Friday, November 30, 2007

Five More Thoughts (Fashion and Media Ed.)

Television, music, marketing, and Christmas, baby. It's all here.

1. Keep in mind, this is coming from a "before"...
Watching television with my wife is a difficult proposition. For some reason, she doesn't share my taste for my sarcasm and immaturity and isn't keen on encouraged those things in my personality. (I tell her art imitates life, not the other way around, but it gets me nowhere.) Meanwhile, I grow antsy at her predilection for clean humor and the goings on of the disapproval network. It makes for a tough compromise when we're together, but our individual schedules permit some private indulgences. She watches daytime Dr. Phil before her classes, say, and when she's working, I catch reruns of off-color animation, rent overrated (if sometimes disturbingly realistic ) comedies, dig up some odd film I'm willing to risk not liking, or you know, just turn the fucking thing off. We can find some common ground when the special effects are cool, when she discovers the humor for herself, or during those few programming selections where we can both get off on our own separate planes.

One of these oddities is What Not to Wear, featured on the Learning Channel, watched when there's positively nothing else to agree on. If you haven't seen it, it centers on two experts (on television, style can only be mastered by vicious gay men or the harpies that orbit them) that every week humiliate some poor fashion-impaired boob on national television, at the behest of so-called friends, and then make him or her over into something presentable. I like the show for more reasons that Schadenfreude: it supports my romantic worldview that the world is teeming with people who don't know they are attractive. (I imprinted on John Hughes movies. Bite me.) I'm pretty sure my wife likes to judge the judges' style choices, because those are the only conversation points she bothers to respond to.

In the show, the loathed Stacy and Clinton take people who are cute but weird, make them symbolically throw away all their dorky clothes, dress them up, cut their hair, and put too much makeup on them. Voila! Mainstreamed geek. Once the formerly bad dressers begin to conform, the two hags officially pretend to like them. Their friends welcome them back. Strangers no longer avert their eyes or cross themselves in fear when they walk by, and the pets relax. The viewers take home the message that they should be just like everyone else if they want to get by--it's valuable education for the kiddies.

But the show is marketing a lie. Sure, some of those specimens needed a no-spandex intervention, but what's really holding most of us slobs back is the absence of five grand to spend on a new wardrobe every six months. Damn you, Learning Channel, I didn't want that lesson rubbed in my face again.

2. 'Cuz there ain't nothing wrong with MY fashion sense!
This Halloween I presented myself as a nerd for the kids. I got some fat green suspenders to hold up my baggy pants, buttoned my non-matching shirt wrong, put tape on my glasses, and got a helicopter beanie out of the bin. I was (cough) very convincing.

I have symbolically thrown away most of the dorky clothes I outgrew (outshrunk) a year or two ago, but I kept the denim, because you know, you really gotta have a couple pair. When I put the beanie away, I kept out the suspenders, and started wearing them with my big-boy jeans on weekends, enjoying the fact that they now stay up. Suspenders are a secret the fashionistas are keeping from you. They feel really great. Your pants stay snugly up with no pressure but a comfortable tug on the shoulders. Your boys are cupped gently by your garments, and there's no adjusting when you get up from a chair or anything like that.

But who the hell wears suspenders in real life? Firemen, creepy talk show hosts, fat yokels, hockey players, Depression-era gangsters, immigrant farmers, dock workers...and Keifus? (I imagine myself most like the last one, by the way.) I actually wore the things out in public last Saturday, but Stacy and Clinton must have gotten under my skin, because I self-consciously kept my coat on the whole time and tucked my arms down like I was in an old deodorant ad. My dear wife, who'd told me that very morning that she approved of my masculine trouser-hoists, was too embarrassed to look me in the shoulders. It's not that they look bad even, but going for comfort over convention is not how it's done in society. Too bad.

Next weekend, I see no choice but to go back to sweatpants.

3. Just the same, I prefer my suspenders to be optional
Sometimes television is best enjoyed with the sound off. The gym monitors, in addition to exposing me to Fox news in a relatively painless way, have also reminded me of the continued existence of VH1. Evidently they're off of the constant reality programming model and back to showing lame videos again, at least in the morning.

Like the rest of the known world, I came across Feist's video for 1,2,3,4 on those iPod ads. It's an unusual sort of chain there--art exploiting marketing exploiting art--but hey, if someone can get paid these days for being creative, then I'm all for it. The video is an amazing piece of shooting. I haven't managed to catch it from the very beginning, so I can't tell you if the whole thing is a single shot, but I assume it is. I imagine some of the camera tricks (rotating and stuff) were done in the editing, but whatever: here's a big routine doing all kinds of tricks of perspective as the people move in relation to one another and the music. I think what makes it really compelling is the way the dancers, and the dance too, all look so amateur, how everyone looks like they're having genuine fun, but are pulling off a group choreography that suggests rigid professionalism and vision. It's a neat contrast, and the video moves along like a playful narrative. It's a nice change from the usual frantic thrusting whose mission seems to be to make me tired of sex.

That channel seems to be promoting a new crop of non-starlets in storytelling videos lately. I would have guessed that their unremarkable looks suggested actual musical talent, but then I happened to see Feist perform on Saturday Night Live, and I had to put the sound off halfway through. Oddly enough, three (three!) banjos didn't make her sound any better.

4. Bingo!
Marketing can imitate art, but it can be inspired by anything. Marketing can even inform marketing, and there's even a huge market for marketing. We need marketing people to market the idea that everything is marketing, and only a marketing dude can convince you that marketing is a lie (ears smoking yet?) and market the right story to get your brand on the market. If you want to learn marketing, there are endless marketers that market marketing to marks.

This is how the internet is finally going to become self-aware, by the way, trying to sell itself to itself.

I came across this while trying to see if I could follow Digg citizens to something new and interesting to read. I stuck around a little longer than I normally might have because the catchphrase, "a resource for young entrepreneurs to learn valuable lessons and advice from Internet business gurus," would have been funny if it was intended ironically (you know, give us money and learn a valuable lesson), but sadly it's not. It's just the usual jumble of aphorisms and nonsense charts and effective habits scraped from many decades of literature from the paper office. All it needed was some Microsoft clip art to complete the bathos.

Diggers seem to like lists. Some of them are amusing reads and great finds, but crap like this seems to quietly fill up the mass of the blogosphere like dark matter. If you look you start noticing all the feel-good business and life "attitude" advice peddled at the geek too young to remember 1999, the last moment in history when you could bullshit your way into financial success by writing the word "internet" in crayon on a paper napkin, and wave it at a venture capitalist. When I stumbled across this guy a year ago, I remember trying for an hour to figure out what exactly he was selling (he's selling selling), and if he had more advanced cred than his spooky, egglike dome. In full disclosure, during yesterday's review of Seth's Blog, it looked less about nothing than it did in that first bizarre encounter, but he still looks like the sort of guy who'd ask you to draw a box on the floor and then point you outside it for inspiration.

But evidently he's been on TV, so fuck it, I'm sold. Now all I have to worry about is what exactly it is I'm going to market. What, you expect us to actually play these things?

[Yes, I know it's a necessary evil.]

5. "Dear C-, good luck with that list. Your friend, Santa"
And when is the ascendancy of marketing more apparent than the holidays? The card my daughter (6) wrote to her savior (I swear I don't encourage these things) begins with "Dear Santa, I want..." It's filled with the most charming sort of little-girl avarice, and she makes an emotional plea at the end with "I love you! Santa!" The closing address, however, from "your friend C-," really gives the game away. She's no member of Santa's inner circle. She's a pretender, all too aware of how good she's been.

A lot of portent depends off of those closing clauses. If the letter-writer must add such a thing, the onus is hung from his or her shoulders to define the relationship with the addressee, and that's a lot of responsibility. Email correspondence is so weird that way, and really throws a writer back into those old uncomfortable forms. Thank god I get to avoid the lie of "dear" in the heading, but the lie of "sincerely" dangles at the end of the missive like an unattributed participle. Professional colleagues get a "regards" before my name, but when I've known them for a while, the elevation to "best regards" looms heavily. And horrors if those regards are not returned! Yeah, we had a beer in the airport that one time, but no Keifus, you're not regarded best. Sorry.

One of my three official friends has signed his Christmas cards "love" for years. Here's a guy I've known since we were my daughter's age, and we have at times reached that fraternal ideal and have declared as much out loud in all sincerity, but stammering a "love" at the end of a letter is another matter. It recalls uncomfortable youthful sexual pressures. In that regard, I'm warming up to "take care" when I want to express honest affection, but not romantic interest. At the same time, I find that I'm mellowing out on "love" anyway. It works fine again between families, and I've been taking broader notions of the sentiment in any case. So I sign to my in-laws with love, and fuck it, on all of my other Christmas cards too. Even if I don't write to Santa (whom I don't even particularly like), I'm still a woefully sentimental grownup.

At rare times, I go advice columnist and sign off a letter with a Tom Swifty. Others times I'll end with a non-sequitur ("con queso" is a favorite that I try not to overuse), giggling only to myself. I envy entertainers that get to use a signoff phrase for their goodbyes, and I've tried to cultivate the practice of using my unmodified name, or better, my initial, as a generic take-it-how-you-want-to closing. It means everything and nothing, or whatever you need. Sincerely.



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