Super Bowl Sunday:
A Day to Embrace…
Yes, there’s the game itself. The
one between the yard markers, played out by teams we hardly
know—a one-sixteenth chance that ours got in—
between armies of men, few have ever heard of. But then again,
it’s not really about “The Game” anyway.
Nor has it been for at least the last thirty years.
It’s about the parties,
the people, the chips, the dip. It’s about the office
pools and “buying squares.” It’s about being
American. It’s about…THE ADVERTISING! More specifically,
it’s about: the embracing of the advertising
in all its unabashed splendor.
It’s about “the
knowing” that they are trying to get us to buy things
we might not consciously want or need. And yet, loving them
for it on this glorious day! And loving even more, how much
they’re spending to “just do it”, so to
speak (up to $2.6 million for a :30 spot this year)!
And it’s about applauding
the style of the effort; the sheer entertainment of it—with
block-buster film production values; with artsy visual and
narrative threads—so that we sometimes don’t even
know exactly what it is that we’re being sold. Or forget
we were even being sold in the first place: “Ah, those
advertising guys are really something. What’ll they
think of next? Can I get anybody another beer?”
But WE (as in Former Ad Man)
will be the last person to bite the hand that fed us. We spent
too many years on the other side of the desk to go that route.
That’s not what this is about.
No, this is about the loss of
naiveté. A loss interestingly told—we think—
through societal reactions over the years to the realization:
respectable marketers (and even aspiring presidents)
were trying to play games with our heads.
is no small potatoes (which is why the enhanced font style
and indented statement).
And while we’ve now become
so jaded, this was once a shocking revelation.
In 1957, when The
Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard was first
published, the disclosure that marketers were using consumer
motivational research and subliminal tactics to manipulate
consumers and induce desire for products, was earth-shattering.
The book sold a million copies!
Think about it. A million copies
to a general public that was half the size of what it is today.
Can you possibly imagine a book of this nature selling even
1,000 copies today?
Around that same time, BBD&O
advertising agency had taken on President Eisenhower, as an
account. To quote the Republican national chairman back then:
sell your candidate and your program the way a business
sells its products.
So by 1968, it should have been
no surprise that politicians could be sold like a bar of soap.
Yet in that year, Joe McGinniss’ book, The
Selling of the President, an insider expose
about how Nixon’s image was dramatically reworked for
public consumption, became an instant mega-bestseller.
Many years later in 1993, a
wonderfully literate book came along that gave us still another
look behind the “Wizard of Ads” curtain: Mythmaking
on Madison Avenue How Advertisers
Apply The Power Of Myth & Symbolism To Create Leadership
Brands, by Sal Randazzo.
This one was not really intended
for mass public consumption, but it continues to be used within
the business community and on many college campuses, for its
To quote Mr. Randazzo:
is not simply in the business of “selling soap.”
The thesis of this book is that advertising is an important
part of our culture, an enormously powerful medium that
shapes our values and sensibilities…
As one of the many examples
in the book on building brand mythologies, Randazzo offers
us Budweiser’s famed Clydesdales, which have
been a staple in Super Bowl advertising for many years now.
And it’s no wonder, when you hear how grown men—
particularly blue collar types— gush over these almost
mythical beasts. Again from his book, this focus group playback:
big and strong…they’re masculine…they’re
they work hard, but they have a lot of pride and dignity.
themselves like royalty.
So every year on that hallowed
Sunday, we sit back and enjoy ourselves, all the while knowing,
that they know… that we know… that they know we
know what they’re doing. Those rascally little clever
And when the Clydesdales
come into view, we’ll turn to our buddy and say: you
know why these guys use these horses in these commercials?
At One With Nature.
We have often said at public
readings— only half facetiously— that we are probably
the only poet who thinks that nature is overrated. Invariably
this gets a small laugh, so incongruous is the concept.
Many people think that poetry
and love of nature, are inextricably linked. That the very
REASON for writing poetry in the first place, is to pay homage
to beauty— natural and otherwise. (She walks in
beauty, like the night… How do I love thee? Let me count
the ways. ... A poem so lovely as a tree. …).
Sometimes, quite frankly, and
in words most un-poetic, nature is a pain in the ass.
It hurts us in ways large and
small, making us feel diminished in the process. As this short
poem we penned not all that long ago, might suggest.
Two Crows Cawing
Two crows crossing stop to caw.
If they could they would shake hands.
They go back a long ways— that’s clear.
The body language is all there.
On this narrow sidewalk adjacent to
a rectangular sprawl of urban grass
they block my path. I must walk around them.
They take no notice. Given their wings,
they could own the open sky;
they could exchange air mails if they chose.
On foot? Hop over to the grass— caw there.
Pick a branch or bench upon which to perch.
Who here has the right of way?
But for two old friends who have seen it all
they are only aware of each other at present.
And I’m forced to walk around them.
Name-Dropping and the “Art”
While spotting Maria Shriver
a couple of Sundays ago after mass— husband Arnold off
to the side conversing with our parish Monsignor— we
stopped to ask her if she might put in a good word of support
to our suggestion, that the church bookstore immediately stock
Art Buchwald’s final memoir: Too Soon To
We had just read the book the
previous night in one sitting (two days after Buchwald’s
passing) and found it so disarming in its raw courage: a man
facing his own death with such humor and grace. Especially,
since we personally tend go into a state of utter existential
despair —virtually losing our will to live— upon
coming down with the commonest of colds.
“Yes,” she concurred,
with that distinctly Kennedy-esque New England inflection,
“He was a great man. I’ll mention it to the Monsignor.”
Maria and her mother Eunice,
are mentioned in the book, as just two of the prominent guests
who visited Art Buchwald in his final, albeit extended, days.
He drops many more names and even entitles one chapter: Name-Dropping
in the Hospice.
Some of the more notable mentions:
John Glenn, Donald Rumsfield, Ambassador Joe Wilson, Valerie
Plame, Ethel Kennedy, Tom Brokaw, Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace,
Ben Bradlee. And when Governor Schwarzeneggar called, the
first thing Buchwald said to him was: “I want a pardon.”
Being funny at a dinner party
is one thing. Being funny in the face of death is quite another.
Very few can pull it off. Though of course, some have.
Oscar Wilde is purported to
have uttered this classic on his deathbed:
that wallpaper goes, or I do.
Only Bogey (who died 50 years ago this past January 14th)
never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.
George Bernard Shaw offered this oft quoted gem:
is easy, comedy is hard.
Gertrude Stein said to Alice B. Toklas:
is the answer? [upon receiving no response]
In that case,
what is the question?
Ah, but Art Buchwald has upstaged
For one thing, his final
words went beyond the deathbed; beyond the grave. He left
a last video interview to be shown immediately following his
death. He begins it in this manner:
I’m Art Buchwald and I just died.
But Buchwald’s case is
a lot more than clever one-liners and funny sound bites. To
begin with, he chose his fate.
Having already lost a leg to
gangrene to forestall his loss of life, he decided to eschew
dialysis when his kidneys began to fail, and checked himself
into a hospice to spend his last couple of weeks. (Against
his family’s wishes).
Those expected two weeks, inexplicably,
stretched into months. Then almost a year. He finally died
on January 17, 2007; almost eleven months later than expected.
And in that time he…
held court at the hospice
• resumed his newspaper column in The Washington
• solicited eulogies for inclusion in a book
• published that final 200 page book!
• checked out of the hospice to spend one last
summer in Martha’s Vineyard
• planned his funeral
• chose the speakers at his memorial via an invitational
letter, that read in part:
I can’t give you an exact date, I can tell you
we’d love you to speak. I think three minutes
would be a perfect
amount of time to tell me how wonderful I am.”
Finally, amidst all the humor and off-beat approach to his
demise, he is sure to remind us of a very fundamental question,
and his stated reason for writing the book:
big question we still have to ask is not where we are
but what were we doing here in the first place?
A question for us, the living, to ponder. And to help us
in that search for an answer, we send in the scientists, the
philosophers, the theologians; we send in the artists, the
poets, the clowns.
County Museum of Art Rolls Out the Carpet for Magritte
Say this for LA, it’s a place that
marches to the sound of its own drummer. (That that drummer
is sometimes out of step and tone deaf, is another matter
for another day.)
It’s a place that loves
to play dress-up and make-believe. No surprise, it being the
home of creativity and fantasy: Hollywood! Disneyland! That
grand exercise in obsessive-compulsion—The Rose Parade!
Oh and yes, Halloween night in West Hollywood. (Not that there’s
anything wrong with that).
So when the Los Angeles
County Museum of Art (LACMA) decided to curate a show
entitled, Magritte and Contemporary Art: the Treachery
of Images, www.lacma.org
we feared for the worst. How would they showcase this fabulous
Surrealist painter and sculpture
Rene Magritte, needs no help from Hollywood. His impact has
far transcended the art world. Many of his works have influenced
our pop culture and graphic arts, in ways that many of us
may not even be aware. For example, how much more mainstream
can you get than the CBS Network TV logo eye first designed
in 1952, inspired by a 1929 Magritte painting.
William Golden, logo for
CBS Television 1952
Magritte. The False Mirror,
Oil on canvas, 54 x 81
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
And so with some trepidation,
we ventured over to 5905 Wilshire Blvd. to see what LACMA
hath wrought. And sure enough, there it was; the whole nine
guards adorned in signature Magritte bowler hats, vests
and red ties; the ceiling “wallpapered”
in an LA Freeway motif pattern; a “cutout”
door; café chairs and other plush furniture scattered
about; and “da’ piece da’ resistance”—
lining the whole gallery floor in a dense carpet of
Oh God, how hokey. But you know what? It works! Have a look.
We even bought a bowler hat from
the gift shop on the way out.