Following tradition or just a boob?

I thought Seth MacFarlane’s bawdy opening number at the Oscars, “We Saw Your Boobs” might pass by my radar but the story continues to gain traction, the latest commentary coming from the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. In a formal complaint written to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences the group claimed his gig “struck a new low in its treatment of women.” More excerpts from the letter can be found here. The gist of their argument is that women have a hard enough time gaining respect for their contributions in Hollywood, let alone society in general, without sophomoric displays like Seth’s bringing them down and on one of the biggest stages in the world no less.

I won’t disagree. However, I will say that Oscar and Hollywood have objectified women for years, often without comment. It seems every other movie features women in highly sexualized roles, many of them beloved by both sexes. And I’m not just talking about “B” movies, though those are obviously the most blatant examples. but what about the so-called “Bond Girls” which have become a huge part of that cannon’s attractive lore?

“Ah, so women do have value!”

Shaken and stirred!

Are not these ladies merely eye candy for James and every other Tom, Dick and Harry? Of course they are. And while a few of these actresses actually could act it was for their bodies they were cast. One literally in gold. Save for ardent feminists nobody complains, least of all the actresses, whom as far as I can tell, covet the part.

There are countless examples of women being subjugated, objectified and demeaned in film and television. That doesn’t make it right but it does make singling out questionable episodes in the industry, well, questionable.

Still, it’s hammering on the Academy Awards that trips me up. For hours leading up to the ceremony itself media from all over the world line up to photograph and film the actresses as they sashay into the auditorium. People adore the spectacle, especially women. On both sides of the camera. So much so it is called it the “Red Carpet” and it is considered a must-see. The next day hundreds of “critics” pass judgment, many of them cruelly. But we laugh. We vote. Indeed, we pass judgment ourselves. Is this not text textbook definition of ogling?

It’s the Grammy’s so that doesn’t count…

One might reply that it is their clothes we are looking at and not the ladies. True. But it is the dresses that show more of the ladies that draw our attention and the slavish commentary. True? Furthermore, why should actresses be obligated to parade in front of the entire world in flamboyant, revealing gowns in the first place? Especially while most of their dates don black tie. What does that have to do with their acting chops? It doesn’t.

“This has nothing to do with my ability but I LOVE IT!”

The Red Carpet is tradition. And women adore it. Even I dare say the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. I could end there but I have one more thought. Is Seth MacFarlane taking it on the chin because he’s a man? Let’s say Tina Fey was hosting the Oscars (not a stretch) and she sang the exact same song (not a stretch), would that make it wildly funny instead of wildly inappropriate? You know the answer as well as I do.

Is it real or is it Argo?

After seeing Argo with my wife we discussed it in a nearby wine bar (ah, date night!), where she commented on how much she appreciated the history lesson imparted by the movie. We were both children during the Iran hostage crisis and I can still remember seeing all those yellow ribbons. I also recall the fervor of anti-Iranian sentiment sweeping the country. The Ayatollah Khomeini was Public Enemy #1 and our society’s hatred of him equaled, and to my memory, even exceeded the vitriol directed toward Osama Bin Laden thirty plus years later.

In any event, my wife’s remark made me think. Accurate or not, Argo is indeed a history lesson, as are many of the other big Oscar-nominated films, especially Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln. Even Django, for all its Tarantino-infused brio, brought forward a difficult time in our nation’s history to tell its story. Granted, Tarantino’s film is patently (and sublimely) ridiculous but still: I couldn’t help but wonder (especially as newspapers and books fade from the popular culture) if movies and videos are becoming our new teachers.

While Hollywood has always trafficked in “true stories” culled from history, rarely have they been portrayed with so much attention to historical accuracy and detail. Django aside, one really senses these new filmmakers passion for trying to get the story right, even if rubbing audiences the wrong way. For example, Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent Zero Dark Thirty depicts American torture of Muslim extremists with complete objectivity, evoking much criticism from concerned groups, including factions of the US Government. This criticism may even hurt her film’s chances for garnering top honors at this year’s Academy Awards. Yet, because of the way in which she made the movie, almost like a documentary, I believed her depiction far more than not. The same can be said for Argo and to a lesser extent, Lincoln. In all these films we get the distinct impression the makers of them are aspiring to accuracy over drama. Perhaps we have You Tube to thank for this?

Scene from movie 'Zero Dark Thirty'
Breaking into Osama’s hideout: Zero Dark Thirty

Either way, this is new. In the past Hollywood loved to infuse countless fictionalized storylines into their fare. War and Western movies always had love interests. In addition, there had to be a hero and a villain. The filmmakers were compelled to portray good and evil in black and white. Not so much anymore. Lincoln is shown to compromise his position on equal rights for black people in order to rid the country of slavery. In Zero Dark Thirty The United States employs illegal torture to try and find out where Bin Laden is hiding.

“Inspired by true events” used to mean a germ of truth might exist in the story. Now it implies journalistic integrity. Whether that’s bad or good I don’t know. However, I do know that were it not for these films I likely wouldn’t have learned about these seminal events in world history. Neither would most people.

“Stop Tweeting and pass the gaucamole!”

I was struck by a recent Tweet from mutual friend and follower, Tim Leake: The twitter chatter during the Oscars was almost enough to make me watch in real time. Could social media be a DVR-killer?

I Tweeted back: Could be a big deal, actually.

His reply: Certainly makes real-time chatter-worthy programming more valuable to advertisers. Perhaps it needs to be cultivated more.

Up until Tim’s Tweet, I hadn’t tied these thoughts together, even though I was one of the multitude of Oscar watchers Tweeting about it in real time. Forget that this year’s telecast was painfully dull (so much for youthful hosts making it “hip and relevant.”), the Academy Awards (like the Superbowl), attracted a huge audience. A huge live audience. In other words, people didn’t Tivo the show and watch it later. The vast majority consumed it in real time. It was more than just entertainment. This was an event. Eventainment.

Given the Oscars and Superbowl involve winners and losers, God forbid anyone miss the live feed and have to get the results from some benign website or doofus at work. No surprise both events are on Sunday, furthering their popular appeal, giving everyone something to talk about at the water cooler on Monday.

Put an asterisk on that last comment. Because, regarding the Oscar’s, I’d argue the water cooler chatter began on the Red Carpet, with fans Tweeting about this star’s dress and that one’s hair. When the telecast actually started fans were already entrenched in conversations with their “followers” and “friends.”

Log on your show’s on!

Everyone in Adland needs to vociferously thank Facebook, Twitter and other applications for making real time TV relevant again. Since the advent of Tivo, advertisers have understandably grown wary regarding the numbers of viewers watching their shows. But with legions of fans following and commenting in real time, they no longer fast-forward through the commercials! They can’t. Ironic this turnabout, given social media and the Internet are supposedly television’s great assassins.

Granted, event television is special but imagine if ordinary programming captured real time audiences the same way, by exploiting social media. If fans wanted to join the conversation regarding their favorite shows they would have to tune in to the live feed, just like in the olden days!

I’m guessing numerous shows are starting to figure this out, especially reality programs, which are largely driven by their oversize personalities. Still, if I’m a network exec trying to create more audience (and value) for my show, I’m thinking social media campaign. If one knows that “followers” of a given show are actually watching the show when they’re supposed to that gives power back to the networks (and myriad ways to advertise, promote and sell), while at the same time feeding people’s desire to stay current. A win-win. And an unexpected one at that.

Tim Leake is a Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi NY. He often speaks at the Hyper Island Master Class in Digital training. His Twitter handle is @tim_leake

You deserve your nominations and my apology.

“Mo’nique rolls over twittery actresses” This was one of the many tweets I made during the Academy Awards telecast last week. Obviously, it pertains to the winner of best supporting actress, Mo’nique for her brazen portrayal of an abusive mother in the controversial drama, Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. Tweeting during TV events like the Super Bowl and Oscars has become quite a phenomenon. Nice to see old and new media benefiting from each other. Fun to be a part of it.

Integration of TV and Twitter would make a great topic for a post but it’s not the subject of this one. For that we must go back to the actual content of my above tweet. Read it again: Mo’nique rolls over twittery actresses. The line has been haunting me ever since I wrote it. The reasons why are complicated and difficult to write about, which is precisely why I must. As a copywriter and, moreover, a human being, I need to know the truth behind those five words.

First off, I chose the words carefully… very carefully. You need to know what I would have tweeted had I not edited myself. It would have gone something like this: “Baddass Black woman flattens flighty white chicks!” Awful right? But that’s what I was thinking. Equally offensive to blacks, whites and women in general, I feel embarrassed for having conjured the thought.

True, I did not actually write anything offensive. (Thank God.) Or did I? In retrospect it’s clear I coded my words, giving them the potency I wanted, without resorting to politically incorrect language.

Look at the verb. I used the word “rolls” instead of “flattens.” ‘Rolling over’ the competition is an accepted cliché’. Yet, I must admit I also liked the veiled allusions to “fat.” A steamroller is heavy. Fat people have rolls. I was aware of this when I chose the word “rolls.”

Now, about the adjective: twittery. What did I mean by that? This one is harder to explain. Besides not being black, the other actresses (those I saw anyway) played career women, in particular the nominated pair from Up In the Air. By calling them “twittery” (as in fidgety or nervous) I now feel I held that against them. I implied they were made anxious by their lifestyle choices, and the fact that they were single, with no men to define them. The word “twittery” also suggests (to me anyway) someone prone to outbursts, short and constant. In this context, my word choice, and comment as a whole, can be viewed as borderline misogynistic. Using it as an adjective to the noun “actresses” intensifies that point. Twittery actresses.

Finally, just writing the winners name, Mo’nique, in all its righteousness, communicated plenty.

Why am I going into this? It flatters no one, least of all me. As a creative person I always question my thinking. When I struggle with something I write about it. A writer writes. Even crazy ones. Especially crazy ones.

From a copywriter’s point of view, things get more interesting. We are paid to choose words carefully. After all, we typically write so few of them. Each word, by definition, is often fraught with meaning, double meaning, and even trickery. What seems like a sentence or two about this or that product has often been worked over for weeks. They must be, in order to grab someone. If the product being sold is controversial, the copywriter uses precise language to circumvent danger or vagaries to disguise it. Even casual banter is anything but. My seemingly benign tweet is a perfect example of this, which is why I’ve dissected it here.

Final thought: Social media forces us to let go our editing instinct. Writing is about the here and now. Wait to long in order to ponder a subject and the group moves on. While the dissemination of information speeds up, sensitivity and thoughtfulness ebb. Censorship decreases but at what price? As we write faster (be it tweets, texts or even body copy) we must learn to think faster. Or face the consequences.

Steff on Twitter

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“You know you still want me!”

For all the talk about mass media’s demise, television is holding its own, especially regarding events. Frankly, that might be an understatement. So-called “event television” (such as the Academy Awards, Olympics, etc) cleans up. Evidence abounds. Adage reports almost every advertising slot for the Academy Awards sold out. A bajillion people watched the Winter Olympics, culminating in the epic hockey match between the United States and Canada. The Super Bowl captured the nation’s attention same as it always has. Likely March Madness will do the same. And so on…

If the giant no linger dominates our culture on a daily basis (it doesn’t), TV still leaves the biggest footprint. Even the most watched videos on You Tube pale in comparison to most watched television shows. “Pants on the Ground” or the Super Bowl? In five years which will be remembered? In five minutes?

New media is an amazingly potent drug, no question. Its ability to hook people supersedes that of television the way Crack does Cocaine. But the effects of Big TV last longer and cut deeper. Virals get shot around willy-nilly, recipients inhaling the fumes giddily before moving on to the next. Event TV is savored, talked about, and analyzed.

I grew up with TV but have learned to live without it. My computer screen satisfies at least 90% of my viewing desires. I even watch my favorite TV shows on line: The Office, 30 Rock and The Simpsons. Yet, I still make time for Big TV: The Super Bowl. The Academy Awards. The Olympics. Presidential Debates. These programs feel better served up in the living room versus my office. The oft-used communal campfire metaphor holds true. Event TV we want to share with family and friends.

Event TV and “water cooler programming” are old ideas. But it’s not just the Super Bowl. Numerous sporting events (playoffs, bowl games, tournaments) capture a mass audience. As do award shows. And game shows. Repugnant as American Idol and The Bachelor are to me, these programs own my family and probably yours too.

Open the flap further, and even more programming fits into the event tent. Tier two spectacles like Monday Night Football and 60 Minutes may seem like your father’s idea of popular culture but they still deliver respectable numbers.

My point? TV continues to be a potent, irreplaceable part of our popular culture. Indeed, of the world’s popular culture. While advertising effectiveness on television is perhaps another story, contrary to faddish obituaries the medium is alive and kicking.

Though predicted, television did not wipe out radio or, for that matter, the cinema. Those media evolved around it, found niches and expanded. Likewise, the Internet will not destroy TV; rather TV will evolve around it, finding sweet spots to flourish.

A casual observation: It’s all about the screen size. Smart phones and computers serve content to individuals. While the cinema caters to large groups of people. But the great in-between still favors television. Call it the medium-sized medium.

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