I Watched Too Much TV

The Super Bowl is today, which means two things:

  1. We’re in the second half of winter.
  2. We’re going to be seeing some very expensive TV commercials.

I am still haunted by memories of people saying, in reference to the Super Bowl, “I only watch it for the ads.” As weird as that motive is, it’s a real one, as demonstrated by the frequent January airing of TV specials that consist entirely of Super Bowl ads from the past periodically interrupted by non–Super Bowl ads from the present.

In lieu of analyzing or criticizing the multimillion-dollar TV spots that are going to air today, I would like to acknowledge a handful of ads out there now that I think were done well. This is basically my way of justifying all the time I spent watching TV in January.

Princess Cruises

I haven’t been married but I can understand the feeling conveyed in this ad. I’ve been in a relationship, gotten comfortable, fallen into routines, and let those routines lead me to believe that I completely understood the person across from me. Love follows a seemingly inevitable march: the exhilarating chaos of the beginning gives way to an order that history arranges. The uncertainty and mystery and constant flow of discoveries—the precious ephemera that mark early courtship—peter out over time. But travel is an antidote because (A) it makes routine impossible and (B) it exposes you to unfamiliar situations and new ideas. I think Princess makes the case for travel beautifully in this ad.

Chicago P.D.

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I’ve watched Chicago P.D., so I can say, with authority, that the police officer character who appears on the ad is a gruff guy, one who the writers would have likely injected with a Tony Soprano–like vocabulary were they not bound to network-TV rules. So this ad actually makes sense. I like it because it has an edge (I’m not sure I need to spell this out, but **** stands for “fuck”) that isn’t arbitrary (the Chicago flag is decorated with four horizontal stars, which I will now read as an expletive every time I pass one).

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Bank of America

I’d say this ad is the weakest of the three in its ability to convert customers. But it’s the most interesting in its structure and cinematography.

In the shot when the guy says hi to the flower vendor, the light flashes into the frame in a way that powerfully evokes a particular time of day: that hour or so between the end of the work day and the beginning of a night. The time is reiterated in the long shadow in front of him as he walks west toward the cab. This is mainly important because this, early evening, is notorious for its air of possibility (unless you are a married man, in which case “there is nothing to do but go home and drink your nine drinks and forget about it”).

In the back of the cab, the guy stares at the bouquet and, as if thinking to himself that it might be excessive, pulls out a single daisy. He slides his credit card through the reader and gets out with the daisy, leaving the rest of the bouquet in the back of the cab. In doing so, he leaves a puzzle for the next fare.

The guy goes into an apartment building and hurries up the stairs. When the apartment door opens, all we’re shown is the look on the his face, a brief, tentative smile that’s no less enigmatic than the Mona Lisa‘s. I’m not saying this just to transgressively champion something so calculated as a bank commercial over a great work of art (though that is part of my motivation). Mainly, I don’t think people should dismiss this ad’s artistic merits just because it’s an ad. It’s a pleasure to watch, and doesn’t hit you over the head with stupid and desperate narration. The only voice-over is “We know we’re not the center of your life. But we’ll do our best to help you connect to what is.” I like that. This is a bank that knows its limits.

The Mind’s Deepest Cuts

I’m chock full of wishes. I wish I could unwatch Louie, unread Nausea, unhear “Crap Kraft Dinner.” Because with every viewing/reading/listening, their effects ease up like knives going dull.

My brain is plastic. Not synthetic, but easily changed.

The plasticity of brains is often described in reference to learning. Repeating an action or a piece of information creates and later strengthens neural pathways that make it easier to repeat or recall in the future. This is why it’s important to not put negative thoughts or traumatic events on a loop in your mind’s eye. It works with art, too.

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How does it make you feel?

I may love a film enough to watch it two or three times. But by the third time, I barely react to it. It’s boring. I know exactly what’s supposed to come next, whether it’s a laugh in response to a funny line or an ache brought on by a striking shot. Remember the Carousel scene from Mad Men? Did anyone not get the chills when they saw that the first time? By the third time, does anyone react the same way?

In Nausea, there’s a scene where the protagonist is reminiscing. Then,

“I stop suddenly: there is a flaw, I have seen a word pierce through the web of sensations. I suppose that this word will soon take the place of several images I love. I must stop quickly and think of something else; I don’t want to tire my memories. In vain; the next time I evoke them a good part will be congealed.”

And though I love that passage, it doesn’t affect me the way it did the first time I read it. With each revisit, it’s a little less potent. I’m mad at myself for even typing it out. That was about three reads’ worth of congealment.

When I first heard “Crap Kraft Dinner” by Hot Chip, coming from campus radio to my then-boyfriend’s car stereo, it resonated. I downloaded it as soon as I could. As the play count rose, the synapses associated with that song became stronger, and then too strong. Now I can hear every note before I’m even hearing it. It’s like a drug rendered impotent by overuse.

If something once brought you joy, it’s hard to give it up and unsatisfying to settle for the quasi-joy conditioned and delivered by a hardened neural pathway. Novelty is the key to another path, the ticket to prolonged satisfaction.

This is why a live or cover version can be more emotionally stirring than the original, even if it’s actually worse. This is the only imaginable reason why anyone would watch Glee. This, combined with increased access to simple audio-editing programs, is why mashups became so popular this century.

There’s a tragedy involved in making art: creating it, and attempting to perfect it, involves seeing/reading/hearing it over and over and over over the course of the process. So (s)he who creates it, whether it’s a painting or a song, will never know what it’s like to experience the final product for the first time.

We Speak American

Totally random. Whatnot. Shit, son. Life’s too short. It is what it is. Word. I can’t even. I’m over it.

Fair enough.

Totally. How about finishing that sentence with an actual word? I am not your son, I don’t shit on command, and you sound like an idiot. Wrong! Is it? Which one? Can’t you? Obviously not.

That describes nothing.

I Was Wrong

This post is a partial retraction of this post from 11/23.

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Chicago Fashion Week

I think it’s safe to say these people have all stopped exploring.

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