Monday, 31 March 2008

In colours everywhere

The latest Sony Bravia TV commercial, where tons of Play-Doh roll across the cityscape in various forms, has got to be one of the ad industry's great modern triumphs. It's beautiful and colourful (both attributes that they want associated with their product), and it is by far the most covertly, superliminally sexual advertisement I've ever seen.

Now, let's define terms. We all know that sex sells, and it's used in commercial advertising all the time. Typically this is noticed when it's overt, or in your face. I'm thinking of your run-of-the-mill deodorant advert or the usual scantily clad personages selling you perfume or a razor with seven kajillion blades. What's less noticeable is advertising that is subliminal, in that it's designed to not be noticed by the conscious mind. I'm a great fan of the genre and like to spend my free time looking for distorted faces in retouched ice cubes or four letter words in models' hair. Good times. But what I mean by superliminal is best defined (like many things) by this quote from The Simpsons:
Lisa: But you've got recruiting ads on TV - why do you need subliminal messages?
Lt. Smash: It's a three-pronged attack. Subliminal, liminal, and superliminal.
Lisa: Superliminal?
Lt. Smash: I'll show you. {yells out the window to Lenny and Carl} Hey you, join the navy!
Carl: Ahh, yeah alright.
Lenny: I'm in!

Right, that's superliminal. You can be superliminal and overtly sexual, like putting gratuitous breasts on an ad for mushrooms (The copyranter blog is worth a look if you're interested in the subject, though not entirely SFW).

But the Bravia ad takes the cake for showing a series of images, all of which are superliminally associable with sex, but without resorting to phallic symbols or revealed flesh (hence, covert). To recap the ad (here's a YouTube link if you haven't seen it):

1. The music begins: "She Comes in Colours" by the Rolling Stones, a song not well known today, but controversial when it was released as the lyrics clearly reference female orgasm.
2. The claymation (or would it be Dohmation?) starts with some rabbits. And you know what they do.
2. They multiply. Oh yes they do. Tons and tons of bunnies.
3. They transform into... balls.
4. The balls turn into a great liquid wave. (You see where I'm going with this?)
5. The waves crash into a salty seascape, becoming icebergs.
6. Cut, briefly, to the dodgy looking guy in the photo above, wearing a T-shirt that reads "Happy Ending Massage Parlor" (you know what that means) and a shit-eating grin.
7. From the icebergs left behind, a whale appears. What kind of whale? A huge, pink, Sperm Whale. (Check the drawing on the Wikipedia page if you think I'm making this up.)
8. The whale resurfaces, growing into a giant rabbit.
9. Just to make sure we have the right association in mind, we see a small infant watching the spectacle.

And the great circle of life is complete. Thanks, Sony!

I call out the "Happy Ending" guy because he's just so over the top. It's got to be a kind of knowing wink by the producers of the ad, a way of saying "I can't believe what they let us get away with on this one."

And the funny thing is, after all that, I don't really want to buy a Bravia. But I tell you what, I've really got this hankering for Play-Doh...

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Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Crime and the perception of acceleration

One thing about the British is they like to whine. I'm not talking about every individual here, but as a collective society, Britain is always going on about how terrible things have become, especially when it comes to crime. In reality, a glance at any per capita crime statistic will show you that Britain is a far, far safer place to live than the U.S. of A. (and most of the rest of the world too, for that matter).

Take the murder rate, for example: For every 1000 people in the UK, there were 0.0141 murders last year. For the U.S., the figure is 0.0428 -- meaning you are about 3 times less likely to be murdered in the U.K. Even more dramatic is murder by youths, which seems to be the dreaded fate that the Brits most obsess about these days ("Oh, what's to be done about the yoofs"): the U.S. per capita rate is more than twelve times that of the U.K. To be fair, the U.K. stacks up a little more evenly for rape, but even there the U.S. rate is still more than double.

And yet, far fewer British citizens (a mere 70%, compared to 82% in the States) say they feel safe walking in the dark. (Personally, I prefer to have some sort of flashlight/torch so I don't trip on something, but I don't think that's quite what they meant.) So are my UK co-residents just worrywarts?

My hunch is that as humans we tend to put a lot more emphasis on perceptions of acceleration than on velocity, and when it comes to safety, we confuse the two. Thus, when someone says "the streets aren't safe any more", his or her only basis for comparison is how safe the streets were, say, 5 years ago. If they're less safe now, it's how much less safe they are that matters, not some absolute measure of safety. So if there is a perception that violent crime is going up across the U.K. -- if only by 10% in those 5 years (just making numbers up), that becomes far more significant than the fact that very little plus 10 percent is still a whole heck of a lot less than what you might find on the opposite side of the Atlantic.

Now, none of this really explains why your average American thinks his/her street is the safest in the world to go prancing up and down on a new moon, when it quite clearly is not. But maybe they just think it's not getting worse.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Piggybacking off the piggybank

I knew that the cost of producing and distributing American pennies was more than their face value, but I didn't realise how bad things had got with the recent runup in commodities prices. Forget about the production and distribution cost; let's just talk about the raw metal. As of March 21, the metal content of a pre-1982 U.S. penny is worth 2.3865 cents, and the content of any standard U.S. nickel is worth 6.5572 cents. (It's been even higher in the past month.)

Of course, it's illegal to melt them down or export them, but that didn't stop Indian entrepreneurs when their one-rupee coin was worth 35 rupees last year. Which makes me wonder if we'll see the same thing start to happen in the U.S. -- you know, desperate times and all.

Slight tangent: Last year, when we took our old refrigerator out to the curb/pavement to be picked up and disposed of, it had been stripped of all the copper pipes on the back within hours. It was a little bit surreal -- I guess there are people constantly driving around and spotting copper to be stripped. Do they have shortwave radio or something? An Internet forum? Strange.

Anyway, I wonder what Bank of America would say if I proposed to withdraw my entire balance in nickels (some pennies are more valuable, but you're going to get a small portion of pre-1982 ones in a given roll). It's not illegal to do that, but I suppose they could refuse the request.

The least valuable coins out there -- in terms of the percentage of metal value to face value -- are the Sacajawea and Presidential dollar coins. Which is a shame, because I like them, but I suppose it's a rare thing to get aesthetics and finance to work well together.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Tales of the classicky and the rocky

Some music I've been stuck on, just because.

1. "On the Outside" - The Kinks. Sometimes Ray Davies is sincere. Sometimes Ray Davies is melodic. Sometimes both come together really well, but that was rare in the '70s. This is a gem of a track available as an extra on the Sleepwalker reissue.

2. "This Jesus Must Die" - from the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. There's an odd resonance between the way this musical portrays sundry epochal happenings and the scenarios posited by modern conspirahistoricism like Michael Baigent's interesting The Jesus Papers. This song is perhaps the most relevant to the political context of first-century Jerusalem.

3. "Mr. Jones" - Counting Crows. Sure, everybody knows this song. I'd never actually listened that closely to it, though, until recently, and it holds up to the scrutiny.

4. "Old John Robertson" - The Byrds. This is a deceptively simple standard country rocker until suddenly it goes into an awesome time signature switched orchestral interlude. Strangely transcendent.

5. "Heartbreaker" - Pat Benatar. This is a fine song, but the part I really like is the high-pitched harmonic shout of "Heartbreaker!" toward the end. You've got to build to it, though.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Affluenza scrutinized

So I'm reading this book Affluenza by Oliver James, the main thrust (or is that crux; thrusting crux, perhaps?) of which is that smelfish capitalism makes us all anxious and depressed. His conclusion seems to me (mind you, I'm only on like page 50, so I may be missing something yet) that we should all move to Denmark, because they just don't care so much.

I don't disagree with the argument that a life lived for nothing more than material gain is a gruesome and insubstantial one, but James' logic is rather heavyhanded. One could just as easily make the argument that depressed and/or anxious peoples are prone to ur-capitalist aspirations, rather than the other way around, and in fact I think there would be something in that. People choose to become bankers, stockbrokers and estate agents for a reason, and probably they can blame it on their parents (or, in many cases, the lack thereof). Sure, we've got an socio-politico-economic culture that allows the morally corrupt to engage in their skullduggery, and James and I would probably agree that the system needs to change. I'm less concerned about the skullduggery, as that will likely continue far beyond my temporal existence on this planet, but it's the individuals who seem to draw the author's wrath. Frankly, though, I find them uninteresting on the whole -- as he labels them, they are "Marketing Characters", predictable and more anonymous than his pseudonymizing narrative suggests. I have the sneaking suspicion that the real motive force for humanity in the 21st century will not be a force from inside the system. We create our own reality, indeed.

But to be fair, Affluenza is about internal, not external, affairs. Am I happy in a world of relative affluence and aspiration? I cede the point that were I to have my level of income most anywhere else in the world, things might look different, but that is to make the world much flatter than it is (I haven't read that book, but I'm heavily suspicious). I'm still upper-middle-class by London standards, regardless of what that might buy me in Wichita -- and there's probably nowhere for me to work in Wichita, for that matter (if you're a Wichitan headhunter, feel free to email).

Enough ranting for now, particularly as I haven't finished the book. Maybe there's a moral to this story after all...

Monday, 10 March 2008

Mark your calendars for email fraud...

I just received yet another 419 scam email. It's the usual kind of dreck, addressed to me with my name in the wrong order (surname followed by first name), laughably far-fetched, you know the drill.

I was about to send it the junk folder without so much as a second thought when a date caught my eye.

It turns out that I share my birthday with the death day of the (one assumes former) Minister of Internal Affairs of the Ivory Coast.

To wit,
My name is Marie Doue I am a dying woman who have decided to donate
What I have to you/ church/charity Organizations. I am 54 years old
and I was diagnosed with esophageal Cancer for about 7 Years ago, I
am married to the former Minister of Internal Affairs and who worked
in various capacities before he died on 5th of July in the year
1989.
So -- is this mere coincidence, or is this scam getting smarter and have
they looked me up in order to include a date that would strike my fancy? (I vote coincidence, but hey, it's topical, right?)

Friday, 7 March 2008

Bottom of the week

...And here I am on the other side. Hey, other side. Howyadoin.

Here are some facts about my last five days:

1. I had to go to Slough. You know, where they filmed "The Office". Yeah, that Slough.
2. I consumed about 7 units of alcohol, by the British system.
3. I took a bath with these lavender bath salts, and ended up with lavender bits floating all around me. So then I had to take a shower.
4. I had a somewhat disturbing dream about playing footsie with Lily Allen. On an airplane.
5. I procrastinated a great many things.
6. I watched the entire series of "Trunk Monkey" videos on YouTube.
7. My 'e' key continued to malfunction, makinge me writee like a poete of olde.

With these fantastic tales, I hope I have continued to hold you, dear reader, in thrall. I am, after all, all about the thrall.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Top of the week

I've just about managed to relax this weekend, and it's midnight Sunday night. I've been in that sort of cycle of normalcy lately -- not overworked, per se, but encompassed in that strangest of modern preoccupations, being a professional. I don't feel dulled by the grind, but you wouldn't know that from my lack of posts here. I remain an interested observer, but somehow it's been difficult to work up a head of steam on any particular topic lately.

This week should be an interesting one, professionally speaking; my employer is expected to announce the first round of major layoffs after we were acquired in late December. My own position is likely safe, but these things are never much fun for anyone involved, even in the foreign outposts.

If you're interested in more bitty updates from me, look me up on Facebook, where I've been pointing and/or clicking lately. It's a good replacement for actually having to express myself, at least while the muse is inconsistent in her visitations.

Today is also our three-year anniversary of moving to London. Slightly related, I'm on the bureaucratic path to changing my visa status (which I could have done a long time ago, but procrastinated heavily upon), so I'm not here merely on the good grace and say-so of the company.