Friday, November 25, 2011

Oh, Little Town of Hollywood

The suspension of disbelief is integral to many entertaining film classics. To fully enjoy them, you have to relinquish your logical mind and accept that a tornado can transport a farmhouse over the rainbow, a department store Santa could be the real Kris Kringle, or a myopic wizard could win a school championship riding a broom. 

But there are certain story lines that no unhinging of reason can account for, and one of them is Ice Age, a Mammoth Christmas Special. The Ice Age franchise of animated films, starring Ray Romano as a wooly mammoth grieving for his family and Denis Leary as his sabor-toothed sidekick, is an enjoyable series of films with a bold visual style depicting ancient landscapes and the flora and fauna found within them. The overriding premise, however, is that the action takes place in the last ice age, ten thousand years ago at the very least. Even the most ardent creationists agree that Christ, if he existed at all, was born 2,000 years ago -- meaning there could be no Christmas for our nomadic late-Pleistocene animal friends. None. Forget it. End of Christmas special. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Taking One for the Gipper

There's a chilling scene in the 2008 film Doubt in which Meryl Streep's terrifying Sister Alonysius, who may or may not have evidence of the parish priest's pedastery, confronts the mother of the boy in question. Surprisingly the woman, played with a world-weary resignation by the amazing actress Viola Davis, responds that at least a white person of influence is paying attention to her child -- and maybe that will somehow lead to a way out of the ghetto.

Somehow I think there's a similar attitude at play in the snowballing Penn State "abuse" scandal. ("Abuse" itself is a carefully measured word in the context of so horrific a revelation -- it's really an ongoing culture of child rape that was sustained for decades.) Obviously sexual predators like Jerry Sandusky select their victims for their extreme vulnerability -- in his case, he actually created a "charity" that would supply him with a pool of likely victims for years, and what could be more calculating than that? And while head coach Joe Paterno could have put a stop to Sandusky's preying decades ago, he was more concerned about preserving Penn State's football standing than the dignity and sanity of the dozens of boys whose rapes he could have prevented.

Though the boys concerned very likely lacked traditional families or parental guidance, there are so many involved that some of them must have had somewhat intact families with older siblings, grandparents, or at least relationships with teachers and clergy. How many of those adults knew what was happening, and chose not to jeopardize the sacrosanct culture of college football?

Paterno, who is as culpable here as the rapist himself, has been forced out after six decades of who knows how much damage he's inflicted through his incompetence, and that's a very good thing. But a raped ten-year-old is a pretty hard thing to miss. Who else kept quiet for the preservation of a meaningless ball game?

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Threesomes for $600, Alex?"

People have often suggested I try out for Jeopardy! but believe me, I'm not that smart. I basically know a little about everything and nothing, really, about anything. In fact, one of my biggest fears is to find myself up against some intellectual powerhouse with a quick trigger finger and have to slink home without even making it to Final Jeopardy.

So last night when I was watching Jeopardy! and saw this response, I felt a shudder of recognition that, if I ever found myself under the bright lights of the Jeopardy! set, something very similar would happen to me. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Put That S**t On Everything

I've often called out advertisers for needless vulgarity -- especially when hawking consumer goods, like toilet tissue and feminine products, that in gentler times were sold by only hinting at their obvious uses.

But I love the approach Frank's Red Hot Sauce has chosen to promote its product on radio and TV. For over 80 years, Frank's has been a rather staid contender for the hot sauce market share, a very distant second to Tabasco. Taking a gamble on a complete image overhaul, parent company Reckitt Benckiser embarked on an ambitious brand makeover.

The resulting tagline, usually delivered by some supposedly genteel elderly person proclaiming "I put that [bleep] on everything!" is a brilliant stroke of advertising genius -- one that speaks to the ubiquitous nature of the product by encouraging the consumer to try it in multiple, non-traditional ways. Ideally, that's exactly what you want to get across with a consumer good like a sauce or condiment. Kudos to Frank's -- and its agency, MVBMS Euro RSCG in New York -- for accomplishing this key business objective in a funny, memorable way entirely appropriate to the brand and category.