Sunday, February 09, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 311: A Word From Our Sponsor

Last Sunday a lot of people watched television to see the commercials.

Normally, people dump on commercials. They’re inane, intrusive and more often than not little more than an invitation to surf around the dial to see what else is on.

Except for Super Bowl Sunday, when advertisers pay millions for 30 seconds of airtime and corporate creatives pull out all the stops to set their brands apart, most people despise commercials.

I share that sentiment. Although when I was starting out as an actor, commercials kept me alive. They not only paid the phone bill and the rent, they allowed me to keep working in the theatre where a two or three month run seldom earned you more than a single one of those commercial messages.

But it was far from easy money. You spent your days running from audition to audition, reading in front of a bleacher full of ad execs and company reps who had no concept of such thespian needs as character or motivation.

Sometimes you got jobs because you matched the guy in the storyboard sketch. Or lost them because you had the same color hair as their daughter’s idiot boyfriend.

You quickly realized you weren’t dealing with a deep understanding of how comedy or drama was made. They were invested in the mantra of their product and needed you to deliver their message perfectly even if you had no idea what exactly (besides soap) they thought they were selling.

Shoot days were worse. While films seldom did more than handful of takes, the simplest of commercial shots often went into double and triple digits. The performance of the “talent” now utterly  secondary to how the sweat dripped down your beer glass or the sun caught a car’s hood ornament.

Most of the actors I knew in that world developed a healthy love/hate relationship with the medium. You were thrilled for your bank balance when you got a spot –- and relieved in equal measure for your sanity when you didn’t.

What finally made me walk away was a trend demanding you arrive at an audition virtually in costume. The agent’s instructions were always precise. Dress like a Disco dude. Look like a lumberjack. Be that dad with three kids in private school.

It was just further proof that the people making the ad had little if any imagination.

One day with a full schedule of auditions, and without time to change between them, I walked into an audition dressed like a working class hero when they expected a trendy bartender.

“Hold it!” said the director, “Didn’t your agent tell you to look like a bartender?”

“Uh-huh…” I responded, not wanting the agency to take the hit.

“Didn’t he tell you to wear a white shirt, bow tie and dark slacks?”

It felt like the whole room wanted an explanation. I had grown so tired of this shit....

“Yeah, he did –- but he only goes to Gay bars…”

There was dead silence. I knew I’d gone too far. Then worried looks criss-crossed the room.

I got the part.

And they insisted I wear exactly what I was wearing. It was my last commercial.

The scars from those years have long ago healed and I have a special place in my heart for commercials that feature imagination, a real desire to be different and maybe most importantly –- wrap their message in something more important than just selling a product.

Because I know how nigh to impossible it is for those things to survive the process.

For all of the special and innovative stuff that interrupted last Sunday’s football game, what follows might be one of the best commercials I’ve seen in years.

It’s from South Africa and what’s being sold is mentioned only once and barely in passing. Yet I guarantee you will never forget the brand nor think of it in anything but a positive light.

And that’s well worth holding off the remote for a minute and paying attention to the message.

Enjoy Your Sunday.


Joel Scott said...

"YO ! "

This commercial is a stroke of genius that touches heavily on emotional icons....Literacy, race, family and class. I was impressed how in 2 short minutes the commercial was able to portray an epic struggle for literacy that culminated in success and inclusion once Dad was able to say 4 simple words to his son in an upscale bar.." I read your book"

This commercial brought to mind another epic struggle in the 1990's that touched heavily on Literacy, Class, race and family......the great Ebonics debate -

However the outcome was decidedly opposite as to the outcome in this commercial.

Ebonics was introduced as a possible class in Oakland California, a predominately African American city . Proponents argued that it was a part of their heritage and culture and a popular use linguistic tool to reach young poor African Americans and draw them into a contemporary curriculum by using "hip and cool slang linguistics"

Needless to say, the status-quo ( primarily white middle class educators ) opposed it and argued successfully that Ebonics was a bastardisation of the sacred English language and it would further isolate African Americans from mainstream American culture. Plus, it would give them a language few white folks could comprehend beyond the standard greeting of "Yo" and the meaning of the word HO ! " God forbid poor working class black kids using a "code " language that cops couldn't understand.

Ebonics died at the proposal stage, but partially lives on today in Hip Hop, Rab and dance music/ culture as part of that norm. Ebonics relied heavily on abbreviation./ rhyme, emotions and symbolism.

Joel Scott said...

Fast forward to today and we see the blossoming of the internet / digitally morphed english .... called text and chat language. Texting is clearly a major shift from standard linguistics and was at first completely created by white middle class kids who's parents could afford the technology. Kids, fed up with typing long words to convey urgent thoughts and emotions created logical short cuts. It too relies heavily on abbreviation, rhyme, emoticons and symbolism.

If anyone thinks that texting is not the most rapid assault upon the english language... look again !

Besides spelling taking a shit kicking, there are entire words,(abbreviations) sentences and phrases reduced to one letter each...such as WTF, LMAO, U, C U and on and on. Misinterpretation, initially ran WTF did not mean" Wait Till Friday" .

There are entire texting code language dictionaries that chronicle some 2000 phrases and abbreviations for standard english, words phrases and cliche' s. Today it is a fully functional texting code used by hundreds of millions , maybe over a billion.

Where is the hue and cry about this language destroying our sacred English today ? is virtually mute...and I suggest it is because white middle class kids developed it in their bedrooms while mom and dad sat passively in the living room, content to have the computer babysit their offspring.

Ebonics was widely condemned as it so called gave black youth gangs an insider's code to function under.

Texting is an insider's code that ALL teenagers now use and even adults use it to communicate with.

If you think that's all A OK....let's.look again

Internet luring by text savvy adults has been growing exponentially. Cunning adult criminals are using texting to draw teenagers into dangerous and extortion laden events that have cost many teens their lives through suicide. Teens sexual consent has been violated and their privacy has often, been irrevocably invaded and their dignity and self esteem destroyed.

One constant is that the victims all believed they were texting with another teenager because their use of the "text code was perfect"....... in their minds, only teenagers could talk like that.

Texting is here to stay, and our tolerance of it and it's subsequent foothold in our linguistics has everything to do with it's white, middle class origin.

Where as becoming literate was an open door to become a member of the cultural and community's status- quo....becoming literate in texting language may in effect have the opposite effect, in some cases it can lead to young people's personal ruin. Our language is changing, and not necessarily for the good of humankind.

Literacy ..yes in all cases. Texting literacy....not so much !

mikel said...

Not sure what this had to do with texting, but whatever. I have a deep enmity for commercials, having been a glued to TV dork for several of my impressionable years and now still having "1..2...3...4....5 Bar Six!" and "little pound puppy I found you, you love me...and I love you" now taking up precious space in my aging brain that no longer remembers basic algebra.

It explains all my torrenting behaviour and the fact that I tell young people, any chance I can, which isn't often, ok, its never, but I WOULD tell them if I could to avoid television like the plaque and, no, I mean 'purchase the DVD' of television shows in order to avoid those hateful commercials.

Of course, if only we had had remotes.....I'd just have "1...2. 3.. little pound.....milk it does, milk it does your body.." running through my head. And no, I never did actually buy ANY of their products!