Thursday, July 13, 2006

Advertising is what this country runs on, and that’s fine and well with us. The lounge and waiting room here at D.M.T. Plaza has a 72-inch plasma screen that runs nothing but our favorite ads1, night and day, so rich is the American imagination for the finest sorts of hucksterism and extreme con-jobbery2.

But recently there are have been certain marketing campaigns that strike as so pretentious, false and intelligence-testing that even we dream of public broadcasting. Worse, though, are recent trends toward giving humans their own brand labels. When this was restricted to individual celebrities (“Puff Daddy” begat “P. Diddy” begat just “Diddy” and so on)3, the world was fine ’n’ dandy, but now that our kids come home and declare themselves “T-OZ” and the like, well, it’s time to speak up.

And before the fur starts to fly, we just want to reiterate that the Big King still holds the title for Greatest-Slash-Most-Disquieting Ad Campaign in Recent Memory (see D.M.T. Super Bowl Edition). Thus: recent disquieting modern trends in marketing.

Those Oval Euro-Stickers on Cars with a Few Initials in Them That Stand for Some Resort Town (or, These Days, Pretty Much Anywhere)
We first starting noticing this trend up and down the Atlantic coastway, where all the nicest cars seemed to sport back-window stickers—a white oval edged in a double black line—with the initials “OBX.” We did not know what this meant at first because (natch) we did not then have the privilege of imagining that it could possibly be worth it to drive twice as long as necessary to get to the Atlantic Ocean just so you could boast about the place. When we finally broke down and asked, our neighbors and friends eyed the dirt under our fingernails and simply said, “The Outer Banks, of course!” 4

But now those exasperating stickers are everywhere, sporting initials not only for every cheap beach town in existence but also every suburb,5 every low-down beer garden and even, we swear to you, one in which the oval is filled with “Exit 10” for a spot on the New Jersey Turnpike. It should be known the white oval is a rip-off of the stickers put on European cars to designate a nation of origin, and so the whole trend carries a snootier-than-thou BMW aftertaste. But before we even get to the elitism-reduced-to-widespread-trend problem, there is the unwholesome and creepy sense that these stickers further demonstrate how Americans more and more dislike each other, taking every opportunity to distance themselves from anyone even slightly different than they are6. Can it be long before we all simply tattoo these ovals on our chests, with our own initials over our breastbone? Look, everybody: if everybody has one of these stickers then, kinda like those yellow Lance Armstrong bracelets that have finally passed into pet-rock oblivion, they ain’t cool any more.

Turning the Names of Two Celebrities Who Are Dating into One Hybrid Name

“Benifer”? “Brangelina”?


We should not have to tell you but, if this is allowed to continue, your parents will soon be known as “Stevebeth” or “Billverley.” And that is just not right.

Celebrities already have unfathomable wealth and power, not to mention the ability to get a publisher for any children’s book they happen to think up while standing in the shower. But to give them the privilege of forming solid and more marketable unions with other celebrities and then granting those unions what amounts to independent celebrity status on their own—it’s the equivalent of giving Pamela Anderson a third boob.

Retail Chains with Their Own Radio Stations

The best thing about Muzak was this: it was always commercial-free7. Sure, maybe you had to put up with a version of “Paperback Writer” featuring oboe and flute with a flowzy vibes solo, but you did not have to put up with this: “Hey, that was Jim Croce with ‘Bad, Bad Leroy Brown’ on CVS Radio, bringing you the best of yesterday and today as well as 20% off of wart remover in aisle six!” We—and this might surprise you—really would actually like to see LESS music in the world where music is not the point, though we pride ourselves on being able to grok any tune however deeply hidden in instrumentation, or better yet to identify which band should have been assigned the cover if the original were not on hand8. We also would like to note that Muzak actually does very little of the Paul Mauriat-swinging-strings thing any more, instead assembling custom mixes of original recordings with licenses etc. for spinning according to the particular demographic the mall store etc. seeks to sway into retail fervor. Which means what we REALLY like to do now is to go into the mall and try to tell by the Muzak who the store thinks we are—or otherwise put, if we are in the RIGHT store, because we would not want to shop outside our demographic, ever. Too much work has been put into ensuring that “That Which Is Ours” will fill our every unarticulated need to ever fuck with anything else. So when we don’t know what’s on the Muzak—we are outta there, and fast. But to use music not merely to place an irreducible generational stamp but actually to seduce us into fraudulently induced consumer bliss—this cannot stand.

Abbreviating a Name by Using the First Initial and the First Syllable of the Last Name (like “T-Mac”)

As far as we can tell, this started as some kind of hip-hop thing (J.Lo9.), and then there was A-Rod, and then it spread to the N.B.A. and now, with lightning speed, your aunt Sadie Dubrowski is suddenly known as “S-Dub” in her mah-jongg club. What gives?

We are all about some nicknames, and—in an era when nicknaming has acquired the dubious cache of something not-very-bright men do when they find themselves President, hopelessly outgunned, and desperately hoping the genial Everyman shtick that played in the State house might see him through the end of a second undeserved term—that’s saying something. Talk about branding. Oy, right on his lilywhite ass we would like to see a branding.

But if you do the nickname thing, we want good nicknames. Real ones. We venture these guidelines for knowing whether or not your nickname is, in fact, real.

A.      It was given to you before you left grade school. (Only authorized if you still know at least two of the people you knew in grade school. In which case it was probably given during a game of sandlot baseball, which is even better. If you are old enough to use the word “sandlot,” why are you reading this column, BTW.? You seem to have wandered dangerously out of your demographic [see, infra, our discussion of Muzak]. No good can come of that. As we can tell you, we are pushing the upper edge of hip enough to hang with the Y.P.R. crowd, and we aren’t that old.)

B.     It was given to you in an alcohol-fueled mishap that could have killed you but, having survived, you are authorized to bear its trace in a proud nickname the origin of which can never be uttered around your wife’s parents.

C.      It was given you by your mother.

And that’s IT.

Globalization and Low-Low Import Tariffs Leading to Kid’s Meal Promotional Items That Would Have Cost Upwards of $200 Twenty Years Ago

We here refer to the elaborate and positively functional Over the Hedge Kid’s Meal watches that the young humans have recently been scoring at Wendy’s. These little items keep excellent time and include a date function, which the toddling generation will find helpful if it ever gets over the developmental hump that makes them understand only “now” with blissful ignorance re: “tomorrow” or “yesterday.” All in a chartreuse plastic case featuring an engaging little raccoon, with a Velcro, coonskin-stripe band to match. AWEsome! We actually said this when catching one of these babies in person a while ago, and realizing that our own watches—purchased for real money and marketed to adults—were sadly Velcro-free. The problem here, then, is not that our children are being given worthless crap as inducement to eat hideously unhealthful but gloriously addictive and over-salted food, but that we are jealous of our own sons and—in some kind reverse-Oedipal lurch of super-creepy parental oversight—have found ourselves trying on the Hedge Watch while the poor lads are sleeping. And here’s the thing: it fits.

Next Edition: The Fact That You No Longer Have to Sign Your Credit Card Slips Which Suggests That, in Fact, You Never Really Had to Sign the Damned Things at All Even Though, for Years, They Made It Seem Like You Absolutely DID.

1Currently, we are running several of those Apple computer ads with the square guy who is the PC and the gently-nerdy-yet-hip guy (the actor from Dodgeball who helped out the cheerleading squad) who is the Mac. We are especially fond of the one with the "digital camera" peripheral, spicy little tuna roll that she is. We don't have to tell you that Steve Jobs and his Apple Nation are geniuses at marketing but, apparently, not geniuses at selling. Though we ourselves love the Apple products, we take a perverse delight in the fact that America is still so cheap and so basically square that even a better product promoted by an infinitely better ad campaign cannot outsell the cheap computing rotgut being peddled by everyone else. Thus, a Wal-Mart fortune is made.

2U.S.A.! U.S.A.! (We hope you will allow us this bit of jingoistic chanting now because we want to get it out of our system now that the World Cup is through and the U.S. team was properly eliminated as is the rest of the world's gleeful wont. By the way, we realize that it is hip and happenin' to appreciate the beauty and grace and international intrigue of "football" and that in 20 years our own kids will mock us for ever bitching about the fact that it is mind-numbingly dull like in a chess match/Valium sort of way and that the lack of scoring is, in fact, a riveting element of the game's un-American charm and anti-capitalistic élan, but . . . we'll be watching baseball well into October and have no time for games that are designed to have no TV timeouts and thus limit our consumption of processed, fried and/or artificially-cheesed snack products.) U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

3 Let us here pay loving tribute to the early pioneers of personal branding by name. Though recent trends repel us, we stand in awe of those icons of our childhood who understood the power of one good name. All hail, for example, Wladziu Valentino Liberace, a young classical pianist who knew that dropping those first two losers (first name: awful, middle name: taken) and wearing a wheelbarrow full of rings was just what America wanted from him. And Cherilyn Sarkisian, who just turned 60 and knew that marrying a short dude named Sonny and losing all but her first four letters was show-biz gold. And though his recent descent into MOR "jazziness" makes our skin crawl with Elton John-in-giant-sunglasses-queasiness, is there any doubt that Gordon Sumner was a more likely rock star under the moniker "Sting"?

4The "Outer Banks" of North Carolina have always seemed to us like some exotic locale that existed mainly so that folks in the Washington, D.C. area could prove that they were more important than all the schmoes who vacationed in Ocean City, Maryland, or up the Jersey Shore. Until there is a down-to-Earth rocker who hails from the Outer Banks, who is under five-ten, and who looks good in a pair of jeans, we're sticking to Wildwood Crest, where the smell of coconut tanning lotion in July is like a mad hormonal call to arms for guys named Sal and the beautiful babies named Andrea.

5On a personal note, one of us lives in a suburb outside D.C. called "Bethesda" and sees stickers all over town with the oval containing the capital letter "B." It seems to us that if your location cannot produce a groovy little acronym of more than one letter, you should be legally stopped from generating these stickers. "B"? It was bad enough when the President of the United States started going by the single initial "W.", but is every podunk Mayberry R.F.D. now going to claim one of our precious 26? New York can have "N.Y.C." and we'll dole out "L.A." to, well L.A. But single initials: no can do. (Please for to note: the lone "B" on the baseball cap of the Boston Red Sox is no exception. We could do a whole year of columns on the disquietude of the people--NOT FROM BOSTON--who started wearing Sawx Caps two years ago, and several of those columns would be devoted to decrying the propagation of baseball caps in various pastel colors NOT associated with the team just so that more lovely ladies would wear them, with one special column devoted to the horror of that Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore vehicle, Fever Pitch, (based, by the fucking way, on a Nick Hornby book of the same name about--ahem, see Footnote 2, supra--SOCCER!?!) which turned baseball into a cute romantic-comedy fetish when, in fact and as everyone decent knows, it is a glorious steroid-enhanced metaphor for sex.)

6Despite the fact that something like 45% of the people the "red states" voted Democratic, and vice versa, we seem certain that geography is destiny in this country. Our view, surely a more enlightened one, is that comedy is destiny. The country was going pretty-pretty well when Seinfeld was on the air--the smartest and best-written show to be awesomely popular in, well, ever. Maybe you were getting sick of it at the end, but you still knew it was great. Today--with the country mired in a pointless war and seen around the world as a greedy aggressor led by a nimwit madman--the fastest-growing comedy phenom is a guy in a sleeveless flannel shirt who asks "You ever fart so hard your back cracks?" and speaks in a bogus cracker accent to the delight of people who should know better. Git 'r done? We rest our case, Cable Guy.

7Muzak, as surely everyone knows by now, is a commercial service that companies can buy--a seamless flow of utterly inoffensive music that acts like sonic wallpaper for an office or store. Maybe it makes workers more productive or customers more loose with their wallets, we don't know (though we're certain that the Muzak executives have studies done that confirm it). Synonymous with musical cheese, Muzak--by today's standards--is an act of civic restraint and public-mindedness.

8Apropos to nothing, since one of us is currently undergoing a full-swing re-crush on the music of early Van Halen, we would really have liked it if somehow we could have heard the Beatles cover the shredding "Feel Your Love Tonight" from Van Halen I. Seriously! Hear those Rickies chiming . . . and the harmonies! Sublime. We wonder if John and Paul didn't ghostwrite it.

9We realize, by the way, that Jennifer Lopez is about as "hip-hop" as Sinatra, and we take this opportunity to publicly lament the expansion of the concept of hip-hop culture to include basically anything that makes white people uneasy. We're not exactly sure when it became cool to say "hip-hop" rather than "rap," and we figure that's cool because maybe that's the point--guys like us aren't supposed to know. But we don't think that curvy pop chanteuses like Jennifer Lopez should be accorded the title just because they get a rapper to do a guest verse on one song. Until Jenny-on-the-Block marries Flava Flav and gets a huge pocket watch tattooed on her backside, we say that she is a pop diva whose finest moment remains her role opposite George Clooney in 1998's Out of Sight.

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