As long as people will accept crap, it will be financially profitable to dispense it.- Dick Cavett

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Battle Of The Network Stars- 21st Century Edition

Commisars and Pin-Striped Bosses roll the dice, anyway they fall guess who gets to pay the price?

In the latter part of the middle of the last century, when I was a child...I'm old...saturday morning was almost too good to bear. I'd be up at the crack of dawn, the TV set on, still showing the test pattern with the picture of the Indian in his headress ,(we didn't have 24 hour programming back then, or infomercials...We didn't even have racial sensitivity and we called Native Americans 'Indians') waiting for the cartoons to start.

I loved saturday morning cartoons. I loved everything about them. I even loved the sponsors who were kind enough to provide the colorful bounty, most of them cartoon characters themselves. Thank you Cap'n Crunch! God bless you, Trix Rabbit! And yes...YES...YES! Yes, I DO want my milk to turn 'choclatey' in the bowl, Cocoa Puffs Cuckoo! Thank you for asking!

Almost all the commercials were for breakfast cereal, and they all wanted only two things in this world...1) To give me the energy I needed to be a kid, and 2) To give me toys. Just GIVE them to me! Either right there inside the box, or in trade for a couple of measly box tops. Worthless box tops! We were just gonna throw them away anyhow!

It was a paradise. All my cartoon friends and I got along, and we all lived in a harmonious, mutually beneficial society.

Except for Quisp and Quake:

These guys could NOT get along! It was always a fierce competition with them, each trying to convince us that their cereal was superior. Sometimes going so far as to invade one another's commercials!

As far as my sister and I were concerned, this was the conflict of the ages. There was no way to reconcile this chasm between these two vastly different pitchmen, the spaceman with a 'quazy' attitude and the down-to-earth rugged Quake. Even their boxes proclaimed their diametric opposition, with Quisp (my choice) a spacy liberal blue, and Quake (my sister's vote), with his red box and John Birch-like construction helmet. We argued about the relative merits of our man with passion and fervor, each declaring the other's cereal gross and inedible. My poor mother was forced to buy both, to keep the peace, lest cereal civil war break out at our table.

Of course both of these products were not only manufactured by the same company, Quaker Oats, but were made of identical ingredients, corn meal and staggering amounts of high fructose corn syrup. The only difference were the packages and the shapes.

These battles went on at our house until the day my mom read an article that quoted Ralph Nader as saying that all of these cereals were like "giving a kid a vitamin pill and a shot of whiskey." She stopped buying that kind of stuff altogether, and my sister and I patched things up, as we now had a common enemy: Corn Flakes. Although I'm still pretty 'blue', and she's a little on the 'red' side.

Oh yeah...There's a big commotion going on right now between Seth MacFarlane and Sarah Palin. It's a big controversy centered around the sensitive subject of developmental disabilities. The two combatants both are very influential figures in popular culture, with Seth being irreverant and brash while Sarah is....I don't know...Reverant and brash.

Anyway, both have large followings, one for his cartoon shows on Fox Network, which is owned by News Corp, the other for her frequent appearances on, and her high profile contract with Fox News Network, which is owned by News Corp.

A lot of sources I respect and rely on for information (Bill Maher, Huffington Post, Truth Dig) have all come out gleefully chortling at Seth 'sticking it to' Sarah, and her phony outrage, and her frequent use of her Down's Syndrome child as a political football. And I don't disagree with the sentiment. And of course Bill O'Reilly and Sarah Palin are discussing it on Fox News and and the controversy escalates and escalates until it explodes, covering Rupert Murdoch (and Sarah and Seth) in a pile of money and influence.

Ralph Nader already tried to explain this to us a couple of times, don't make me call my mom.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Media Medusa Pt.1

Same as it Ever Was, Same as it Ever Was, Same. As. It. Ever. Was.

Whenever I find myself having a reasonable discussion on advertising (which is often), I invariably arrive at the same reasonable conclusion; Everyone in 'marketing' should be herded up and driven over a cliff like lemmings.

And at the bottom of the cliff there should be broken glass, in case any of them survive the fall.

And the glass should be covered in salt, so they can really think about what they did, in the time they have left.

At first blush, this sounds a little extreme, I know. Bear with me.

It's not hard to get me going on this subject. All that's needed is to turn on the TV, or the radio, or open a magazine, log onto a computer, attend a sporting event, see a bus, see a taxi, look inside the house, look OUTSIDE...Well, you get the idea. So in order to keep myself from ranting incoherently, I'm going to break it down in pieces of no particular order or size.

Today's installment: The Auto Industry

Between the U.S. and Canada, billions of dollars were pumped into bailing out the floundering corporations, a desperate attempt to save badly needed manufacturing jobs. Their business model, building cheap, shoddy, gadget-laden crap, had been going swimmingly for decades. Every year the corners that got cut in quality, which SHOULD have resulted in a loss of profits, got made up for with marketing savvy.

They stopped selling well-built, durable goods, and started selling us shiny, slickly designed 'lifestyle' accessories. Family cars gave way to behemoth SUV's, as commercials featured happy moms 'having it all' and driving through ravines and up mountains on the way home from soccer practice. Mountains, that incidentally, their children will never see, as they're watching Disney videos in the tv set in the back of the headrest! These kids couldn't find their way home from school, because they've never looked up to see the route!

I won't even go into the specifics of selling sportscars and oversized pick-up trucks to suburban men who'll only ever drive them to commute to the train station. It seems like forever since they began selling these as big-ticket Wonderbras for the ever insecure male phallus. A sociological phenomenom that has caused science and the pharma industry (a rant for another day) to dedicate themselves wholly to the search for the neverending middle-aged erection.

An automobile is a major purchase, in most anyone's budget. They should always have been going to great pains to assure us they got that. But they didn't. They hired marketers, who put together 'focus groups', and they waved doo-dads like OnStar and GPS, and brighter headlights than the other guy in their faces, and convinced themselves, the focus groups, and us (in that order) that those were the important components in making that investment.

And they started to fail. And when they did, instead of putting their faith and trust in a workforce that was proven, that had made them, they cut costs and workers to retain profit margins.

And they continued to fail. So we bailed them out. With very few conditions, and no demand for attrition.

So in a way, we all share a measure of blame, for the fact they remain unrepentent dirtbags. They haven't changed. It's not in them to admit mistakes. They've learned nothing. Because they didn't have to lose anything. They STILL wave shiny baubles in front of us, while we gurgle like babies staring at $30,000 mobiles, just out of reach above our crib.

I really hoped they would have re-evaluated the choices that led them to the brink of non-existence. But 2010 brought another year of asinine commercials urging us to buy a car...Sorry, that's BUY A GODDAMNED CAR because it will read our text messages to us. Or because the entertainment system is equipped with THX theater quality sound.

No,"Whoops, we get it. We'll fix it." No contrition. Just "Thanks for the cow. We used it to get more magic beans. Oh, and we ate the beans."

These guys nearly destroyed an industry that was created in America, and thrived for decades, and they did it by investing in smug, superficial marketing campaigns, because it was easier and more lucrative than building a decent product. And they'll continue to do it, until we hold their feet to the fire....

Which we should do after we herd them. Let them hop to the cliff.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Pigs In The Fox House

There's only one thing to do...Only one thing that's gonna do any good at all, and that's everybody just look at it...and turn your backs and say, "Fuck it." -Ken Kesey, Vietnam Day speech 1965

I'm a ratings guy. -Roger Ailes, Fox News Chairman, 2010

There's a tendency that we have as Americans, to never let the conflict go until we've destroyed the opposition utterly. It's a quality that by turns endears us to, and frustrates the rest of world. When we perceive injustice, (most particularly when we're the aggrieved party) we wade in with both fists, often for the sake of something as intangible as honor.

Or at least we like to think we do. These days we're more likely to make a great deal of noise about an issue, and move on. Today the offenses roll at us so fast, and from so many directions that we often feel overwhelmed. You spend 45 minutes on the phone before you speak to a human. Your insurance premiums have gone up. So has the interest rate on your bank card. We've become inured to being treated thoughtlessly by faceless corporate automatons. Sure, we get angry but it's not sustainable, because there's nowhere specific to direct it, and besides a newer, fresher outrage is always just around the corner.

We're the generation that invented outrage fatigue. We grumble, and we marvel at how much nerve they have treating us so callously. But then we give in. We pay the late charge, we agree to the Ticketmaster 'convenience fee', even while we're inventing new ways to curse them and wish them ill.

At most, we start a Facebook group decrying how shabbily we've been used; 'If We Get 1,000,000 Fans, Steve Jobs Has To Kiss A Mule's Butt', or 'Tell Congress To Legalize The Use Of Deadly Force For School Bus Drivers NOW!'. Maybe we sign a petition. And we feel we've done our part. Or at least made our voice heard. If nothing else we've shared our anger and frustration with like-minded people.

Or you can start another angry blog.

If you're liberal, or moderate, or just more in control of your faculties than say...Travis Bickle, you're already probably not getting your news from Fox. Their 24 hour cable channel is a non-stop nightmare of demented right-wing propaganda. It's no longer a viable subject of debate. It's a fully partisan valentine to basically any politician willing to sell himself to corporate oligarchy. And it's shamelessly so. They hired Sarah Palin!

So if you haven't already stopped reading this, it's likely that you're not watching Fox News.

I saw a clip recently of Roger Ailes defending his news service, with all the weapons you'd expect him to use. Highest ratings, harumph. Most Trusted News, harumph, his jowls jiggling below his shoulders, looking more hideous than a Ralph Steadman caricature of him ever could. His whole being seemed to radiate contempt that he should be bothered to explain himself to the unwashed masses. "I'm a ratings guy,"he says.

Well, maybe so. There's nothing you and I can do about the ratings of his nasty cable behemoth. We can't not watch any more than we already are. But you know what? He really pissed me off. I admit, when it comes to his company, and the things they stand for, I'm already fairly volatile. It takes very little to set me off. But his above-it-all demeanor, pushed me over the top (again).

So I've decided to stop availing myself of anything Fox. That's anything that's held by News Corp.

That's a lot of stuff, right? Some things that I'll really miss. I was a fan of Matt Groening when I found 'Life In Hell' in the Chicago Reader before there even was Fox Network, and I'm a shameless Simpsons fan-boy. Same with Futurama. Fox also holds the rights to broadcast NFL games, and for better-or-worse I'm a loyal Bears fan.

That also means I'll be checking for the 20th Century Fox logo before I attend, buy, or rent a movie.

Of course, I understand in this exciting technological age we live in, it's possible to find all these things online for free, anyway. Not that I would ever do that, or recommend anyone else do so. No matter how easy it is.

And it's really, really easy.

Look, all I'm saying is that I find Fox News practices odious enough, that I'm no longer willing to put ANY money in Rupert Murdoch's pocket. Last year in the 4th quarter, News Corp reported losses of $203 million. They're not wholly invulnerable. And while I don't believe that Roger Ailes is really "a ratings guy", so much as a slobbering tool, being used by a powerful foreigner to shape American culture and politics, I'd be curious to see if his (and Fox's) behavior could be modified by some financial setbacks.