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?"


TORLANDO said...

man, that name's been taken happened to me once, I made a really good superhero named Frog Man and worked on the concept for like two years and then found out that Marvel made him back in the 60's or 70's it was somewhat of a blow because my version was and is truly better. So I'll probly do it anyway and just pull a vanilla ice when I explain how its different. And also I remember responding exactly how you described when you told me Michael Winslow was coming to town and I'm not 25, whats up? Us youngins can't have a precocious knowledge of late 80's pop culture?

rachel said...

Wow, I have so many responses to this post.

1. Greg was just talking about Jewel yesterday! I had never heard of it.

2. My favorite of those ads with people doing it the old way having a heck of a time was an infomercial for a paint roller with a really long handle. It showed a guy using the normal short-handled paint roller and having a decidedly bad time. He was sweating and had paint all over his face, and he would look at the camera with a really exhausted/disgusted look on his face. Wish somebody would put that on YouTube.

3. There's a Funny Bone in South Bend, and they have the most annoying theme song. "Funny Bone, comedy club" sung in a really nasal voice. I still want to go see stand-up at a comedy club sometime. I did see Neil Hamburger once, but I don't know if that counts.

DYLAN said...

I'm glad you hipped me to the "guy who makes all those crazy noises from police academy" show. I'm not going to miss that.

Year of Pie said...

Sociology is my saving grace while watching reality TV.

I would like to listen to both the Michael Ian Black and the Michael Showalter discs. Then I can see if my super crush on Showalter colors my opinion of them.

sarah k. said...

Mike, you've obviously never tried to wind up MY hose. Most of the time, I just leave it all snaked across my lawn.

Shannon said...

Can you please, please, PLEASE go see Dustin Diamond just so you can blog about it after???

Anonymous said...

we have a funny bone in st.louis!

my favorite ad selling something people dont need was a pop stirrer. " tired of having to stir the pop constantly when cooking?! Well listen to this!" It was a spatula that was on a spinning mechanism that stirred the pop for you so you could..i dont know, go masterbate in the bathroom, all while cooking the perfect pasta sauce.