Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Mental Environment: Never Free of Suggestion, But Still Kinda Fun

I was talking today about how much I like going to the grocery store, even though when it comes right down to it, the whole experience is engineered so that products will scream at you, typically encouraging you to purchase things you don't need. I would say that on any given trip to the grocery store, I purchase less than 1% of the total items that are offered to me, and I rarely make decisions that aren't in accordance with the many lessons I learned from going to the Jewel grocery store with my dad on Saturday mornings every week for about six years as a child. Buy generic when quality is negligible, buy larger quantities for less if you are sure you will use it all, buy with specific meals in mind, make your shopping decisions premeditated, have a list, etc. I have always said that if you want to get to know the culture of a group of people, visit their grocery stores. That's one of my old quotes.

I also really like ads. In a way, grocery stores are like just big rooms full of ads. Ads don't usually talk me into buying anything, but I'm always kind of entertained by what they seem to think people want. For example, it tickles me to see ads for labor-saving inventions in which the people doing it the old way are having a real heck of a time. For example, in the commercial for that thing that quickly coils your garden hose for you, there's this guy who is just having the hardest time ever coiling his garden hose. The announcer says in that one voice (and it is one voice, just like Don LaFontaine [RIP] was the only voice in the game for movie trailers) that says "Tired of pulling and untangling to get your garden hose coiled?" And the guy is like having the world's hardest time getting his hose in order. He's making this face like "surely there must be a better way!" You know the routine. The form of these commercials are about as automatic to Americans as the form of a knock-knock joke.

But I try to watch TV like a sociologist. Taking this intellectualist stance makes me feel way less guilty about watching bad TV all the time. Here's my analysis:

These ads attempt to create a need by greatly exaggerating the difficulty of what is usually a trouble-free task. Places like SkyMall base their entire business on products like this (don't get me started on SkyMall, I'm in the process of creating a whole blog devoted just to the celebration of the triumphs in ad copy found within this masterpiece of despair/catalogging).

But what has really been getting me going lately has been a few original ads that I have seen posted in windows around Bloomington.

Exhibit A:


If you live in the US and aren't a Republican, it doesn't get much better than this. A joke wrapped within an innuendo cuddled inside another joke. In fact, regardless of political affiliation, I think it's brilliant simply because it implies that they are so sick of people coming in asking whether or not people have the Sarah Palin frame (I always thought it was frames, but I guess the professionals at Optiks would know best when to pluralize this word). Truth be told, it's quite possible that nobody has asked for the S.P. frames, but they went ahead and ordered a bunch and now they want to let people know by making it seem like they get asked about them a million times a day. I love it.

Exhibit B:


This one requires a little bit more pop culture history than the last one. Bear with me though, the payoff is immense. The name Michael Winslow alone might not ring a bell for most Americans, but when you call him "the guy who made the funny mouth noises in the Police Academy movies," you get an overwhelming amount of "Ohhhh yeah!"s from people over the age of 25. Well, he has had a small surge of renaissance-ironique (just made that term up, probably not real French, but I think that it describes a very specific thing that seems to be happening lately) with his recent appearance in a Geico auto insurance commercial. No idea what he has been doing in the past fifteen years leading up to that Geico commercial, but the fact remains: Dude makes some incredible noises, using just his mouth. Apparently he is funny, because he's coming to Bloomington for three days, to kick off the opening of Bloomington's first full-time comedy club, The Funny Bone.

I'm kind of jazzed that there's a comedy club opening up in Bloomington. I've always enjoyed comedy albums, although I've never really been to an actual standup show (unless you could this one time when my Sunday school teacher Paul Baltes did his routine at the church youth conference, it was somewhat controversial because there were fart jokes). I've been listening to the Michael Ian Black disc as well as the new Mitch Hedberg posthumous release, and I must say, these comedy albums merit repeated listenings. This comedy is really good stuff.

The Funny Bone has the distinction of being named a name so obvious that as soon as you hear its name, you are pretty much sure that there are at least five other comedy establishments with the same name in existance.* (Google it, it's especially unfortunate that one of the other Funny Bones is in Bloomington, IL instead of Bloomington, IN.) But they have a real bang-up schedule planned. We've got Michael Winslow, then Christian Finnegan from Best Week Ever (I truly do love that show), and then... (drumroll please) - Dustin Diamond, a.k.a. Screech from Saved by the Bell, a.k.a. Dustin Diamond, the sleezeball who did porn and acted like a complete fool on a couple of reality TV shows. The Funny Bone will also being starting an open mic night, and I hope to see local funnyman Dave Segedy test out his comedic stylings there. Heck, I might even try and put something together, how bad could it be? Just you wait and see.

I will defintely be there to see Michael Winslow, because he is the living master of a craft that may soon be extinct. Plus, he just seemed like such a cool guy in those Police Academy movies. Screech, not a chance, Christian Finnegan, maybe.

* Kind of like if someone told you their heavy metal band's name was Doomsday or something. Instead of saying "cool!" my first reaction would more likely be "Wait, are you sure that name's not already taken?"

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Tampopo! I watched this movie again tonight for the first time in many years, and it's still as brilliant of a movie as I had remembered.

This time I think that I was most impressed by the small subplot where the man comes rushing home to find his wife on her deathbed, and he commands her to arise and make dinner. She somehow stumbles to her feet, makes her way to the kitchen, and somehow makes dinner while looking like a bit of a zombie. The kids set the table, and the husband, the doctor, and the nurse all look on in amazement as she brings the food to the table. The family serves themselves and they begin to eat, and the mother collapses, the doctor proclaims her dead, and everyone starts crying. Then the dad insists that his children all keep eating, because this was their mother's last meal, and they had to eat it while it was still hot. The picture of people crying while trying to eat is really stunning. A powerful feeling is conveyed in this scene.

My old favorite part used to be this:
I mean, just look at how enormous that ice cream cone looks in his little hand!

When the man, after going to the dentist to get an abscess removed from his tooth, gets an ice cream at the park where he meets a very young boy wearing a sign around his neck that says "I am being raised on natural foods, please don't feed me anything sweet or any junk food."

The man hands the boy the ice cream cone, and the boy seems to hesitantly pump his hand with a confused sense of excitement. Finally, the little boy really digs in, smothering his face with ice cream, and the moment is the gastronomical equivalent of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. This boy has left bliss, and now knows the difference between good and evil foods. It is truly a wonderful moment in food cinema.

For some reason I seemed to remember the movie ending with the yakuza guy telling his girl about the legendary yam-filled boar intestines, but I was surprised to see that the movie actually ends with a very long shot of a baby breast feeding in the sunlight. Man's obsession with food comes full circle. I truly like that.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Monsieur Mo Rio - "Promenade" Video

There will be more about this Moritz fellow and Monsieur Mo Rio later, but for now, enjoy 1:44 of odd and pretty:

P.S. My high school promenade was nothing like this.