Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Seeing Through You

This has been pissing me off for a while now. So many commercials now are made with a contrived attempt to be "lo-fi." The rest of us for years have been making wacky little videos using whatever technology we could get our hands on (or, before that, just acting while a friend points an invisible camera at us). The result, while more inspired than the pros, would always be something fit for public access. (Which is why we'd put it on public access.)

Now, "real" companies seem to be doing what we've always done, despite having access to the finest equipment, effects, actors, etc. Maybe it's just like anything else--a generation grows up seeing something, then they become ad execs and inject it into the public eye (Remember the first time you heard the Buzzcocks in a TV ad?). Or maybe it's the fact that anyone can have pro-quality video tools right on their computer and can broadcast to the world right from home, so there's a backlash from the pros. Or maybe they just want us to think we're watching a friend's YouTube video, and that somehow makes us more likely to buy their product. Whatever it is, it's pissing me off. Because lo-fi will always belong to the little guy/girl. And they're taking it from us and smearing their corporate shit all over it.

One example is jingles. How many fucking ads have jingles now that are purposely made to sound like they're sung by your neighbor? We've got Coke Zero and Farmers insurance singing practically the same song by a chorus of men singing what they want us to believe is a real tune hummed by the average Joe. "Coke Zero: dummm dum da dum DUM dummmm." And "we are Farmers, dummm da-dum dum dum dum dum." (Planet Fitness also has the "dum dum dum" thing but it's relating to "dumb" people--which is a direct ripoff of the South Park episode about Mormons anyway.)

Several other companies also use jingles like that, made to sound like an average person casually singing, slightly out of tune--"like a good neighbor...." for example. In that case, the company uses both the singing method and the "purposely bad music" version of their own pre-existing jingle. "Ooh, that must be Daniel Johnston playing the State Farm jingle on an Atari-era synthesizer, sign me up! For insurance or whatever! There's a company I want to be friends with!" So fucking stupid.

Then you've got the hand-written signs and/or logos. "Oooh, that's not a corporate logo, it's just a drawing! This isn't a multi-million dollar beast, it's my fun-lovin' peer!" "Awww, poor Long John Silver's, they must be feeling the recession just like I am...they have to have a young employee with hair mussed just the right amount to let me know he's real hold up a hand-drawn sign because they can't afford graphics. I shall ingest their fish-like product. And all my fake friends will know about it!"

And don't you love it when a TV spot uses "Internet" imagery, like a time bar scrolling along the bottom or multiple "windows"? "Oooooh, I think I'm watching the Internet! Who turned off my stale old TV and sneaked the Internet on to it? Honey Dew donuts? One day-old mass-produced confection, please! And America's number one addictive drug in a styrofoam cup to go, friend!"

It's just offensive to me, because over the years I've made the hand-drawn signs and logos; I've used "actors" who are really just my friends; I've cut out a TV screen from a pizza box; I've sung the jingles and played them on a shitty keyboard...because that's what you do when you're the actor, editor, director, writer, and producer because you're just one kid, not a corporation with thousands of employees and endless resources at your fingertips.

Maybe I should be impressed. Maybe I should be glad that my generation is in control. Maybe I should realize they're paying homage to all the bad amateur shows and spoofs we've all loved for decades.

Fat chance. These aren't our friends. Okay, maybe some tiny companies mean no harm, but I'm talking about the big boys. They know exactly what they're doing, and it has nothing to do with anything but getting your dollar so they can lube it up and wrap it around, well, you know. All while acting like they're our "friend." I don't want to electronically "like" your car dealership or peanut butter! And if I do give a shit about your company, I want you to give me real content with a real web site! I don't want to see a list of incongruous comments or pasted backlinks left by yahoos. The whole point of you being a company is that you're not one of us.

(It's interesting that purposely bad hair and South Park came up in this post, because these are similar things to what I'm talking about. The whole bad-hair-as-a-"look" thing, and "using crude drawings to look like that cartoon that's so popular," yet it was crude at first because they were just a couple of no-name guys. It just messes everything up when instead of doing something new, people imitate others, instead of just being influenced by them. Doing new things preserves eras. I love 70s style so much because it was unique. Now it seems every "new" trend is just the return of an old one. And every Hollywood movie is a remake or the big-screen version of a TV show.)

[Note: Though I've been wanting to write this post for a while, it was inspired by Maxwell Horse's comments on this post, which go into another aspect of the current world: crappy digital vs. old-school film.]

Man, I could literally rant for hours on this subject. Again, sorry for the length. I hope I'm not offsetting the blog balance here by posting something so long. I'm considering starting a blog just to have my thoughts "out there" on this. But knowing how most people can't seem to tell the difference between film/cell phone footage, or they have been influenced by the idea that "modern technology" is inherently "progress" and thus anything digital must be "better" than what we had before--I'm quite sure that any comments I would get (assuming anyone reads the thing) would be telling me that I am an idiot. And the rage that would induce would take years off my life.

That's an interesting take you posted about, how companies are making "low budget" looking stuff in a sad bid to appeal to the kids of today. That's an angle I haven't much considered. Although I do remember the Honeydew donuts commercial with the rapping kids that literally, blatantly was meant to look like a crappy Youtube upload. (Mission Accomplished, Honeydew; it did indeed look like crap.)

(As far as specifically the intentionally bad singing, I remember that's the reason I hated those Dunkin Donuts "Pee Wee Hockey" commercials. Those were actually shot on film, but they were so grating because of the singing. I know that the people singing there were supposed to be average people, but even taking that into account, the voices were WAY over the top nasally.)

Still, I really do believe that the main factor in this ghastly change is that most people, whether consumer or someone in the entertainment industry, really can't tell the difference between film, videotape, and something from a cell phone. (Or again, they have been influenced by societal trends into what looks good. To believe that anything slapped with the letters "HD" on it must be awesome.)

I believe that most people genuinely only notice incredibly superficial qualities to images such as how "insane" the color contrasts are or how "sharp" it looks. (Oh yeah, and whether or not an image looks "clean." Yeah, that's really important.) That these seem to be the only things that people notice--I mean, that's like going to a restaurant and only noticing whether or not the sirloin you ordered is cut in a perfectly symmetrical rectangle.

(There are SO many more important factors in what makes images transporting and wonderful than "sharpness." Factors such as: Do the images look ALIVE. Do they pull you into another separate world, away from your living room? Do they have weight and depth? ... But what is really hilarious is, even if one simply wished to be a neandrethal and only care about "dots per inch," film actually still wipes the floor with digital.)
(Final part, I promise. Then I'll stop vandalizing your blog.)

It probably doesn't help the average consumer making such distinctions that LCD screens are actually very poor at conveying nuance and subtlety. They're good at distracting bird-like minds with their "insane" contrast levels, but as far as natural movement and displaying images with any sense of "there-ness" to them, flatscreens suck. All the images look like one of those lenticular Transformers stickers that "change" depending on the angle you look at them. And since humans are *always* looking at things from two different angles, such images never have any gravity to them.

People should check out the Youtube channel "80sCommercialVault." He posts just TV commercials from the 80's and 90's. The upload quality usually isn't the best, since all of these come from people's home tape collection that have been collecting spiderwebs for years. But even despite the resolution, it's almost shocking how good even "lowly" commercials looked just a little while ago. Almost all of them are fantastic, conveying deep, transporting worlds. Now check out, well, pretty much any commercial from the last couple of years. Like the Ford "Swap Your Ride" ads; Jesus, were the people who made those actually proud of them?

I'll just part with one final thought. It's basically a word for word copy of something I wrote before, so forgive me for just pasting it here: "Some would say that caring about matters such as these is silly and that there are things in the world far more important. I disagree. I cannot think of anything more important. Moreso than any other generation we are absolutely drowning in audio/visual stimuli. And so it matters very much how that stimuli affects us. Is it going to open up our minds and imaginations, fostering soul and possibility; telling us that life is precious? Or is it going to close us off to our inner spirits, telling us that the world is as limited and stifling as a Hefty bag, that there is no magic "out there," that people are cheap and ugly, and that the end-all be-all of existence is reality TV and the latest iphone app?

How humanity views the world determines the shape of humanity."
"Doing new things preserves eras."

BTW, your last paragraph was great. It really does seem that there's no actual identity to the current internet/texting/Youtube era. Because it's like this chaotic, self-aware mishmash of all the stuff from previous generations, but without any of the sincerity.
It's funny you mention the Pee Wee hockey ads. I wrote about those because, well, here's how it went down. At first, I agreed with you: this song is meant to be kinda purposely bad. Then I thought, It sounds like They Might Be Giants. Then it hit me, this WAS They Might Be Giants. And I love their stuff--but suddenly they were doing these dumb DD ads (there were several different ones with different TMBG tunes written specifically for the ads).

And that's another example of the ad people having grown up along with TMBG, and as soon as they got positions of power, they went right to the bands they like to do ads for them.

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