March 27, 2017
“I have a gun in my hand but all I really want to do is talk.”
Sometime during this season (7) of AMC’s hit series, The Walking Dead the show toppled over its own hubris and died. “Jumped the Shark” as it’s often called in popular culture. Though leaping over an apex predator would be more exciting than the demise of this once wonderful show.
Before getting into it, allow me to qualify. I loved The Walking Dead before it even came out. Devouring the source material comics and any and all related content. Without sounding like a preening fan boy, I was a zombie freak before the genre became a genre. The nihilism and terror of reanimated corpses feasting on a terrified and dwindling population spoke to me like no other type of story could, ever since I saw George Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead at a drive in movie theater(!) I was gutted. Something about people “turning” into their own worst enemy resonated, igniting my deepest fears: “They are us.” More than just ghoulish, the undead delivered the perfect allegory for our overpopulated, corrupt and polluted world.
Now zombies, like vampires before them, have become a tired trope, instead of rampaging into our nightmares they are lumbering on pub crawls and into low budget, straight-to-video oblivion. The “Dawn” has become a great yawn.
But because of its superior characters and production, The Walking Dead had largely avoided that fate. Until now.
The show has become a sequence of two-shots and medium close-ups comprising lesser characters talking endlessly to other lesser characters. In other words a soap opera. Might as well be called, “The Talking Head.” No doubt the producers feel that people are what drive the show, not zombies, that it is the living who are the real enemy -an understandable evolution but one that has, this season, gone too far. Look, we all know that in the last (or second-to-last) episode there will be a big battle with evil Negan and his Saviors. But must every episode prior be so damn talky? When I find myself trolling the Internet during the show, I know the magic is gone. Sadly, I went from riveted to mostly bored.
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Has the human race jumped the shark? Talk about a Mondo couple of days. Where to begin? Was anything more sadly horrific than watching Donald Sterling dig himself into the abyss like he did on CNN with Anderson Cooper? The clip is from Funny or Die but honestly you don’t need their overlay to be blown away. Unreal watching this decrepit bozo. He found a way to make matters worse for himself than they already are. Sterling whines: “What has Magic Johnson done to help minorities?” Geez, old man, what hasn’t he done? Later in the taping he starts blubbering because his skeevy, half-century younger-than-he-is girlfriend betrayed him. Oh, the humanity! Then the ultimate out-of-touch moment, he asks Anderson Cooper “have you ever liked a girl?” I would have laughed had my jaw not already been on the floor.
Regarding homosexual behavior, how about that videotape of Michael Sam smooching his boyfriend upon finding out he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams?
It’s a personal moment that suddenly became a national spectacle after ESPN got through with it. You would have thought he’d stuck a knife in the guy the way the network reacted. And what about the rest of us? Get a load of this ninny on a local Dallas talk show.. She’s beside herself with… Rage? Disgust? God forbid two people are happy and in love.
Speaking of rage what are we to make of that now-infamous elevator clip of Beyoncé’s less famous sister, Solange going off on Jay Z?
This, too, would be sadly horrific if it weren’t so random and weird. The security camera’s silent black and white coverage gives the whole thing a creepy found footage vibe. A squabble after a long night of partying is nothing special. Unless, of course, you’re Jay Z, Beyoncé and Solange. Watching it I actually felt sorry for these people. Perhaps the strangest part was observing Beyoncé do absolutely nothing. Regardless, soon enough the video becomes interminable. One begins to feel like a voyeur and, I should qualify, not in a good way. Again, it’s a personal moment made spectacle. And the aftermath is just beginning. Inquiring minds want to know!
In 2013, the word of the year was “selfie.” A good call. Nothing codifies our collective narcissism like a selfie. That same year, Miley Cyrus blew up the water cooler by twerking and tonguing her way into adulthood. So last year! Shit’s about as old as Dennis Rodman playing ping-pong with the dictator of North Korea. Yawn.
2014 isn’t even half over and it’s off the chain.
I will give our culture this much. It is truly united. Old, young, white, black, gay, we are all skittles in the bag -the extreme sour kind!- waiting to be devoured by the Jaws of Modern Life. Society is on an epic sugar high. Taste the f—king rainbow!
October 24, 2011
Driving my daughters home the other day, I had on a sports radio channel (much to their chagrin) and it featured a Dos Equis commercial for The Most Interesting Man in the World. Everyone knows the advertising campaign, done by Euro RSCG in New York. When it first came out, this witty, unexpected idea took the world by storm, garnering much deserved praise from Adland as well as from everyone else with ears and eyes. Among its many virtues, The Most Interesting Man in the World was so unlike anything else in its category. While Miller Lite and Bud Light kept trying to make three dudes on a couch funny, Dos Equis eschewed all that in favor of an urbane, older rogue living a robust life of magnanimous proportions. A man of action, he spoke little but when he did it was fantastic: “I don’t always drink beer but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.” And the kicker: “Stay thirsty my friends!” Brilliant.
But… half way through the 60-second spot, my 12-year-old daughter makes a comment from the back seat: “The most interesting man doesn’t seem so interesting anymore.”
Excluding the much-deserved praise, I won’t criticize advertising done by my previous agency. Yet my kid’s observation made me curious: When does something get old? We are all familiar with the term, “jumping the shark” pointing to an exact time and place something heretofore wonderful becomes suddenly not. The term was coined over an episode of Happy Days. In it, a water-skiing Fonzie jumps a shark too prove his cool. Game over. Happy Days were no longer here again.
But many great things don’t implode so obviously. Rather they fade away like a summer romance. Something changes and we move on. More important things replace the cute lifeguard.
There’s a great episode of the Simpson’s where Bart becomes famous for one of his catch phrases: “I didn’t do it.” The whole world, Springfield anyway, seizes upon its boyish exuberance. Everyone in town begins using the line to get out of blame and then just for a laugh. “I didn’t do it” gets plastered on tee-shirts. Bart goes on Conan. Soon, however, everyone gets sick of the line, including Bart. His fame dies and he learns how transient such things are.
Despite its ever-growing legions of critics, we must note, ironically, that even after 20 years the Simpson’s franchise keeps chugging along.
Everything else has an expiration date, a point where the content isn’t good and/or appreciated anymore. Unfortunately, most people, places and things don’t realize this until it’s too late. Just ask Michael Jordan or Brett Farve. Look at certain long running TV shows. When Desperate Housewives first aired we were captivated. Now its stars are more famous for their real botched romances and, indeed, real housewives have become more popular. Ad campaigns are no different. After more than ten years my beloved “curiously strong” Altoids campaign is anything but. It may be sad but it is inevitable. One day something is “curiously strong” or “the most interesting” and then it isn’t.
Back in the day, when creatives presented ideas the question was always asked: Does it have legs? We’d answer in the affirmative, showing dozens of executions based on the core idea. But maybe all that that proved was we could beat a dead horse. Popular culture doesn’t like repetition. Familiarity breeds contempt. The moral: Try something else, my friends!
September 16, 2009
My last post was about U2’s 360 Tour, which I generally liked despite having serious issues with Soldier Field. Among numerous comments I received, one stood out for its indictments. Migrane66 wrote the following:
…I suddenly understood why Kurt Cobain put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He looked at his future and saw something like soldier field this weekend: banners reading “Blackberry loves Nirvana”, a huge, dumb stage that was there to take to the focus off the average musicianship emanating from said stage, and a group of musicians who have become mere props in a corporate money grab…
Though I disagree with the writer’s bleak positions, his or her letter got me thinking. (No small feat!) Are not fan disappointment and the band’s success codependent? U2 became hugely popular and now the population holds it against them.
This ironic phenomenon is not limited to bands. Frankly, it applies to many people, places and things. Because of their success the New England Patriots went from unexpected darlings to annoying juggernaut. Now that everyone loves your favorite restaurant you hate going there.
Advertisers should pay special attention. All brands want to get big. But the smart ones worry about it as well. When I worked on Altoids, we rightfully worried that our success would ultimately come back to haunt us. Whenever someone suggested we “merchandise the brand” my spider sense began tingling. New flavors I could accept but Altoids mouth wash? Not on my watch. The key to maintaining Altoids’ cult-like status relied on keeping things under the radar –in brand management and advertising. That was one of the reasons we never did TV.
Has Altoids gone too far? What about Starbucks, Apple or Nike?
Everyone lusts for growth, especially in business. If one isn’t growing their business, one is considered failing. Yet, all around us are age-old examples of people, places and things growing too big or jumping the shark. Hence the above emailer’s brutal review of U2.
Our own industry is hardly immune. Pat Fallon and Jay Chiat both asked, “how big can we get before we get bad?” They got big. One can debate whether they got bad.
The great irony remains. When David slays Goliath we cheer. When David becomes Goliath we jeer. Word of warning to challenger brands: be careful what you wish for.
Finally, GROWTH is not always synonymous with EXCELLENCE. Take cancer for instance.