Leave it to The Believer to make me give a damn about popular countercultural artists I generally have no interest in. September's interview with Sarah Silverman and this month's interview with Devendra Banhart lured them both out of their respective brands of skewed preciousness that usually bug the crap out of me, helping me understand a little more readily what so many people find so appealing about them. There was a delicacy in Sarah's discussion of the mechanics behind her humor that pleasantly undercut the thick coating of ironic narcissism and self-satisfaction that I just can't get beyond in her naughty girl persona (her calling Rushmore "a perfect movie" certainly elevated my opinion of her as well), and Devendra temporarily dropped the stream of consciousness crazy-talk (he didn't mention yams once!) to quote Miles Davis and lucidly shed some light on his perspective of the different phases he's already gone through as a songwriter. (Side note: did everybody else but me know that he was born in 1981? I'm usually not the kind of person to get all bent out of shape about feeling old, but this knowledge stresses me out. Brutha is the unofficial representative of a whole musical movement, and has been for the past two years or so, and he's only 24? ::sigh::)
I find that once or twice a year I'll get really fired up about some ad campaign either because I love it ("Tito: Enjoy the empanadas and Coke. Love, Mom") or because it annoys me so severely that looking at it everyday in magazines and on El platforms becomes like the pleasureable pain of pressing on a bruise. This season's irritation comes from those Starbucks "it only happens once a year" ads that have started popping up everywhere. Arrrrrrg. It's a clever concept that just went horribly, horribly wrong. It's not bad enough that the corporate appropriation of the indie-annointed style of willfully cutesy-poo monochromatic drawings with delicately elogated limbs (sort of Marcel Dzama meets Edward Gorey) is like the most cloying burnt sugar topping on an otherwise tasty little bit of pastry—no, no, the text has to fuck with your brain's ability to parse the grammar at a glance. I can't tell you how long it took me to resolve the phrase "plants prompt kisses" the first time I saw it on a billboard. It was the first example of those ads I'd seen, so I didn't know what the gimmick was yet, and it was too far away for me to clearly make out the mistletoe the man in the drawing is holding above his head, so I thought that, based on the way the woman is kissing him on the cheek, it meant "drinking a peppermint mocha will make people give you immediate kisses"—plants (Web 11: verb, 'to place firmly or forcibly') prompt (Web 11: adj., 'performed readily or immediately') kisses. In the name of Steven Pinker, I can't believe no one in the Starbucks marketing department would have considered the possibility for misinterpretation here! Sure, it's not like there's an offensive double entendre hidden in the homophone or anything egregious like that, but still, ads live or die in their ability to cut to the chase without too much mental labor. So now, even though I've seen that ad a million times, I still can't help but read both meanings simultaneously, which gives me the kind of dull headache you get from staring too hard at one of those "is it a vase or two people looking at each other?!" optical illusions. And, of course, that headachy association can't help but rub off on all the other sweater/dancing/decorating variations as well. Fleh.