Monday, January 31, 2011

Behind the Scenes in Hell

Also courtesy of Jeremy Pinkham, a short instructional film on how to brainwash children:

Where For AREN'T Thou, Alfa Romeo?

Courtesy of Jeremy Pinkham, a promotional video promoting a very persistent advertising robot:

It's telling that the polite people of Belgium featured in the video seem only slightly bemused by the rolling ad, rather than having the predictible American reaction of kicking the shit out of it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

We're Gonna Have a TV Party Brought to You by General Motors and Monsanto Tonight - Alright!

Henry sounds a little "fucking" defensive here on the set of his corporate-sponsored cable tv show (said Mr. Holt on his Google-owned blog). What I find most telling is when Rollins poses the question of whether generic music in a car commercial would be better than hearing your favorite rock tune - as if NOT watching the car commercial at all couldn't be an option. Even given his limited perimeters, he's a little quick with his foregone conclusion. He completely bypasses the problem of commercial context by reducing the argument to a simple question of money and exposure. "Don't you want your favorite bands to make money? They're gonna show the commercial anyway, isn't hearing a cool band there better than hearing something boring?"

Since the official hipster position on corporate culture has been refracted and reversed through the lens of modern, "I like Gilligan because I hate it," irony so many times, it's difficult to imagine a context for artistic expression that isn't neck-deep in corporatism, even among those who profess to have "punk" sensibilities. We're conditioned to expect branding and advertising to intrude on artistic expression on some level to even imagine it can survive at all in the marketplace. So it may be inevitable that we adopt the perspective that Henry has. That is, choosing to believe that the artists are somehow empowering themselves by "partnering" with some giant, corporate enterprise, all the while enduring the taunts of the insufferable (and unsophisticated) idealists who cry, "Sellout!"

Far be it for me to suggest that an artist shouldn't be able to do whatever they want with their work, including whoring it out to anyone who'd like a go at it. But context still matters, Henry. It has a significant influence on how the content of a work is perceived. And there are some of us in this noble republic who remember art, music, and literature that benifitted greatly from being free of a blatantly commercial context. These benefits might hard to explain to most Americans today, having never lived any part of their lives logo free, but they were commonly understood at one time.

Rollins may believe that we should celebrate when Black Flag's "TV Party" is used to advertise NBC's Friday night lineup (and I'm certain this or something very similar has happened by now). But I'll side with the dissillusioned Black Flag fan of old on this one - the disgruntled teen who relied on punk rock anthems like that one to feel he wasn't alone in his disgust over the emptiness of mainstream culture. He felt that Henry and his band were not only critics of the Capitalist Overlords, but provided the alternative as well, hustling their LPs through their own SST records, bypassing the major labels and MTVs that insisted a band couldn't survive without their advertising machine. Now Henry's telling that guy he should just be happy that Black Flag is making some money, no matter what that money represents. Forget the opposition we pretended to stand behind. We just wanted corporate approval like everyone else. How dare you get pissy.

Well, this is why we get pissy, Henry:

A musical statement representing the hopes of a generation that yearned to be free of corporate culture completely destroyed in under a minute by the same business criminals Janis was trying to ridicule.

But hey, I'm just happy her corpse made some money.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wear Yourself

Halloween came and went months ago, so I'm not sure why this crossed my mind.  But if you were like me, a kid in the '70s, you hated those Ben Cooper and Collegeville boxed costume sets - the ones with the cheap, plastic mask and the jumpsuit with your character's name and/or image silkscreened on the front in day-glo ink.

And if you're anything like me today, your appreciation for these tacky outfits has blossomed in your old age.

That's why I'm thinking it would be a goldmine for whomever could recreate these dopey old images on t-shirts.  Or has someone already thought of this?

I'm generally anti-t-shirt, but hey.  I'm not completely immune to pop culture nostaligia.

So if somebody out there manages to get a project like this off the ground, let me know.

Cuz I'd buy a shirt with the old Ben Cooper Spider-Man design on it in a heartbeat.

Garbage Diet

Contents of a gull's stomach, found in the North Pacific Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is the swirling mass of ocean where much of of our discarded plastic goes to NOT die. Amazingly, adult gulls will actually feed their babies these chunks of Dasani and Mountain Dew bottles until they croak.

A pretty fair methaphor for modern consumerism, come to think of it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Only 100 Tokens

Variety reports that a film based on the '80s Atari game Missile Command is in the works.  My favorite bit in this story is the suggestion that a script will be "adpated" from the game.  I assume this means the main characters will be allowed to die three or four times before the end.

And please tell me they'll have a "Game Over" title before the end credits.

One thing that did find interesting in the story is the news that a View Master movie deal is also under consideration.  I can't imagine the horrors this would result in, but it made me think how wonderful it would be if someone could utilize today's 3D technology to project slideshows of the classic View master reels of old.  I'd pay real money to see big screen presentations of some of those great 3D puppet scenes.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Truth in Advertising

While enjoying one of my many visits to a doctor's office, I discovered Spartanburg Today, a throwaway adzine that has become my new favorite publication. Nothing else I've seen better captures the true horror of Sparkle City in all it's full-color glory.

Take, for example, this ad for Ike's, a local institution long beloved by crooked politicians looking to mingle with the Southern vote. I ask you, does anything make a meal look more appealing than styrofoam plates? How about backing a truck over the food a few times before shooting the photos? Look delicious? Hey, if that award-winning logo is too tough to figure out, you better not bother with the menu. Just tell Skeeter you's hongry.

I Have Two Questions:

1: Do the folks at Welch's really expect people to lick a page from People magazine?

2: Is this behavior we want to encourage?



Believe it or not, this incredibly frightening object is a toy.  Parents actually purchased this instrument of terror and handed it willingly to children in the 1950's.  It's the Popeye Bubble Maker, and that disturbing device in Popeye's gaping maw that looks like a death ray apparently produced delightful bubbles.  To my eye, this beast looks better suited for a Ray Harryhaussen film, destroying the city while emitting mechanical shrieks.  The town is ablaze, pedestrians flee.  Finally, the heroine's scientist father has an epiphany.  "Salt water!  We must alert the Navy!"

Finally! TV for the Rest of Us!

For those of you who found Robin Leach a little too "trailer park," here comes a new 24-hour network devoted entirely to the lifestyles of your cultural superiors.  Yes, it's Wealth TV, a new cable channel profiling the fabulous homes, country clubs, and vacation spots you'll never get anywhere near in your tiny, miserable, paycheck-to-paycheck life. 

 And if you think the abruptness of the channel's title seems a bit nouveau, get a load of the programming offered:

- Let's Shop: a show about purchases you'll never make.

- Divine Life: a show about wine you can't afford.

- Tales of Castles and Kings: a show about stuff dead rich people used to own.

- Behind the Name: a show about successful brands.

- Envy: more purchases and VIP privileges you'll never get near.

...and many, many more, including what has to be the most wretch-inducing of the bunch, Giving Back: a show celebrating the tax write-offs of these wise and noble kajillionaires, taking time during their flights to Sun City to sign off on sponsorship of inner city midnight basketball.

Wealth TV is notable for offering it's broadcast independantly of other cable system packages.  That is, you can subscribe to it even if you have no other cable channels. After all, you wouldn't want such a regal set of TV shows to have to hobnob with riffraff like Rupert and Oprah.

Bieber Snack

I still don't know much about this Justin Bieber kid, but apparently he's loaded with antioxidants.

The Plastic Teat

Tapped, an excellent documentary about growing corporate control over community drinking water. It might make you thirsty, but you can always pop down to Walmart for some Aquafina.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Like Buying Shopping Itself!

The closest thing I've seen to a real-life Mr. Product has to be the WB Girls.  This was a series of plush toys and other merchandise created for the Warner Brothers mall stores back in the '90s, featuring charcters who were themselves girls who shopped at Warner Brothers stores.  Conceptually speaking, it has a kind of mobius strip quality that could drive you insane if you think about too long.

Since then this kind of cross-trademark cannibalization has gone mainstream, resulting in products like the Barbie Loves Tweety Bird doll:

The next step, of course, will be a Barbie doll that collects Barbie dolls.  If they can figure out how to get Barbie to pay for her own merchandise, maybe they can finally leave the rest of us out of the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The New Adventures of the Collectibles

It's flabbergasting to think about today, but there was a time when there were severe restrictions on advertising to children on television in the United States.  Specifically, there had to be a distinction between what constituted entertainment programming and the commercials that sponsored it.  You weren't allowed to, say, group a bunch of action figures together to star on a cartoon show.

You couldn't find a Speed Buggy toy in 1973 when the cartoon debuted.  Think about that for a minute.

All this changed in 1980, when the political poles shifted irreversibly.  It seemed Ronald Reagan's first act as president was to remove all restriction on toy marketing.  Now the manufacturers could, say, group a bunch of action figures together to star on a cartoon show.

"It's morning in America, kids!"

Thanks to President Grandpa, the distinction between commercials and programming has been erased across the board, and children watching today's TV cartoons are learning valuable lessons in collecting them all.

I'm surprised they don't just run a checklist instead of the credits.

Modern TV cartoons are as commercially motivated as ever, but they really can't hold a candle to the soulless, garbage quality animation of the 1980s.  The Reagan era of deregulation produced Snorks, Smurfs and Pound Puppies by the ton, all advertised in day-glo cartoons so poorly designed and animated they actually seemed to hate you. You can practically feel the writers and animators of drek like GI Joe or the Monchichis resisting the urge to kill themselves rather than devote another day to these insults to humanity.

Think I'm exaggerating, kids?  Well, take a look at my favorite cartoon product of the Eighties, Barbie and the Rockers.  I've long been fascinated with this masterpiece because it's the only example of storytelling I've encountered that features no conflict whatsoever.  Barbie is a famous rock star and everyone loves her around the world.  The closest thing she has to a problem is wondering what fabulous thing she'll experience next (and what she might wear when it happens).  She decides the only logical thing to do is head into outer space in her pink Barbie space shuttle to hold a concert for world peace.  She does so (using her connections at NASA, I gather) and (SPOILER WARNING!!!!!) the concert is the biggest success in the history of anything.

Take a look.  You'll wonder why they didn't just film the market research sessions they held with 6-year-old girls.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lego Uprising!

The Lego Prisoner Transport set seems to causing a bit of a stir among a few nervous nellies.  But personally, I enjoy the idea that children can pretend the perp bitch slaps the fuzz to escape the paddy wagon.  Hell, sign me up for a Lego L.A. Prison Riot playset while you're at it. 


Once upon a time, products featuring famous characters were licensed by manufacturers who often had little knowledge of the property they were trying to exploit.

There was little in the way of quality control by the owner of these famous characters, and their precious cash cows were at the mercy of artists and designers hired by the licensors.

These artists generally didn't give a rat's ass what the characters were supposed to look like, and the results were often alarming to the copyright holder and dissappointing to the young consumers.

As a child, I was furious about the uncaring attitude of these merchandisers.  Didn't they understand the reverence we children had for these famous charcters?

Didn't they think we'd notice the wrong color on the gloves?  The undignified expression on the face?  Sometimes the stylistic insults seemed downright cruel.

But after a childhood filled with wretched toys, I've become nostalgic in my old age for this era of chaotic merchandising.  Today's toys seem too perfect by comparison, adhering as they do to strict corporate style guides.

So I'd like to utilize a piece of this blog to periodically celebrate the misshapen product designs of yesteryear, the toys that made my generation the bitter cynics we are today.

For that childhood of dissappointment forced us to appreciate in the malformed, the degenerate and the just plain awful as the hallmarks of genuine humanity that they are.

So be my cuddly, naptime Batman and join me in my quest to rediscover the glorious world of off-model merchandise.  I promise it won't be frightening.

Well... maybe a little... 

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Tenacity of the Waffle House

Waffle Houses are the cockroaches of restaurant chains, and I say that with all due respect to the industructible cockroach.  On a frozen day like so many of us are experiencing in the Southeast today, I'm reminded of how often the local Waffle House has remained open and fully operational when everyone else has shut down during hurricanes, ice storms, earthquakes, and other weather emergencies.  I don't know how they do it, but the Waffle House maintains electricity and a full staff when every other business is crippled by power outage, floods, or lava flow.  Need some eggs and bacon at 4 am on Christmas Eve during a tsunami?  Waffle House will be open.  I'm convinced that, like our friend the cockroach, Waffle House will survive the fallout when we reach Defcon One.  Radioactive mutants will gather there to enjoy hash browns while plotting their civil defense against a government gone mad...much like they do now.

It also occured to me recently that Waffle House seems to be single-handedly keeping the jukebox industry afloat.  Why?  Because Waffle House steadfastly refuses to change ANYTHING about their basic operation, including the jukeboxes.  In fact, the chain only began accepting debit cards as recently as 2006!

I admire this level of dedication, this willingness to maintain their insular, cult-like integrity in the face of changing times.  "You don't like our cramped layout or limited menu selection?  Go to IHOP!  We ain't changing a damn thing!"

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Streets are Paved with Cheese

Just in case there's any confusion about the exact nature of the American Dream, it goes like this: You, too, can become a viral video sensation, no matter what your station in life.

And your reward for this fifteen minutes of fame will be the opportunity to sing the praises of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

God bless America, Inc.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sniff Sniff! Who's Been Burning Keifer in Here?

On the plus side, I'm a size 10 again!

At the time it was merely another worthless diet scam.  Today it actually makes me cringe to hear this dialogue, seeming like a tasteless MAD TV sketch.  It was all just bad timing.  Ayds diet candy was being marketed just as the mysterious AIDS virus was making headlines around the world.  They might as well have called it the Leprosy Weight Loss Program or Polio Popsicles.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

And Now a Word from Our T-Shirts....

It’s difficult to imagine a world without visible branding on people’s clothing, but it really wasn’t so long ago when citizens never walked around advertising tennis shoes and football teams on their torsos.  T-shirts only became fashionable as outer wear around the 1950s (encouraged, so the legend goes, by Marlon Brando’s dressing like a slob in A Streetcar Named Desire), and then only of the plain, white variety.  Predictably enough, one of the earliest pioneers of silkscreen branding was Walt Disney, who used t-shirts to help spread the contagion of his Mickey Mouse Club and Davy Crocket TV shows.  But this sort of cult uniform was relegated to children for many years.
The Sixties saw the t-shirt, with obligatory anti-establishment slogans, associated with the general tastelessness of hippie fashions, considered by the Whiney Majority to be both immature and slovenly.  However, because said establishment never saw a counterculture it couldn’t exploit, smelly hippie couture was soon in vogue with the mainstream, including the human bumper sticker trend of the t-shirt.
Some of the earliest examples of mass-branded t-shirt advertising for adults were, not surprisingly, from cigarette and beer companies.  When I was a kid my father used to come home with Marlboro shirts given away by the guy who stocked the cigarette machines (remember those?).  Can you guess which brand of cigarette I got addicted to in my teen years?  Once the idea of wearing a corporate logo on your chest was accepted (my recollection is that it was embraced immediately), it was a virtual brandapalooza.  Growing up in this era meant that anything that entered my childhood consciousness (i.e. - anything that was on TV that season) could be celebrated with a t-shirt purchase.  My favorites were the plastic iron-on designs with the glitter around the edges, which could be easily wiped clean with a moist towelette should you accidentally dribble mustard onto the face of Darth Vader or Henry Winkler.  Tron t-shirts seem to work especially well in that format.
(Or that dreamy Shaun Cassidy.)
Today, try to spot anyone in a crowd who DOESN’T have a logo or pop culture icon on some part of their clothing (if not on every article).  People seem downright boastful about their cultural role as passive consumers, and they will happily – PROUDLY become walking billboards for Pepsi, Cookie Monster or the Miami Dolphins.  They’ll advertise Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren or Miley Cyrus on their chests and asses every day.  But you’ll never see anyone wearing a t-shirt featuring their own name.

(Except, ironically, people who are on television.)
And now, the idea of publicly expressing one’s brand loyalty is so ingrained that modern youngsters have taken the next logical step of having Nike Swooshes and Pillsbury Doughboys tattooed directly on their bodies.  Tattoos, traditionally, are meant to signify tribal affiliation, religious devotion, or loyalty to some fraternity like the Hell’s Angels or the KISS Army.  But when asked why he would submit to the painful and irreversible procedure today, the modern twentysomething will likely reply, “I dunno.  I just like Oreos.”

(She meant more to me than mama ever did.)

I will confess that, in the course of deciding which t-shirt design I wanted Brando to sport, I found one t-shirt I'd like to have:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mr. Big Lots

I was disappointed when Big Lots stopped using this hideous mascot.  He seemed perfect for the bottom-feeding retail chain, a discount pitchman, a sorta-kinda Homer Simpson in a Superman cape (otherwise dressed not unlike the average Big Lots shopper), no doubt bloated from the Little Debbies on the closeout aisle. Pants?  He don't need no stinkin' pants.  What is this, the Ritz?

He's clean shaven here, but I recall him having five-o'clock shadow, too.  Do these guys know their clientele or what?

Me First!

Before anyone mentions it, yes, I'm familiar with this highly entertaining book:

But I assure you that MY Mr. Product came first, having appeared in comic strip form some ten years before the above book was published:

So I've made up my mind.  I'm keeping my baby.

Welcome to My Nightmare

While listening to NPR pass along a press release about advancements in the “art” of 3-D movies (as if it were actual news), I had the reaction I always have to reminders of our crass, infantile, commercial culture: I decided to go live in a cave.  But I reminded myself that, in trying to stay immune from popular culture over the years, I’ve already put myself in a cave of sorts.  I moved to rural South Carolina and ditched the tv ten years ago. And I usually bark ferociously at anyone who dares suggest that some new movie or television show has an ounce of entertainment value.  I’ve never seen Paris Hilton, aside from People magazine, I never know which teams are playing the Super Bowl, and I have no idea what the majority of electronic gizmos being advertised in recent years actually do.  You name it, I’ve never heard of it.  And yet the monstrous, flatulent evil that is modern corporate culture still sneaks into my cave, and I respond with the same level of anger I had back when I was flipping channels with the rest of the lemmings.
So I’ve decided to do my duty as an American and start complaining.  And I’ve decided to do it in the traditional format of the snotty, dissatisfied consumer, the blog.  So I welcome you to Mr. Product, a first-person exploration into the terrifying world of modern Capitalism.  I’ll be examining the store shelves, the news items, the internet buzz, and any other evidence of our cultural downfall that happens to roam into my field of vision.  And I assure you, my soon-to-be-faithful readers, that I will do so with the utter contempt the steaming piles of corporate product deserve.  Join me, won’t you?

Cap'n Crank

What's happened to our cereal mascots? Why have they become so excitable over the years? Sure, Sonny was always coo coo for Cocoa Puffs, which made him a little hyper, but consider Tony the Tiger or Sugar Bear, both laid-back advocates of their product, despite its sugar content. And what about Cap'n Crunch? Back in the day, he was the poster kid for takin' 'er easy:
No big whoop. Nothing that troublesome Smedley could ever do would upset the good Cap'n. He was just kickin' back, enjoying that peaceful, easy feelin'. But look at the poor bastard today:
Dude, what happened to you? Diet pills? PCP? Are you simply so amped up on your own, sugary product that you can't even hold the spoon steady?
I mean, look at this freak! Is he hooked up to car battery? He's obviously in the throes of some sort of manic episode, shaking and hyper ventilating like that. I ask you, do you want this man near your children? I say, never trust a character who's eyebrows won't stay attached to his head.

And it's not just the good Cap'n. Take a look at the cereal aisle. Almost all your old favorites look like amphetamine addicts these days, their bulging eyes and waggling tongues indicating a fit of screaming night terrors.

Personally, it's not putting me in the mood for cereal.