Life Partners During Adolescence.  We have the technology to do this, too, what with the amazing Epilogue-B-Gon® and the space-age Dezitherer®.  What else should we do while we’re at it?  What cultural artifact is nearly ruined for you by just one thing whose removal would enhance your enjoyment of it immensely? Bull Durham without Kevin Costner? Salon without Camille Paglia? Remain in Light without “The Overload”?  Get out your blue pencils and your white-out and your antipagliafiers, people, and let’s have some fun—with a purpose!

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And this time the Fun Game can last all week. Yes, I have decided to take the advice offered to me by commenter “John Smith” in this recent thread:

You’re a cheap race hustler. Why don’t you step down from your academic position and insist that you be replaced by a non-white female? Of course, you won’t do that; your largess should never cost you a thing. Just keep going on vacation and posting pictures to your cutesy little blog. Asshole!

Thanks, Mr. Smith (if that is your real name)!  I hadn’t planned on taking another vacation and posting pictures to my cutesy little blog, but now that I think of it, it sounds like a fine idea. I’ll be taking a week-long “now it’s time to paint the tiny little patches under the roof that no one will ever see except maybe if he or she takes a look at them” vacation!  I might even post pictures to my cutesy little blog!  Sayonara, folks!  See you all right after the Mad Men premiere!

Posted by Michael on 08/07 at 08:14 AM
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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Cash for clunkers

Senate Republicans are opposed to the program because it’s too popular.  Teabag demonstrations will be held this weekend at your local car dealer.

Update:  The Liberal Media agrees!  Cash for Clunkers is like Katrina.
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Oh, and I keep forgetting:  I wrote something for the Times Higher Education Supplement last week and something for the Crooked Timber George Scialabba seminar as well.  Mostly stuff you’ve heard from me before, but phrased in brand new words.

Posted by Michael on 08/05 at 09:09 AM
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Monday, August 03, 2009

Six hands

One and two.

On the one hand, housepainting is completely absorbing, and forces me to come to terms with my perfectionism: for hours at a time, I have to determine whether it makes sense to paint details that (almost) no one will ever see.  And then, when the job is done-but-not-quite-done, I have to determine whether to tolerate mistakes that everyone can see.

On the other hand, last week it rained five days out of seven.  The week before that, it rained five days out of seven.  When I wake up I check the skies, and every hour thereafter I check the radar, and even that doesn’t help, because with these mountains you never know which way the rain will go.  And this week it rained so much as to damage the paint job on one side of the house even after the paint had dried.  I blame George Bush Will.

Three and four.

On the one hand, The Third Man has a great plot and some great performances and some great shiny-wet cobblestones in the Vienna night and a great ferris-wheel scene.  Thanks, many commenters, for insisting that I see it next!

On the other hand, The Third Man has The.  Most.  Annoying.  Zither.  Soundtrack.  Ever.  Heavenly Ba’al, people, it’s your job to warn me about such things.  What do you think the comment section is for?  “Michael,” you’re supposed to say, “definitely check out The Third Man—but watch out for that maniac zither!!!” Please don’t let me down again.

Five and six.

On the one hand, Internets wingnuttery is valuable, because it constantly reminds us that there are millions of people in our fair land who should never, ever, ever be allowed anywhere near the levers of state power.

On the other hand, Internets winguttery isn’t any fun anymore.  Not even as material for satire.  Back when it involved dimwit attorneys praising the artistic genius of George Bush and doughty warriors presenting themselves as military analysts with years of advanced training in Dungeons and Dragons, Internet wingnuts were a laff riot.  But now that the wingnuttery is all about Obama’s latest terrible and utterly revealing photo gaffe and Obama’s seekrit extra-kerned Muslim birth certificate, it’s ... different somehow.  Oh, sure, they still remind us that there are millions of people in our fair land who should never, ever, ever be allowed anywhere near the levers of state power.  But they used to be funny.  Now they’re just kind of sad and pathetic and a tiny bit scary.  And the Internets are a drearier place for that.

Posted by Michael on 08/03 at 01:31 PM
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Saturday, August 01, 2009

This and that

Some people say Bob Herbert is well-meaning but dull.  They won’t be saying that today—the man is en fuego.  And he is also entirely right:

If Professor Gates ranted and raved at the cop who entered his home uninvited with a badge, a gun and an attitude, he didn’t rant and rave for long. The 911 call came in at about 12:45 on the afternoon of July 16 and, as The Times has reported, Mr. Gates was arrested, cuffed and about to be led off to jail by 12:51.

The charge: angry while black.

The president of the United States has suggested that we use this flare-up as a “teachable moment,” but so far exactly the wrong lessons are being drawn from it—especially for black people. The message that has gone out to the public is that powerful African-American leaders like Mr. Gates and President Obama will be very publicly slapped down for speaking up and speaking out about police misbehavior, and that the proper response if you think you are being unfairly targeted by the police because of your race is to chill.

I have nothing but contempt for that message.

Me too.

It was the police officer, Sergeant Crowley, who did something wrong in this instance. He arrested a man who had already demonstrated to the officer’s satisfaction that he was in his own home and had been minding his own business, bothering no one. Sergeant Crowley arrested Professor Gates and had him paraded off to jail for no good reason, and that brings us to the most important lesson to be drawn from this case. Black people are constantly being stopped, searched, harassed, publicly humiliated, assaulted, arrested and sometimes killed by police officers in this country for no good reason.

Yep, even when they’re EMTs in ambulances taking people to the hospital.

And if I had a Bud Light for every time someone has told me that Gates was “arrogant” and/or that Obama was “foolish” to weigh in on the matter, I’d have myself a whole lot of Bud Light.  I am not making this up.  It has been most depressing.  Though when I’m arrested for disorderly conduct after breaking into my house and giving my ID to a police officer and eventually invited to the White House for a beer, I plan to make mine a Duff.

On a whole nother note, I have been trying to see movies about which people say, “Merciful Moloch!  You mean to tell me you’ve never seen ...?” So a few months ago I saw Casablanca for the first time.  At age 47-1/2.  Wow!  It’s better than I thought it would be.  But on the down side, it’s full of quotations.  And last night we saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s, because Janet said, “Merciful Moloch!  You mean to tell me you’ve never seen ...?” It too was better than I thought it would be.  And halfway through, the thought occurred to me that maybe, just maybe Mad Men owes a thing or two to this movie.

Have a fun weekend.  And in order to have a fun weekend, be sure to avoid people whose opinions on Gatesgate differ from Bob Herbert’s.

Posted by Michael on 08/01 at 10:55 AM
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