Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

How to Be an Asshole Without Even Trying

Some years back, I worked in advertising.

This was before 'Mad Men,' so it wasn't a fad thing. It was a real thing. I really thought I'd be good at advertising, and not in an ironic way. However, in a very unironic way, it turned out I was woefully unqualified for the ad world--one of my first tasks was to sell myself, for instance, which I couldn't do, and failed to get jobs at several top agencies despite top-notch recommendations; another early task was to help sell Swiffers and I was even worse at that.

Swiffers, by the way, are one of the more mundane conspiracies pushed upon the American public. Not as huge as 9/11 conspiracies or JFK conspiracies, but they're pretty prevalent. If you own a Swiffer, make sure you keep it in a closet. Don't let it enjoy the freedom afforded to your run-of-the-mill brooms and mops, which may linger in the corners of your kitchen for days or years without revealing anything about you to focus groups. Swiffers are observing you. They are collecting data, and that data is being parsed by many people so that they may work out how to sell you more Swiffers. Brooms and mops are simply in the corner; the Swiffer is counting how many times your children open the refrigerator, or how many times your spouse simply grabs a dirty glass for a quick drink of water instead of reaching for a clean one.

Swiffers are not cleaning implements. They are data collection devices. Buy one, and you are in a demographic, not a kitchen.

Truth.

(Not 'truth,' really. I didn't try to sell you Swiffers. But I felt as if I did. Really, is there anything so useless as a Swiffer? And spending three hours looking up images to match the word 'comfort' did me in. So long, advertising.)

(For the record, this image is what I came up with for 'comfort')

I was reminded of my time in advertising just today when Greg said, of a recent night watching movies, "There were three people watching what you chose for us, and two of the people were very uncomfortable."

It's true. Three of us--me, Greg, and a friend--spent Thursday night watching movies, each of us choosing one film to foist upon the other, and my selection made both Greg and the friend uncomfortable. I was unaware of just how uncomfortable both Greg and the friend were. I was too in love with the film to notice.

To be fair to me: the film is supposed to make one uncomfortable. That's part of its charm. Todd Solondz's Happiness is a notoriously uncomfortable film. And I, for whatever reason, do not like being comfortable. Which is possibly why my visual definition of 'comfort' is a puppy sleeping on a plastic bottle.

Even now, I'm typing this while sitting in an Iron Maiden with my legs bent behind my back and a white-hot poker pressed against my left buttock. Talk about uncomfortable!

Our friend brought over three movies: Airplane!, The Muppet Movie, and State and Main. He was for some reason under the impression that I had not seen Airplane! ("Don't call me surely") or The Muppet Movie. He also knew I've been very down on David Mamet since Mamet's recent declaration to become a Swiffer... or, rather, since Mamet's denouncement of All Things Liberal. 

Given the choice of three movies--which, admittedly, was a nice thing for the friend to do, since I later just declared my own choice of viewing, and did not present anyone with a choice of three films--I went with State and Main, a pedestrian satire on the Hollywood film industry that in no way compares to the master-class satire of Altman's The Player or even the avuncular satire of Alan Alda's Sweet Liberty.

Seriously, as far as satires of The Biz go, State and Main is a notch under the film version of Noises Off, even if Alec Baldwin is preserved at his since-diminished prime hotness. State and Main is to showbiz satires what Grandpa Simpson is to dentures: toothless.

Happiness, however, is a hard sell. Its treatment of pedophilia alone makes one squirm, and in fact did make advertisers squirm. But then there's the treatment of the female characters--the film is, as Greg observed, the anti-Hannah and Her Sisters, as it tracks the relationships of three sisters and their dysfunctional, elderly parents  over the course of a year (or so). "There's no Hannah," Greg said at one point during our very uncomfortable viewing of Happiness. "This film needs a Hannah."

Our friend, watching from the recliner, mumbled something about how the film seemed to be an art-house movie, which I denied. He texted and fiddled with his phone. At the end of the film, he jetted out of the apartment, and Greg made his way to the bedroom for sleep.

The next day, Greg pointed out, quite rightly, that I'd chosen a film he didn't need to see again. This came up in a conversation where I discovered that some amusement parks have a 'single rider' line.

"That's what we do," I said. "We can go to Six Flags and pretend not to know one another, and get through the lines faster."

Swiffer the lines.

"You don't really get companionship, do you?" Greg responded.

"What do you mean? The ride is the thing. That's what we're experiencing. Why do we need to sit together? It's like--"

"The whole point is to experience something together. I'm not--"

"--going to a movie that's sold out. You don't have to sit beside one another. You're going to the movie. The movie is the thing, not the proximity of seating. You're going to see--"

"--you don't need to defend yourself. You just don't get companionship. Sharing the experience means you are together, sharing the experience. You don't take the next car, or sit three rows behind."

"You realize I've spent most of my life riding rides with my glasses off, right? The queen of England could be sitting beside me and I wouldn't know it."

"You don't--"

"It has an isolating effect."

"--need to defend yourself. I'm just saying you don't understand companionship. It's why I feel lonely sometimes."

"Okay."

When Happiness was released, it was a hard sell. It played in a few theatres, unrated, because if it had gotten a rating it would have been NC-17, which, because of our Swiffer culture, would have meant death to the movie. The recently late Roger Ebert loved the film. Gave it four stars. He was a great ad man.

If there is ever a demographic for 'uncomfortable,' I may give advertising a shot. Until then, here's a puppy sleeping on a pillow rather than a plastic bottle.




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