Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Patrick Hamilton is my favourite English author. For people who threw Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying at the wall because it was just too rosy a look at 1930s London, Hangover Square is the perfect antidote.
Hamilton is the king of urban melancholia and loneliness - his understanding of people's private worlds and self-deceits is in the English tradition of George Eliot, but unlike George Eliot, there's no way of their ever reaching out to one another - his characters fall in love, but it's not so much love and more an insane projective frenzy, borne out of the loneliness of their own lives. In fact there is no love, only these hopeless fantasies, and anyway the people his characters fall for are so unworthy of any putative emotion that the whole thingis just a cruel, cruel joke.
As you may have gathered he's also extremely funny - in the way that falling in love with a prostitute who then refuses to sleep with you is funny.
Christmas has a special significance for Hamilton, lots of his books either begin or end at Christmas, and he describes the build up to it as a kind of a mania. Of course the only thing worse than being lonely, is being lonely at Christmas. Also, he was a hopeless alcoholic and I think Christmas has special significance for alcoholics, because it's the one time of the year when your drinking looks more or less like everyone else's. Christmas sums up the alcoholic worldview better than anything - this being a kind of madness where one believes in a perfect set of circumstances that can only come about under a special set of conditions, in which you will be truly happy - like the idea of the White Christmas. The more chronically alcoholic you become the more your actual circumstances are offensive to your conception of how the world should be and this intolerable condition can only be relieved through more drinking. And so on, until your liver explodes.
At Christmas time everyone tries desperately to conform to an ideal of festive cheer, it's tied to our sense of ourselves as functional human beings, but it's incredibly stressful - the only way that nationally we can block out reality and pretend that we're living in some kind of cosy, ember-lit Dickensian dreamworld is by drinking Super Tenants through a straw.
Watching children at Christmas is particularly interesting, because it's quite clear that they believe that this is how things should be, all the time. Desire continually awakened and instantly gratified. I can remember this feeling vividly.
It's no accident that the best Christmas song is by an incorrigible bedwetter.
Ho, ho, horribly sentimental. About ten seconds from the end you get to watch McGowan "waltzing" with Kirsty MacColl as snow falls - this is a scene that McGowan revisits in several videos as well as every time he plays the song live, staggering round drooling into the ear of whatever folksy wench he happens to be singing with, nor does he stint to use a snow machine.
Anyway, I don't think I'll be posting again till next week with normal service resuming on the 5th or so. See you on the other side.
Today I'm going to branch out from the normal fare of swearing, pessimism and prejudice that has been alienating increasing segments of my readership into creating large-scale advertising-based conceptual art pieces, using just this blog, my mobile phone camera and existing advertising media. There, that should irritate the six of you that are still reading.
This first piece is called "How do you know I'm not really important?"
It's based on the two enormous LCD advertising screens at the eastern edge of the Westfield site in Shepherds Bush. The screens are designed to show a series of ads at 96 sheet size to the traffic circulating on the Shepherds Bush roundabout - this they do without subtlety. However, as a pedestrian, having picked your way across the eight lane motorway intersection, with its murderously brief light-changes, you're then directed into a paved, litter-filled trench (actually the entrance to the old, now, spookily, sealed subway) which puts you out of the sightline of the two billboards. This gully is intermittently flooded with light from the adverts overhead, which you, both too close and too low, are unable to see.
The effect is a lot like having someone at a party ignore you to shout over the top of your head at the person they really want to talk to and is both demeaning and somehow disarmingly honest. Hence the title.
It's also slightly like something from Bladerunner.
Anyway, the installation is open from now, until it eventually crumbles into rust and cinders. So hurry down and see it.
There's fuck all work here today, so aside from laughing at the art director, who is doing some last minute recession Christmas "shopping" from the stationary cupboard I might don my slippers, light my pipe and write a bumper post on Patrick Hamilton, alcoholism and Christmas. Until some officious HR munchkin comes and sprays me with flame retardent foam.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Don't worry, I'm not dead. I know that's what you were all secretly thinking. I had just contracted a terrible stomach bug from my nephews, who act as incubators for viruses of all kinds, providing a genetically exact match for my constitution. So I just lay in bed and threw up and watched Woody Allen films and pretended I was being a Fashion Model in New York.
Also, I had to submit my article for The Daily Onanist, which hopefully, you may see at some point in 2009. This took quite a lot of doing, reminding me of the difference between blogging and writing for print. Namely that, when I write on the blog I do so in the almost certainty that no one is reading and so express my unpleasant ideas in their raw, ill-thought-out form whereas for print I become obsessed with the fact that it will be printed indelibly onto paper and therefore last for years and years and shown to my Mum by someone at the Lobotomy Club and bring the Comstock family name into disrepute so it better at least be well-written alright? Suffice to say, I ended up submitting an early draft, because the late ones were dead neat but severely boring.
Incidentally, I reckon that's the reason that even print ads that are real pony are infinitely more satisfying for copywriters than web work and that the industry's resistance to the interweb is actually internal, unreasonable and, as it were, grassroots. All advertising is hopelessly transient, but the idea that what you're writing isn't even worth printing out is just too miserable for words.
Anyway, today's Monday Morning Memento Mori comes from Sister Ainara in Spain. It's getting like a latter day Blue Peter this blog, only without the drugs. I present to you her meditation in ink on the subject of deadlines.
Have you ever wondered why they're called deadlines? Is it because when you're dead the only things that will be left to signify for you existence are the things that you've created in your lifetime?
Enjoy that FMCG brief now.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Planning is a non-job created to help graduates get into advertising without having to learn anything that they didn’t already know.
In advertising’s halcyon days I believe you could just swan into an agency with a bottle of sherry, help the creative director with his crossword and he’d give you a forty grand job on the spot. But the popularity of art school advertising courses, which produce loads of people every year with comparable credentials, means that getting a job in a creative department has become an intensely competitive, formalised experience. One that your average speccy Tarquin can’t be bothered with, having already completed his or her education, so far as he’s concerned.
I can sort of understand wanting to be a creative. And I know of a certain psychopathology for which account handling is just a perfect fit. But no one grows up wanting to be a planner. No one.
Don’t get me wrong some of my best friends are planners, but as I'm constantly reminding them, they are just directionless yuppies whom Oxbridge has rendered unteachable and who, denied any responsibility for the whole of their lives, feel no need to make a useful contribution to the world.
The only good thing about planners is that, under the right conditions, they may serve to kerb the wanton caprices of the creative director, who left to his own devices will probably change the brief once every eight seconds, rendering any actual work impossible.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I gamely agreed to write this 'copy' as they kept calling it, thinking I might after all need some pin money to tide me over whilst I completed my first novel. And honestly, how hard could it be?
I arrived for work, dressed up in my best jodpurs and was promptly locked in a room with a wild-eyed fellow who, they told me, had recently been made redundant for spitting. He was in his fifties and quite mad, he didn’t appear to notice, or mind, that I was barely 15. I sat down on the floor next to him, gathered up some of his felt tips and we set about 'writing ads'.
My career got off to a auspicious start, because more or less the first ad I ever wrote got made. And not just made, but turned in to a kind of architectural feature. It was for a dental clinic near a certain tube station in London. I reproduce it here for your edification.
As you can see it shows the streets of the local area, in an isometric view, being flossed by a pair of monstrous hands. As though London itself actually existed inside the mouth of some kind of terrifying and yet oral hygiene-conscious Leviathan. A nightmarish vision, that, once seen, can never leave the mind of the viewer. I also wrote a headline, which I’m sure you’ll agree, is a forgotten classic. (The occluded words are 'you' and 'work').
In the light of my every single intervening experience of getting work sold to clients, I find it perversely intriguing that the client chose this ad, and, moreover, chose to run it virtually unchanged from the scamp, in his front window. The one place where a map giving directions to his establishment is totally, totally redundant.
There is a tragic coda to this story.
Shortly after writing this fine piece of advertising I had a terrible row with the man who ran the company and was asked to leave the building. That night I went drinking with the wild-eyed art director, who ended the evening sobbing, swearing at me and telling me he was going to kill himself. I have no idea if he did.
And so began my career as a copywriter.
It’s been basically down hill since then.
It was an experience I'll never forget, largely because the dentist is opposite my gym, so I only have to look at it, oh, three times a week.
Monday, December 15, 2008
I'm trawling BR for an article I'm writing for The Racist Quarterly. Someone had linked this as a reference for the Wiedens Nokia TV. I remember watching this film (The Rules of Attraction) and not liking it much - I mainly recall Dawson from Dawson's Creek beasting himself, that was a feature. But this is everything I like about Bret Easton Ellis in a readily digestible 5 minute nugget. I've done an ordinary amount of backpacking, and always wondered what it was for - I think it is an inflated commodity and that we, as advertisers, are partly responsible for its fetishisation in our culture. There's definitely something weird going on with buying stuff and buying experience - just go to Terminal 5.
The other day the art director explained to me that the purpose of life was to gain experience. I found this somewhat strange, coming from someone who spends the greater part of their life in a small room, with me.
Here's the Wiedens Nokia ad, just in case you haven't seen it:
I reckon the source for the use of "we" is this moderately successful book about life in an ad agency, And then we came to the end . I quite liked it, I asked Scamp about it and he said he "couldn't get to the end." You've been warned.
I like the Wiedens spot, I'd slightly worry that it looks like a middle-aged person's view of a young person's life and, therefore, like a rather envious parody. I wonder how it's going down with the kids.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
This morning I was actually moved to laughter by a report on knife crime in Edmonton. I could tell they were pleased with it because both presenters assumed their solemn voices, usually reserved for child kidnappings and the deaths of members of the royal family.
For this special investigation a reporter had spent 15 minutes cruising MySpace looking at the profiles of members of a gang called "Dem Africans". He’d watched this video of them playing with a gun and it had clearly scared the bejaysus out of him.
Nice atmosphere in that video, like twelve year olds with a porn mag.
He'd also gone round Edmonton, trying to get someone to talk about this gang. No-one would talk to him, not out of fear of reprisal, I imagine, but just because listening to him saying the words “Dem Africans” over and over, in his classless BBC accent, was terribly dispiriting.
The one person they did manage to interview (I think they'd met him at the bus stop or something) was so totally overcome by self-importance that he started spouting urban platitudes about how it’s “life and death on the streets” and wound up describing himself as an “outlaw”. There's clearly nothing urban youth likes more than "drama". Besides being listened to by enraptured BBC journalists.
Anyway, it all reminded me of this anti-knife crime ad from MCBD, that I think has fallen for the same breed of solemn, upper-middle-class stupidity. Frankly the last thing teenagers need to be told is that their lives are like a particularly well-produced and gritty urban drama.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote that the really important thing is the humanity of the ideas that you propagate in your lifetime. I think this ad propagates a dangerous and stupid idea. It imbues knife crime with a pathos that it does not deserve. While the consequences may be unpleasant, the act of knifing someone is not tragic. Although tragedy may appeal to teenagers, because of its relation to fame, the act of stabbing someone in the stomach is, no doubt, a terrible disappointment, ugly and meaningless. Sans stabbing (that's French), nothing London's teen gangs do is in the least serious, the suggestion in the Today report that they're mafia organisations with a cellular structure is just fucking absurd. These are teenagers ripping one another off over eighths of weed and the new Sony Ericsson. A boy was stabbed on Hammersmith Grove quite near where I live and the gang that got him were after his dog.
What you want to do is make knives look uncool. What this ad does is to remind a group of people who want nothing more than to be thought of as bad and and scary just how bad and scary knives are. That'll work now won't it?
PS: Why is no-one commenting? I know you're out there. I've got a sitemeter remember.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Anti-euthanasia campaigner, Dr Peter Saunders, is worried that the broadcast will cause people to feel “subtly pressured” into euthanasia. Here we have a true believer in advertising.
In fact, Dignitas has to be the ultimate brief:
What do we want to do? Persuade people of the advantages of ending their own lives by drinking a lethal cocktail of sedatives.
I think Craig Ewert sounds like a brave and admirable character. In advertising terms, a primary adopter. And I think the way he reframes, hem, reframed, the idea of death, via Shakespeare, is probably the best angle to work. “That undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns.” My first thought is:
"Imagine a holiday so good that no-one ever comes back."
It’s quite interesting how many existing headlines you could apply to death as a product. How often do we try to persuade people to overcome their apprehension and put their faith in something they know nothing about?
“Try something new today.”
“There’s no place like it.”
“Come discover the difference.”
“Just do it.”
Update: One of the side effects of my job is that I often end up thinking of irritating puns - it's like miners and silicosis - you spend all day breathing this shit so really you can't be surprised when it develops a life of its own. Anyway, I was thinking about this post and it occurred to me that most of the time we don't have to sell death, because everyone buys it in the end. That one really annoyed me.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Guns and Roses have a new album out, and by all accounts it's a real turkey. There is one place where it's more or less guaranteed to go down an absolute storm.
Argentina has to be the unluckiest country in the world. It's so unlucky, I can only assume it's been cursed, not unreasonably perhaps, by the spirits of the many thousands of Indians who were massacred at its foundation. You know the way in The Shining, the hotel is built on an old Indian burial ground? That's Argentina. Since then, despite an abundance of natural resources and good-looking women, the corruption of its leaders (more pronounced amongst the political class of any nation, frankly absurd in a country governed by the people Spain didn't want) has kept it more or less in the third world.
I spent 8 months there in 2003 shortly after the financial collapse, taking advantage of the favourable exchange rate to live out various unpleasant, narcissistic fantasies at a fraction of the normal price. My elation at being able to live like a 19th Century Russian aristocrat for about £30 a week soon gave way to bitterness and depression as I lapsed into chronic alcoholism, without licensing laws, or even the normal laws of economics to hinder my fall. My bad.
Anyway, one of the strange things about Argentina was that in 2003 they were still listening to Guns 'n' Roses. Not just like they had November Rain on a mixtape, between Public Enemy and Crass, and had a good old laugh realising that it's sort of hysterically sentimental and therefore fun in a deeply mad way, I mean they were playing it in high street shops and restaurants. All the time. Which means that in 2002 they had been listening to the same three and half albums over and over again for the last 11 years, much like some kind of traumatised young adult, locked in a cellar at the age of 14 with just the tapes in the pockets of their sleeveless denim jacket to entertain them for the next decade.
I did ask my friends "hey, what's with the Axl Rose fixation?" and they'd tell me that oh, Guns 'n' Roses were the first band to play Argentina after the collapse of the brutal military dictatorship that had spent the eighties hoofing intellectuals out of aeroplanes, hence the band has a special meaning for Argentines, associations of freedom and euphoria, rather than just 1/4 mile long stages and spotty metal kids bellowing at a racist in a kilt.
Men in Argentina had mullets, not Shoreditch mullets, but fully-operational mullets. I went to a barbers in Argentina and was given a mullet. Take a moment to imagine my response.
So when people talk about the brave naivety, the unironic viscerality of ads produced by Argentine creatives I always think, well, if you'd spent the first twenty five years or so of your life living in a cave, culturally speaking, you might think that Genesis were pretty hip too.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Prison is weird, for obvious reasons. It’s also weird for at least one less obvious reason, which is that there is not a shred of advertising in the entire place. Not normal media, fancy media, no brands whatsoever. A complete brand vacuum.
To be unbranded is to be beyond the pale, it is the last rebel position.
All the prisoners wear these really plain sweatshirts and jeans – that in their unbranded, understated way are ever so slightly like American Apparel stuff. The similarity made me wonder again at the dastardly ingenuity of Dov Charney for hiving off so many deeply transgressive elements into a brand that just sells coloured t-shirts and poorly constructed lurex bodystockings. That’s porn, paedophilia (no link, just slander) and prison couture at last count – that you can only do without shareholders.
No-one wants to advertise to prisoners because they have no money and aren’t allowed to buy anything. Doesn’t that make them like a really interesting test group for planners or something? I think most planners would benefit from a trip anyway. Maybe they could take a flip chart, hand out a load of biros and then begin a discussion about drill-down. Just to see how that works out for them.
If you’re looking for a Christmas present that is both edgy and genteel (a line I try to walk at all times), some of these cushions are great.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Scamp seems to be able to command blog traffic at a rate of one visitor per minute with a single benevolent puff. It feels strange, because previously no-one was reading this blog and now my wares have been spread before every bone-idle creative with an internet connection like so many broken plastic action figures at a car-boot sale.
Anyway, hello everyone.
With the help of my sitemeter I’ve been indulging my inner planner and done some research into my (or rather, Scamp’s) demographic.
I can discern two types of visitor.
The vast majority seem to come on and, presumably put off by the French subhead and impenetrable body copy, instantly click off somewhere else, having spent less than one second reading. Not all of these people are art directors, some of them are probably just stupid. And in fairness, given the content of the last post, you might be forgiven for think that this is some kind of unappetising childhood reminiscence blog, which it partly is, and I make no apologies for that.
Although the idea of people taking a cursory look at my thoughts in the hope of gaining a momentary release from the tedium of their working lives, and deciding that in fact, no, they’re too boring for even a second’s consideration and they’d rather go back to looking for people they’ve shagged on Facebook, is rather bleak, I take heart in the fact that there is another group.
These people seem to be prepared to read unattractively presented copy for upwards of five minutes, sometimes as long as ten or even fifteen minutes. If you’re still reading I suspect you are one of these people. And you know what? I like you. You’re someone who knows that the pursuit of deeper insight requires application. For you, the internet is a place to exchange ideas, not just somewhere to hunt for prurient cheap thrills and soft porn, you're not interested in nasty accidents or even what happens when a bird hits an aeroplane. I like you. You remind me of me.
PS: Yes the photo looks like a still from a documentary called "How the world looks to foxes". That is the look I was going for.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
As a child my parents would sometimes take me to the Barbican centre. There was nothing fun about the Barbican Centre, the strange interior spaces seemed inexplicable and unnerving and I associate it with sales of charity Christmas cards and craft knickknacks. Thinking about it, I’m really just remembering one occasion when we went to see the Nutcracker Suite, hence the Christmas associations. Craft knickknacks are disappointing for children, because they look like toys, but are actually no fun. As was the absence of the nuts and sweets I had been expecting, hence the lingering resentment.
Anyway, I mastered my antipathy for the place and went to see the exhibition of war photography by Capa and Taro. That exhibition is excellent and I may write about it later, but the thing that really grabbed me was an installation in The Curve gallery near the entrance called Frequency and Volume. It’s by a Mexican artist, Rafael Lozano Hemmer, who seems like a serious dude. As you pass along the gallery a series of powerful lights throw your silhouette onto the opposite wall. The outline of your shadow is then read by a series of computers as a position on the scale of radio frequency – you get a kind of red Redibrek glow around your shadow and a projected caption tells you what frequency and station you’re on. As you walk from one end of the gallery to the other you pass through all the different stations, very much like the red line moving through the dial of an old fashioned FM radio. By moving towards the wall, enlarging your shadow, you pass upwards through AM and FM into mobile phone, astronomical and MoD frequencies, which, for legal reasons, are turned off in the installation’s London incarnation.
It’s great right.
So I’m having this wonderful, joyful interactive experience and all the time I'm thinking of an obscure 1980s cinema ad for Red Stripe in which a red stripe is overlaid over a black and white film following a man through a day in his life, "tuning in" to different stations, until finally he reaches a bar and drinks a pint of Red Stripe. There the music switches to, I imagine, reggae. I can’t find this ad anywhere but I reckon it would be from 1989 or so.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that Rafael Lozano Hemmer ever saw this ad. Or that his installation isn’t a much more interesting thing than the Red Stripe spot. It’s just funny that in this case the ad definitely preceded the artwork, and yet there can be no suggestion that one was copied from the other. But if the two things had happened the other way round, you’d just get that horrible feeling you get when creatives rip off art wholesale and then start spouting off about Andy Warhol or something.
I’m not saying this because I think it’s bad, or unfair, but just that it demonstrates the hierarchy. If you were the Chapman brothers (both of them, so you wouldn’t have to argue about it) you could do a series poor copies of adverts, or even just copies of ads taken from YouTube, and sell them for millions as studies of the relation between commercial ideas and ideas that sell. It wouldn’t be good, or even original, art, but it would really annoy advertising people.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Last night I went with K. to hear Glasvegas (hat-tip: Hearcanal) - as you cannot see from the photograph, they were really good. I include the picture only to prove that any mobile phone ad in which a model flirtatiously snaps the lead singer of a generic "rock band", producing a photo that looks anything like the in-ad reality, is lying to you. Unless the lead singer is actually 3 cm tall. Everyone at gigs takes pictures with their mobiles because of this lie, and also because of the smoking ban, which has killed off the lighters-in-the-air tradition.
Glasvegas sound like My Bloody Valentine and look like a gang of Glaswegians you wouldn't want to beat at pool. They have hair like Joe Strummer and wear leather jackets with trainers. They also write these strange, strange love songs, the most anthemic of which, "Daddy's gone", is a song full of pathos and regret written from the POV of a child of a one parent family to his Dad. There's something more than usually blokey about Glasvegas, and the normal predominance of middle aged men to women at gigs was severely skewed, reaching football match proportions. It was touching to see all these bald blokes singing along about how they miss their Dads.
It takes a rare kind of talent to take something as familiar as a love song and make it new just by exploring a truth that no one has dealt with before. I thought Juno and Knocked Up did the same thing for films about teenage pregnancy. In fact they weren't saying anything that was wacky, or strange, it was just certain aspects of pregnancy had never been covered in film. It had never been anything but a soap opera tragedy, because the arrival of children represents the end of one's own youth and youth is what our culture prizes more than anything. (Ask Michel Houellebecq if it ain't. He'll tell you "oui.")
For a campaign we're doing just now we need pictures of people eating. There are no realistic pictures of people eating. Surely people want to see people eating don't they? I think we're ready for it, as a culture.
PS: Yes the picture is on its side. And what of it?