Dumbing it Down

There is a vicious cycle that repeats over and over and over.

A brilliant movie is about to be made/beer is about to be brewed/tv show is about to filmed/newspaper is about to be published and the money men get together to discuss how to maximize success – and, of course, success is measured in dollars.

“It might be a little difficult/complex/cultural for our target market”

says one.

Let’s remove the [parts that make it satisfying] to make it more accessible

responds the other.

Repeat this for long enough and large sections of the audience become unable to catch cultural references/stand any trace of hops/follow any story that is not about Peoria/understand english accents/watch a movie that doesn’t have a happy ending.

American Culture at is finest is still magnificent, but large swathes of America thinks that Budweiser is beer and USA Today is a newspaper and Ben Stiller is funny. Me, I can no longer tell the difference between Entertainment Tonight and Eye Witness News.

Expose a population to this kind of pap for long enough and they lose the ability to digest a richer diet. Only pap will sell. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We reap what we sow.

My pet peeve for today is when they take a cultural icon from a different culture – The Magic Roundabout – and remove as many of the cultural references as possible. Americans are not familiar with the British actors in the original. No-one knows who Joanna Lumley is because Absolutely Fabulous was remade in america (and bombed) because no-one knows who Joanna Lumley is because …

It’s no use making cultural references because no-one is familiar with the culture because …

Can’t use actors with English accents because no-one understands English accents because …

Where will it end?

Why does every great French/Spanish/Japanese/even English movie have to be remade for the American market? Why couldn’t they at least tip their hat to Rudyard Kipling in the credits of The Road to El Dorado? Are they afraid that someone will go watch The Man Who Would be King and never watch an American movie ever again? I watched the entire “Making of the Lion King” just to see if anyone would mention the Prince of Denmark (they didn’t).

On the bright side, microbrews are really taking off. A lot of people still watch Jim Lehrer and, in sophisticated circles, everyone knows that Cheddar is “The Single Most Popular Cheese In The World”. A few niche markets – like anime – are making inroads. Maybe Harry, Ron and Hermione are the camel’s noses?

I am not hopeful.

Hooray, commercials !

One of the great things about the World Cup is that the standard of the commercials goes sky high – much better than the superbowl commercials, sorry. Who can forget the Brazilians playing football in the airport in ’98 ?

[Pssst – Madison Avenue. TiVo owners don’t use the skip-30-seconds button to skip the commercials. They use it to skip the bad commercials.]

The high water mark this year was the Jose+11 series for Adidas.

¡Jose! ¡A casa!

After watching it at least 73 times, I only noticed last night that the soundtrack goes something like “If you don’t give my football back, I’m gonna get my dad on you.”

Like the best of art, the best lines from the best commercials leak into the culture so that I can now walk into any house in California and shout

I have found a way to carry six beers at the same time!

and get the immediate response

You’ve found a way to carry six beers at the same time? Brilliant!

Why do they tell us the results ?

A long time ago, I read a book where the main character tries to persuade his dad that he should subscribe to some magazine. He explains to his dad that the magazine aims to educate their readership and to give them insight into blah-blah-blah. “Nonsense!” says his dad,

“The aim of the magazine is to sell more magazines. Same as all magazines.”

This was an epiphany for me. It explained all kinds of things that I had not previously understood.

Whenever you see the media doing something that seems counter-intuitive – something that is not in the customer’s best interest – ask yourself :

“Who is the real customer for this product?”

If the product is media-related, there is a good chance that the customer – the party who pays money for the product – is not the consumer, it’s the advertiser.

[Thanks to Jeff for this last insight]

Please don’t tell me the results (2) …

In the old days, if the commentators of one game wanted to share the score of another they would say..

The score of the XvY game is about to appear on the screen. if you don’t want to know the result, please look away now.

Now you have to take counter-measures to avoid finding out who gets whacked in The Sopranos before the season even starts. The media has whole teams of people whose job it is to spoil your enjoyment of reality shows, sitcoms, movies and even American Idol by telling you the ending before the show is aired.

The Euston Manifesto

I have been reading through NormBlog’s criticism of the criticism of the Euston Manifesto. In platform one, he points out something that I noticed too. So many of the commentators have missed what seemed to me a central point :

The founding supporters of this statement took different views on the military intervention in Iraq, both for and against. We recognize that it was possible reasonably to disagree about the justification for the intervention, the manner in which it was carried through, the planning (or lack of it) for the aftermath, and the prospects for the successful implementation of democratic change.

Many supporters of the manifesto explicitly point to the fact that it is a pro-war document as the reason for signing it. Many commentators on the right snearingly claim that a few leftists are finally starting to realize that it’s better to be pro-war than pro-terrorist as though those were the only two options.

For whatever reason, the MSM and the conservative establishment have found it convenient to pretend that the nonsense spouted by Galloway’s Respect, A.N.S.W.E.R. and other fringe organizations like the SWP represents the majority of anti-war opinion. Perhaps it’s easier to argue against shouting lunatics than to confront the quiet voice of reason and moderation? Perhaps it sells more newspapers ?

Anyway, for whatever reason, a lot of people have bought into this narrative. The Euston Manifesto is important because it provides an opportunity to make it clear that opposition to the war is not anti-american or pro-dictator or anti-democratic or pro-terrorist. It gives us a chance to say what we stand for not just what we oppose. That’s why I signed it.

Sign the Euston Manifesto here