Thursday, November 17, 2005

Dandelions Induce Smooches

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.


Mike O'D said...

As you know, I hate most ad campaigns, but the current thorn in my side is the billboard for WGN news at the Irving Park brownline stop. It features pictures of all the members of the local news "team" doing--whoa!--WACKY STUFF! Here's the weather man dancing cheek-to-cheek with the traffic lady. Here are the two female anchors straightening the tie of one of the douchebag male anchors while he grins like a tool. And here's a shmuck who couldn't get a chum date standing out on his own smiling dumbly. The point? Hey, we're your friends! We're ZANY! We understand that you can't be peppy at 5:00 a.m., so we'll be peppy for you while we announce that the mystery arsonist who's been starting conflagrations at University of Chicago labs has been--thank God--nabbed!

Nothing, nothing is stupider than local news. With the possible exception of Al Roker.

allison said...

Oh God, I know just the one you mean, and I hate it too. When I know that I'm coming up to the Irving Park stop, I try to avert my eyes so it won't suck me into its "can't...look...away!" vortex. Despicable. (Aptly and colorfully described. Kudos.)

Anonymous said...

i also must say i loved the "empanadas y coke" ad of a few years back, as well as the "masks" nike ad that premiered during last year's super bowl (please don't think less of me for this sportyness).

my favourite ad of all time was shown only once, no doubt pulled for content: the camera is across the table from a man, a woman, and a second woman (all conventionally attractive) in a booth a a bar, smiling and chatting and all flirty-eyed. each is drinking an amstel light, which, as the voice over informs us, is both low in calories and "high" in taste, thus supplying the best of both worlds. as the voice over gets to "best of both worlds," the camera takes us beneath the table where we see that the middle woman has a hand on the knee of the man to her right and the woman to her left.

viva socially sanctioned bisexuality.
*nora rocket*

Anonymous said...

I, too, hate this Starbucks campaign -- because the word Only is misplaced (the slogan should be It Happens Only Once a Year)! This irks me every time I see it. "It" (meaning, we are led to believe, the holiday season) does not "only happen (at a certain time)"; it also does a lot of other things (such as, it would seem, prompt people to plant kisses). However, it does happen only one time in the year.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for letting me vent.


allison said...

Thank you, mysterious grammarian who shares my initials! You're so right; I hadn't even thought about the placement of that "only."