Monday, March 30, 2009

Identity Theft: Ronald's Hot Stripes

McDonalds has been getting more aggressive in its efforts to grab a bigger piece of the coffee business. Recently, I heard radio spots promoting their lattes. I was a little surprised to see yellow awnings at this McDonalds locations. Even more surprised to see that they were stripped just like the awnings at Dunkin Donuts, a direct competitor in the coffee business,

Yellow Pages as Portrait of Humanity

Mammals, during their waking hours do three things primarily: they eat, have sex and fight (usually over territory).

The Yellow Pages, while they still exist in their print form can be thought of as an analog portrait of what humanity values and how it occupies its time. Not surprisingly, the largest sections of most Yellow Pages confirm our mammalian nature: Restaurants (eating food), Lawyers (fighting conflict) and Escort Services (sex).

Favorite Ad on Facebook

Of all the display ads I see on Facebook, over and over, this is by far my favorite.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Chuck Lorre Vanity Cards

The writer/director/producer Chuck Lorre is the creator of the television shows Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, Dharma and Greg, and Cybill. At the end of most episodes a "vanity card" — a paragraph of white text against the black screen — appears briefly. So briefly that if you want to read it you need to pause the DVR. Most of these read much like a blog post, observations on life or current events, rememberances or notes on the episode.

You can also read these vanity cards at Chuck's site: chucklorre. Fabulously entertaining, but beware you can easily get sucked in and loose the better part of a day.

Fifteen years ago I bumped into Donald Trump. Literally. I wasn't looking where I was going and, I suppose, neither was he. Our collision caused his very large bodyguard to charge toward me in order to neutralize any possible threat to his boss. Now what happened next is why I've never forgotten the incident. Trump quickly looked me up and down and correctly assessed that I posed no danger. With a small, smirking frown and a dismissive little wave, he instantly communicated to his hulking assistant that I should be ignored. The entire incident couldn't have lasted more than ten seconds. No one said, "sorry," or "excuse me," and we all went our separate ways. After all these years, the memory that lingers, the image that haunts, is of his smug pout and condescending hand gesture that somehow caused me to feel utterly insignificant. I was reminded of all this when I looked at the ratings of Two and a Half Men versus the ratings of The Apprentice. Hey, Donald, I just bumped into you again

Trying to get a break as a song writer I find out where Harry Nilsson lives and bring him a box of reel-to-reel tapes of my original songs. He threatens to kill me if I ever come to his house again. Not funny then, funny now.

While working at Marvel Animation I'm told I don't have what it takes to write for the Muppet Babies. Sadly, it's true. Not funny then, funny now.

Write French Kissin' in the USA which is covered by Debbie Harry and released as the first single for her debut solo album. It effectively ends her solo career. Not funny then, funny now.

Co-write theme song for new animated series called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The show is a massive international success. The music publisher tells my partner and I that we will not be paid music royalties for the millions of video games and video cassettes being sold. The reason we are given is that they'd rather not pay us. Not funny then, still not funny.

When I initially posted this I failed to credit Bob I with being the person that tipped me to this. Big thanks Bob, great hanging with you last week.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Demographic Scategories

I would have to guess that the number of media/content channels, the wide variety of increasingly niche content and the rapid cycling of trends is making the characaturish segmenting by the pseudo social science of demographics less relevant and more absurd.

Take for instance this specimen I spotted at the bookstore today. She was dressed in black and wore suede, rocker-chick books. The book she was holding was Ayn Rand, thick, so it must have been either Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead. The magazine she was perusing, Debbli Bliss, a knitting magazine. Any guesses on what she was having for lunch? Who the hell knows. What sort of demo slot does a profile based on that information fit? A liberated, idealistic doer???

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Obama Tracker

Another example of how simple interactivity can be used to present information visually. NPR's: Obama Tracker orders events in the Presidents' administration along a timeline by color coded categories. Each links to the full news story. There's a widget as well.

There are increasing number of well designed examples of simple, smart interactive info-graphics. The New York Times has done some amazing pieces.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Foie Gras Parable

I've been meaning to post this video for some time. Dan Barber at TED telling the amazing story of farmer Eduardo Sousa and what is perhaps the best foie gras in the world. At one time I at foie gras weekly. I just realized I haven't had it in months (and it makes me a little angry). The last time I did was on my birthday at Little Next Door in Los Angeles. The foie gra there is amazing. Kim, thanks again for a wonderful birthday.

Chandler Burr: The Space of Scent

It's been a while since I've posted anything on the sense of smell. I came across this video on Seed magazine's website, it's Chandler Burr (New York Times perfume critic) talking about "smell" within the context of design. If you've never read one of his Times' pieces, check one out. Perfume, like typography suffers from a lack of qualifiable way to describe it and thus requires referencing other things. Burr's use words to describe perfumes is spectacularly entertaining and at times quite cutting. Seed Design Series

There are some great posts in the Foundation archives if you do a search for "perfume".

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday School at The Sherman Foundation: Racism for Fun and Profit

There are ways that primal human nature can be harnessed and used and they run a range from amusing to disturbing. Sex sells, we laugh when others embarrass themselves and hatred is a useful tool for ideological group cohesion.

What I did not know was that racism could be used to sell ice cream and mobile phones? Actually, I don't think it can be. So how do you explain the ice cream print ad (out of Russia) and the Nokia spot (Japan). Maybe it's not really advertising. Remember all of the propaganda that was inserted into early Looney Tunes cartoons? Perhaps this is just racism and political maligning that just happens to use advertising as it delivery mechanism. An international company like Nokia should know better. Totally unacceptable.

There is something else I find interesting about these pieces. The Russian ice cream ad, with its bright colors and rainbows is more reminiscent of Japanese illustration styles, while the Nokia spot feels darker, political and mocking, closer to what one would expect from the Russians.

Looney Tunes, Anti-Nazi Propaentertainment.

Via Allan Carl Jackson III via copyranter.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On Anthropomorphism: Bears

My fascination with anthropomorphism began in childhood with breakfast cereals. Each cereal had an illustrated character as its mascot. Some of them were mythical creatures – leprechaun, vampire, Frankenstein, wizard, elves – and sometimes they were animals: a tiger, frog, rabbit, toucan bird, bear.

Projecting human characteristics on to animals goes back to the begining of civilization. It's such a pervasive part of culture that we don't consciously recognize it. It seems a very natural part of everyday life. From childhood we are immersed in an environment filled with anthropomorphic creatures in cartoons, movies, toys, stories and fables.

The teddy bear is a quintessential american toy. They were first created a became wildly popular after a story spread about Teddy Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bear on a hunting trip.

Teddy Bears are for nurturing.

The resemblance of character traits attributed to animals and their actual nature varies considerably. These traits and perceptions are defined largely by visual appearance. No one needs to teach a child that sharks are scary, they look the part and their reputations are well deserved. Bears on the other hand are a bit more complicated.

The story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears is one of the most popular children's fables. The bears are presented as an archetypal family unit of father, mother and child. Waiting for them in their home are three bowls of porridge, heated to the temperature of each bears preference. The beds are individually sized to fit them. The associations here are home, family, nurturing and warmth.

A mother bear and her clubs looking very much like a loving, playful family.

I've never liked the Charmin bears. They're big and lumbering. The gender of the bears seems uncertain. There size and physique projects masculinity but the way they swoon over the tissue seems is feminine and dramatic. Charmin’s use of bears tries to leverage the associations of nurturing and care. Extending them to bathroom tissues seems a stretch to me. There is no bathroom scene in Goldilocks, just kitchen (nurturing) and bedroom (comfort, rest). The Cottonelle puppy works better.

(I don't like the side-by-side on the Charmin website for the different types of tissues. Side-by-sides are usually used in comparisons, like in diaper ads. The particular red used on the left says "rash" to me.)

Bears again in the bathroom. Koalas this time, on a diaper changing station.

Gummi Bears, a chewy, playful staple of late childhood and early adolescence. Gummi Bears are for devouring.

Is the association of bears and honey based on anything real? I always though the honey bear dispensers were odd. Bees make honey. Shouldn’t the dispenser be a bee? The Bear steals the honey from the bee and we squeeze the honey out of the bear and it come out of his hat.

Yogi, a scheming, lazy bear that lives in a national park. Yogi spends most of his time trying to steal picnic baskets and gets himself and his friend Boo Boo into trouble in the process.

Another national park bear, Smokey. An serious, authoritative spokesperson for the prevention of forest fires. I never liked him. As a child I thought he was a mean bastard.

Real bears in national parks are best known for destroying cars, campsites and killing nature lovers.

Timothy Treadwell, a bear enthusiast featured in the documentary Grizzly Man was killed by the very animals he loved and protected.

The use of a bear as a symbol by the Soviet Union may come closest to being true to their nature and temperament.

Just for the fun of it, Gummi Bear Anatomie. A clever undermining of a beloved children’s candy

We used to play this old record when I was a child. Strange and foreboding.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mixing YouTube: ThruYou (by Kutima)

ThruYou is a collection of 8 tracks all composed by slicing together music from videos found on YouTube. Very cool Ollie, thanks for showing me this.

This is an embed of the first track "Mother of All Funk Cords".

Not really related but cool as hell. A Nokia spot featuring Bruce Lee playing table tennis with nunchucks.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Signs of the Apocalypse: Rock 'N Roll's Willing Surrender

These are times of laments and regrets. Even the self righteous, hormone fueled, anti-establishment, sex and drugs spirit of Rock 'N Roll seems to have slipped away and is lost. When Elvis first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show they shot him from the waist up. His moves were seen as too sexual and lascivious to be broadcast. The Doors were banned from the same show for life because Jim Morrison sang the words "girl we couldn't get much higher" even though he had agreed to change the lyrics when he appeared on the show.

The rebelliousness of youth culture has been replaced by.... I'm not sure what. Some recent examples:

Last week, for a full 5 days, U2 goofed and clowned for David Letterman. Ironically, it's the same theater that Elvis and The Doors played, the former home of The Ed Sullivan Show.

The same week, images of U2 inserted into Dell monitors on the cover of a Best Buy circular.

Heartland hero Bruce Springsteen gave small town destroyer, WalMart, a 2 weeks exclusive on his latest release. The following week he performed what can only be described as insipid, self-parody during the Super Bowl halftime.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers just released "Blood Sugar Sex Magik" in its entirety for the game Rock Band. In their video for Californication they are animated as if in a video game, snowboarding and battling sharks and bears. Bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and AC/DC would never have done something like this.

The members of Coldplay as marionettes in the video for Life in Technicolor. More childish infantilization.

Kid Rock teamed up with Dale Earnhardt Jr for a National Guard promotion. What bothers me the most is that Kid Rock has really come into his own as a musician and performer with his latest release. And then this. I don't even know to process this It's postmodern in its perplexity.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Potlatch Theory of Consumer Economics

American society has always been aspirational. Instead of a nation of “haves” and “have-nots” it is a nation of “haves” and “will haves”. The idea that anyone in America can rise above their station and achieve success is at the heart of America’s mythology. A byproduct of this optimistic spirit and class mobility is a surprisingly low level of resentment and contempt for the rich. The wealthy classes are a necessity. Their opulence is the pinnacle of achievement, it is the bar. Displacing the rich would dismantle the mechanics of possibility. As long as there are those among us who have reached those heights, it is proof that those heights can be achieved. Just as putting a man on the moon served as a collective goal to bring Americans together, so to has extravagant wealth shined like a far off destination to be reached. The wealthy and over-privileged are our astronauts.

When broader spread wealth and comfort are achieved, the expectation for further acquisition increases. Desire never satiates, it expands and the pursuit of more frenzies. With material needs largely fulfilled, the symbols of the ability to fulfillment needs – the trappings of wealth – become increasing sought after. Collective energy and resources pour into the cycle of consumption. After everything is in, debit is taken on so that more can continue to go in. The bottom is scrapped and scrapped again. Real value is converted into perceived value, into symbolic, social and exchange value. Everything is consumed in the process of creating the possibility of more and grander consumption. The material wealth of the richest soars and it is celebrated and cheered by all. The richest are exalted and pushed upward so that everyone else might follow up behind.

Wants still hungers after basic needs are fulfilled and people “want for little”. Consumer capitalism funnels massive amounts of resources into the exaltation and pursuit of ever increasing perceptions of luxury and wealth. The cost is the erosion of that which material wealth is supposed to provide in the first place: social infrastructure, health care, education. How do these basic become unaffordable in the affluent society in the worlds history? The furniture, the books, the floorboards... everything goes into the bonfire.

It is like a traditional potlatch in which different tribes came together to feast. The point of the celebration was for each tribe to give away all of their possessions. The highest honors were bestowed on the tribe that gives away the most. Most often the custom served as a way of redistributing wealth but in some instances the very point of was the destruction of wealth.

“Our Side is Winning”
–The Sherman Foundation

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cannibalism, Celebrity Endorsement and Performing for the Bedroom Mirror.

The psychological process of identification is fascinating. Identifying with someone else is recognizing that they are like us and doing so creates a sense of connectedness and trust. Part of this process is conscious, as when we make evaluations based on someone’s appearance or background, but a surprisingly large part is instinctual, non-verbal and happens unconsciously.

Creating a sense of identification can be consciously manipulated. Sales people do this with a technique called “mirroring”. By adopting the speech and breathing patterns, posture and physical gestures of prospects, sales people are able to quickly establish identification and rapport. Customers put down their guard and trust they they are dealing with someone just like themselves.

Recognizing that someone is like us it the basis of identification. The process also works in reverse. Imitating the behavior of someone who’s success we wish to attain appears to be hardwired. As irrational as it is, dressing like, driving the same car as, and eating the same foods as those we wish to emulate is very common. We believe that by doing as they do we will become as they are and attain what they have.

This type of identification is what powers celebrity endorsements. For ages boxes of Wheaties have featured admired, well-known athletes. The implied promise is that if you eat what’s in the box, you’ll become what’s on the box. This really isn’t any different than the belief held by cannibals that by eating their enemies they will acquire their strengths and powers. Similarly, Catholics believe that they receive the body of Christ when they eat the host during the sacrament of Communion.

I’ve noticed an increase in the number of celebrity endorsements on food packaging, especially on items targeted at kids. Some of the celebrity/food pairs are quite peculiar. What does someone attain by eating Hannah Montana fruit dip?

In pre-YouTube days, teens stood before their bedroom mirrors singing into a hairbrush and imitating their idols. Like aspiring performers they honed their craft by practicing their moves and looks. Today, the mirror has been replaced by the computer monitor and webcam. Bedroom performances are not only rehearsed, they’re uploaded and shared. The private stardom of the bedroom has become a exhibitionist performance and a chance at internet fame.

Recently I saw Madonna’s video for “Give it to Me”. It opens with her stretching and posing in front of a dance studio mirror. It’s as if she is warming up her persona as well as her body. In some of the video’s many quick cuts she sings directly into the camera. At times the performance is less seduction and more flaunting, posing and fronting. The self-absorbed mannerisms transform the camera into a mirror. A mirror for the viewer. A mirror when gazed into reflects back Madonna’s image not your own. An image offered up for our identification and in doing so swallows us up.