I've only read one Jane Austen novel, the infamous Pride And Prejudice, which I likely never would have read unless it had been forced on me in my senior year AP English Literature class (let that be all the lesson one might need about the often-trash opinions of teenage boys on "girl stuff").Read More
Alright, people, it's time to invite the ire of the internet (although considering my readership never really rises above five or so I should be fine) and write about Star Wars, which has become the internet's most divisive topic after the release of The Last Jedi, the franchise's most recent installment of its current main trilogy.Read More
One of the most interesting exercises I ever did in college was performed on an unremarkable day in an otherwise unremarkable English class, when our professor challenged us to figure out what the actual first line of Moby-Dick is. I'm not kidding; read the full text of the novel and you'll be struck by the idea that you could choose at least three different points of entry into it, each of which slightly change how we approach the book.Read More
Shakespeare is an interesting author, because his works have all been very specifically grouped into genres that are almost unique unto themselves. There are Shakespearean comedies, tragedies, and histories, all of which have their own flavor that separates them more from the works of any other playwright than from each other, and sometimes they overlap in interesting ways: tragedies that contain humor, comedies that have heartbreaking moments, and histories with elements of each.Read More
The side of the highway is not where one expects anything meaningful to occur. It’s a place that exists entirely out of necessity, a place designed to only be relevant when something goes wrong. It’s a place of accidents, of malfunctions, of all the different little ways that unhappy coincidences can ruin days, months, lives.Read More
Taking a flight home is far from the most exciting thing most people will do in their lifetimes. Most of us have done it before, time after time, so often that it’s become something utterly routine. We look out our windows, watching home grow larger and larger in the window, and feel a profound sense of… all too often, nothing, really.Read More
People give up their seat on the subway all the time. Whether it’s because they feel an obligation to someone older or pregnant, because they want to do something nice for a stranger, or simply because their stop is coming up, people are constantly giving up their spot to another person.Read More
I remember that it was the first cool day we’d had in a while, and I probably have that to thank for this moment. Once again I was on the subway, early enough in the morning that Jesus himself could have gotten on at fourteenth street and I wouldn’t have noticed.Read More
It’s hard to notice anything as you’re heading to work. Not only is it early enough that sleep is still difficult to shake off, you’re trying to prepare yourself for the busy day ahead. Your mind is whirling with a thousand different thoughts and plans, and with its dulling from sleep this is akin to something a lawnmower trying to trim sidewalk.Read More
The New York City subway system is less a place than it is the physical manifestation of a stretch of time. It’s a place whose entire purpose is to ferry you from one place you actually wanted to be to a different place that you actually want to be.Read More
I honestly couldn’t tell you what I was coming home from that day. I can tell you that was in the middle of the afternoon, just as the weather was starting to get warm, and the subway station was more crowded than usual that day.Read More
I’m not sure what made me look backward as I was crossing the street that day to get to work. I don’t even remember the day, honestly, just that I was in a hurry and had a long day ahead of me. But I do remember looking back, and what I saw has stayed etched in my mind so perfectly that it might as well be framed on my wall.Read More
Trust me, everyone, I’m surprised too. Two blog posts delivered as promised two weeks? Am I alright? Is this the return of consistency? Well, now that the bottleneck of an intensive post about Beauty and The Beast is out of the way, I’d like to think so. But for anyone who kept count, it’s clear that that last post made eight, meaning that it’s time to move on from Close Reading Everything to a new series.Read More
It's finally time. Once again, I must apologize for not finishing this in any kind of timely manner, but the past few weekends have been a bit hectic with some personal issues sprinkled in to delay the writing of this. But we’ve gotten some time this weekend, so here we go: Beauty And The Beast.Read More
HOLY. SHIT. IT'S OUT. WE JUST GOT A NEW INFINITY WAR TRAILER AND IT LOOKS AMAZING AND I CAN'T HANDLE IT AND I WANT TO WATCH IT NOW!
Now that I've had my obligatory freak-out, I want to talk about what makes this trailer, attached below, so good and so much better than the Justice League trailer I examined a bit over a month ago. Specifically, I want to show how this trailer offers us two succinct, powerful, and believable emotional cores.Read More
As I'm sure just about all my readers are aware, the big box-office movie landscape is dominated by super-hero movies now, which in turn dominated by two competing entertainment companies: Marvel and DC. Marvel, of course, has been releasing success after success for pretty much the past ten yeas, while DC has been something of an underwhelming presence in theaters.Read More
Hi everyone! As everyone reading this is aware, last night was Super Bowl Sunday, otherwise known as advertising's biggest night. In the past few years the night's become something of a contest between the largest agencies, to one-up each other with creative, clever, and powerful ads from a bevy of multi-million dollar clients. With that said, as someone who works in advertising and watched the big game all the way through, I thought I'd gather up my five favorite ads of the night for you all here. Enjoy! Next week, we're back to our last two installments of Close-Reading Everything.
5. It's A Tide Ad
Sometimes originality is overrated. Kicked off by the video above, the central premise, that the sheer quantity of clean clothes in advertising means they're all secretly Tide ads, is genuinely interesting and clever. The campaign wasn't done with just a single video, however. In a display of exceedingly clever media buying, Tide placed short TV spots all throughout the night, replicating some of the most memorable ads from past Super Bowls but adding their own twist. It's a smart, fun, memorable campaign, and deserves to be recognized as such.
4. Celebrations To Come: The NFL
Another display of clever media buying, the NFL had some good fun. Throughout the game, viewers had been teased with short ads showing Eli Manning asking various members of his team if they were all prepared for an upcoming event we could only guess at. Then, late in the third quarter, the spot above played, paying off all the hype with a playfully hilarious, way over-the-top touchdown celebration as a salute to one of the more enjoyable aspects of football.
3. The Anti-Manifesto: Jeep
"Show, don't tell." That's the most fundamental piece of writing advice that exists, and for good reason. Bland exposition, narration, or expounding is always inferior to vivid description or figurative language. Jeep decided to embrace that with their Super Bowl spot, in which the capabilities of their newest stand as their manifesto. A strikingly simple video made even more striking when compared to the pontificating of certain other brands, this jeep ad is a refreshing change of pace, a powerful statement of brand identity, and genuinely interesting piece of film.
2. Doritos Blaze vs. Mountain Dew Ice
Sometimes, having a damn good time is the order of the day, and this advertisement is pretty much the very best version of that possible. From the hilarity of watching Peter Dinklage and Morgran Freeman lip sync a rap battle to the incredible way they each commit to their piece to the fun cameos in each, this spot seems like it must have been just as much fun to make as it is to watch and displays the high point of advertising as entertainment.
1. Good Odds: Toyota
It really doesn't get much better than this. A clever premise with a strong emotional core that gets executed to perfection, this ad manages to inspire and move in equal measure. This is everything a good TV spot can be when it wants to have an impact, an emotionally powerful, genuinely interesting, and potentially meaningful work of film that's just as wonderful to watch as it is memorable after it is watched. May everyone else in the industry follow their lead. (Also, it's worth mentioning that Toyota was absolutely on fire last night, and their "One Team" ad was also excellent.)
Let me know any of your favorites in the comments below!
With excitement and optimism,
Awkward advertising. At best, it refers to an ad either written or placed unfortunately, creating unintentional hilarity and circulating on Tumblr for a week or so before vanishing, never to be seen from again, like this well-intentioned Turkish Airlines banner that ended up with an entirely unintended message when actually realized in the real world:
At worst, though, it's something far more damaging and horrifying. Most recently, this was on display when H&M decided it was a good idea to dress a young black boy in a hoodie bearing this incredibly-racist-seeming message:
Most famously, however, advertising agencies failed this past year with the following Pepsi ad, that managed to be both profoundly insulting to anyone protesting genuine injustice and an incredibly demeaning message about the goals and methods of, and resistance faced by such protests:
It would be easy to tear this video apart as a complete artistic failure to accurately or powerfully represent what it wants to represent, between the trivializing of protests, the white savior complex it embodies, and the pathetic attempts to connect to a young demographic, but that's been done better elsewhere. Instead, I want to talk about who exactly is to blame for these incredible failures of advertising on every level.
It would be tempting to argue that these faux-pas in advertising are the fault of those who came up with them, the product of one bad egg or tone-deaf creative, and indeed the companies and agencies who produce them often act as if they were. Often in moments like this, when scandals of insensitivity or offense are brought to light, it's individuals who are fired, examples made of what becomes of them, their termination used as stand-in for a large-scale solution. This is a common trend in just about every field, in which those deeply embedded in the system excise a single part of it rather than examining problems with the broader system itself. The presented story is that this was the mistake of an individual whose removal will return the system to the happy, proper order that characterizes its normal state.
My own personal, experience, however, points to a problem far larger and more systemic. As a copywriter working in advertising myself, I can confirm that these videos, images, or campaigns NEVER leap fully-formed from the mind of whoever comes up with them into the world that receives them. I work on relatively small clients: a couple Broadway Musicals, an auto show, nothing colossally powerful in terms of reach. Nevertheless, the ideas that I come up and copy I write are subjected to round upon round of scrutiny. They're reviewed by my direct superior, the client services team, any designers that work on bringing my ideas to life and the client themselves. Many of these people see the idea more than once at multiple points in its creation, and any of whom could at any time make changes or push the idea in a different direction if they're uncomfortable with it. This has happened before, from things as large as an entire concept and as small as a quibble over diction. For a company like Pepsi, the chain of approval is undoubtedly far longer, and should without a shadow of a doubt be just as rigorous. That such disappointing and downright disturbing advertising, in the case of Pepsi and H&M, reached the public eye, is a sign that something is deeply wrong with the processes that birthed them. Either the teams coming up with these advertising campaigns have no one on them able to recognize how these pieces of work are deeply problematic, or those people raising those concerns aren't listened to. Both of these possibilities are downright terrifying, because they represent incredibly pervasive works of art being produced by artists either unable or unwilling to actually empathize with respect, or understand the people most often consuming it. In other words: people come up with shitty ideas all the time. The real danger arises when they aren't told it's a shitty idea.
Instead of ending with some kind of meta-analysis to back up my point (practically my entire professional career performs this analysis), I want to make a plea about just how much this matters. You see, advertising, while an often regarded as something of a compromised or second-class form of expression or storytelling, is an incredibly powerful one. Most ads are watched by more people than most movies, and even the unremarkable ones can become a fixture in our shared experience. Don't believe me? Ask the person nearest to you who Flo or the Colonel Sanders are, or what McDonald's or Burger King's tagline is, or which athletic footwear company dominates the public perception. Advertising is ubiquitous, a truly powerful force in our world that occupies as much space in our shared experience as any show or movie or book. Ads have an incredible power to shape culture, and thus an incredible responsibility to do it well, to make sure that they foster a culture worth having. When advertising offends or demeans or degrades, the effects aren't minor, the victims aren't imaginary. Just as the first gay couple or interracial couple in a commercial can be truly empowering for their real-life counterparts, Insensitive or uncaring advertising can do very real damage to the younger viewers who find themselves molded by it. If the teams producing advertising for an increasingly diverse country and world aren't diverse themselves or able to empathize with a diverse world, then they need to change. For their own sake, and ours.
Before we get started: this blog post will contain some pretty hefty spoilers for 2017's version of IT, and will seriously mess with your ability to be as scared of it as you should be. If you haven't seen it, I'd suggest watching before you read this. The first image is also a touch graphic.
I HATE horror movies. Seriously, whether it’s because I have an overactive imagination or am overly sensitive to the noise and sudenness that comprises jump-scares, even horror trailers (and writing this blog post) mess with my sleep schedule for days. IT, though, is different... at least in part. while I spent the first hour or so in a permanent state of goosebumps-inducing terror, practically screaming at every jump-scare and recoiling from every horror, I found myself less and less scared as the movie rolled on. In fact, as the credits rolled I found myself feeling more uplifted than I had at the end of almost any movie I’d watched over the past year, and I remain convinced that this was no accident. I didn’t become less scared because the movie was poorly made or because I had simply grown immune to its charms, I became less scared because the film wanted me to. In fact, every aspect of this film is very consciously designed to terrify you at first glance, and then slowly terrify you less and less as the movie goes on, horror giving way to hope.
Let’s start with the antagonist himself, Pennywise the demon(? monster? just badly in need of a dentist?) clown. Everything about him is designed to be incredibly scary at first encounter, but less and less so as time goes on. Take, for example, his killing of Georgie Denbrough, which comprises the first scene of the movie. The beginning of this scene, which consists of Pennywise convincing, Georgie to reach down into the sewer in the hopes of retrieving his paper boat, is already the famously scary basis for the movie's trailers. What's left out, though, in order to make audiences actually come see the film, is just how that scene ends: Pennywise unhinges his jaw to reveal an absolutely hideous set of teeth and bites off Georgie's arm before killing him:
This is, undeniably, about as terrifying as the film could go in its opening scene. Watching this hitherto human-seeming clown morph into a savage beast to literally bite a child's arm off is downright, jump-out-of-your seat terror inducing. However, it's important to note that in doing so, the film plays its hand rather early about Pennywise being a viscerally physical monster. You see, there's something undeniable about monsters: they become less and less scary the more you know about them, and we know quite a bit about our monstrous clown in the very opening scene. As such, his monstrous qualities, while they utterly horrify us at first, terrify us less and less each time they are revealed. By the fourth or fifth time Pennywise reveals his pearly whites it's less scary than it is almost funny, the dental version of a clown car. His more terrifying apparitions as well, that one a headless young boy and a hideous flute player, appear toward the beginning of the film, one never to be seen again and another to be seen only once more. For a creature who can take any shape, Pennywise certainly confines himself to a limited number of guises, allowing us to become familiar enough with them that they no longer scare us. Pennywise is most certainly a monster, but the film takes away his teeth over time, paradoxically enough, by showing them off just a bit too much.
Another terrifying and central aspect of this movie is how its human antagonists are represented as surrogates for Pennywise's evil, whether it's done through subtle staging and facial acting to create a sense of dread, as it is when Eddie Kaspbrak's mother tries to prevent him from joining his friends to confront Pennywise one final time:
Or by hinting at sexual and physical abuse, as is the case for Beverly Marsh's father:
Or, most obviously, in Pennywise's manipulating Henry Bowers, the boy who's been mercilessly bullying the loser's club all film long, into killing his own father and trying to do the same to all of them as well.
That these characters are so bone-chillingly perfect manifestations of evils great and small is one of the biggest reasons why this movie works so incredibly well as a horror flick. This is how evil most often works in real life, acting through the people around us, and this element of realism helps make the more fantastic evil in the film feel all the more real as well. However, it's also a huge part of what makes the movie so uplifting. After all, humans can be confronted and overcome, as all three of the examples I just provided are. Eddie defies his overprotective mother and joins to rest of his friends in their final assault, Beverly smashes a sink into her father's face as he tries to hurt her in a moment that had me literally cheering, and Mike Hanlon, the black boy who's taken the brunt of Henry's racist bullying throughout the movie, shoves his tormentor down a well in self-defense. That all three of these occurrences happen as part of the leadup to the loser's club final victorious confrontation with Pennywise, AND that the tormentors defeated therein are vanquished not by outside help but by the very people they torment, is absolutely and utterly central to the film's message and tone. In other words, IT tells us two things: first, that evil can be found all around us, in other people as easily as demons and monsters, and that it's just as scary, if not more so, in the people. Second, though, and more importantly, IT tells us not only that evil people can be confronted and defeated, but that confronting and defeating them is the first step in a journey that leads inevitably to confronting and defeating evil itself.
Finally, I want to examine a moment toward the end of the film that, for me, cemented it as an incredibly hopeful affair. Our female protagonist, Beverly, has been captured by Pennywise and brought to his lair, where she remains transfixed by his power, dead to the world, when she's discovered by the other members of the “loser’s club” like this:
They pull her down to the ground but she remains transfixed, unable to see or hear anything at all, despite their frantic attempts to get through to her. Eventually, the youngest of the group, who’s harbored a secret crush on her since just about the first moment he laid eyes on her kisses her in an act of utter and complete desperation, hoping it will somehow break the sway Pennywise has over her. It’s a childish, desperate act. something ripped from the pages of a fairy-tale by a child young enough to still believe they might apply to the real world, something only the cheesiest of stories would subscribe to as a genuine tactic for defeating villains. But here’s the thing. In IT, it actually works. Beverly is woken out of her trance, the two share a tender moment, and we proceed to watch a group of seven children kick the absolute shit out of their ancient, mystical, and powerful antagonist to win the day. It’s a moment that only plays out in fairytales, and it plays out in IT. How could we not read that as profoundly uplifting?
Now, of course, we come to the moment in which we must see whether my analysis holds up as the conscious intention of the filmmakers when examined in the context of the work as a whole, and here I’ll turn to the experience the child protagonists of the story that we see play out on-screen. Much like us, they’re all utterly terrified of Pennywise when they first encounter him. They don’t stay so for long, though, quickly coming together to confront the demon in their neighborhood’s haunted house and, eventually, Pennywise's subterranean lair beneath that house. As this story progresses, we watch their fear melt away, to be replaced by anger and determination. Indeed, each individual child gets a moment to both recognize that Pennyswise's power over them exists only as long as they fear him, as well as refute or exert their control over that fear. By the time they confront him in the film's finale, they've conquered their fear, and conquering the monster is almost a foregone conclusion as a result. They’ve seen the monster of evil and learned to hate it rather than fear it, and we have alongside them. Our experience of the horror they face mirrors their own, and this, more than anything, is a sign to me that this movie is designed, from its skin all the way down to the core, as a profoundly uplifting tale. How’s that for a plot twist?
With excitement and optimism,