Thursday, August 31, 2006

Lawrence of Arabia

OK, I admit it. This particular post is filler. In an effort to maintain a sense of rhythm I'm trying to blog at least twice a week. Some efforts maybe total phone-ins, others triumphs of profundity and wit. I'll let you, gentle and precious readers decide. This past weekend was my birthday. To celebrate, my wife and I enjoyed the four hour epic Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen. That's right, campers. A four hour movie, which takes place mainly in the desert, has no female speaking roles, was filmed without any big movie stars, whose lead actor was actually much taller than the real person, and features some pretty bad make-up, not to mention some pretty subtle (and not-so-subtle) homoerotic undertones. Could this film be made today? I'm trying to imagine the studio pitch: One man, many deserts, and many more camels. Perhaps with a ton a cash and lots of CGI camels and a love story thrown in the mix (maybe a love triangle with Lawrence caught in the middle as he treks across the Sinai) someone would give it the greenlight.

Fortunately it was made back in the early early sixties, prior to the Beatles landing in America and JFK meeting his maker in Dallas. It was a time when a grand cinematic gesture could be carried off and appreciated by a mass audience. And Lawrence is one such grand gesture which sought to create a particular mood or feeling and sustain it for as long as possible. It's as if the filmmakers simply wanted to show how a tiny speck in the desert can grow into a man doing battle against the extremes of nature and the sun and somehow survive to see another day. If you want to know the true life of the odd english soldier T.E. Lawrence, check out a history book. If you want to experience true movie transcendence, run, don't walk, to see Lawrence of Arabia.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Notes from the underground arcade...

Great title, eh? It's the name of a short story I wrote for Creative Writing class in high school. For some reason I'm thinking of it now. Perhaps its because I saw a great movie last Friday with friends and my wife in celebration of our birthdays. I'm telling you now, drop what you are doing and go see Little Miss Sunshine. It's always a pleasure to see a movie that is not only entertaining, but also well written. And that got me to thinking about some of the C-rap that I've written over the near 32 years of my existence. This particular tale, Notes From the Underground Arcade (the title should be a tip-off to its juvenile pretension, especially since I wasn't smart enough to do a riff on The Gambler, which my story was based), was the sordid tale of a young lad who was addicted to playing arcade games at Bally's in the mall. He tried to win enough tickets to get one of those silly plush animal toys to give to his true love, who of course would not love him back. The reason? She no longer existed. She was dead, killed on a trip to the amusement park with her church youth group. In typical high school fashion this isn't revealed until the very end when he goes to the cemetery to give her tombstone a doll he had to steal from the stupid arcade. Oh, and the police are chasing after him. And he has to sell pot to get the money to play the video games to win the prize. And I think I tried to suggest that if he made it to the final level of one of the games, then she would, in his mind, magically appear.

Only now the story no longer exists. Well, it does, but it resides at the Butler County dump, begging to be discovered by a down-on-his-luck sanitation worker looking to get out of the confines of his small town. He could write the screenplay and direct the movie with say, Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead and, I don't know, Julia Stiles as the dead woman, and have it shown at Sundance and blam-o, it's a hit. Or maybe not.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

That's Mr. Baron to you.

So today while watching Jeopardy! reruns during lunch there included a category concerning Barons. As a result of our viewing, my wife and decided we wanted to become a baron/baroness. Though we really don't know how people become barons or really care (for a brief rundown, check out the always reliable and trustworthy wikipedia article here), we just thought it would be fun to correct people when they address us as Mr. and Mrs. "I'm sorry, but we prefer the formal and more correct Baron and Baroness when introducing us." Or, "That's Baron Methodist, not Mr. Methodist." I'd also like to throw in a "van" or "von" preceding our last name for effect.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Burger King and Herb

As a consumer who belongs to a heavily targeted marketing demographic, I feel that every commercial that airs in primetime is directed, most of the time, at me. Luckily my counter-cultural intuitiveness shields me and my wallet from the most vile and ruthless attempts of coercion through multi-media saturation. My immunity stems ultimately from a lack of funds but on a deeper level I feel my organic firewall allows for the type of consumer freedom greatly feared on wall-street. However, that does not mean I don't enjoy a good commercial. For instance, though I rarely eat here, I do enjoy the recent Burger King commercials. This particular ad campaign has involved witty writing and good pop-cultural framework to be effective. I particularly enjoy the one commercial involving old school NASCAR and a chicken on a pole. I wonder how much money they have spent over the last couple of years?

As I ponder this I am reminded of one of the biggest ad disasters of all-time. I was but a young boy then, but remember some of the hype and big letdown with this particular one involving a nerd named Herb:

As Karl Mamer writes at, let this be a lesson to all who dare try to crush our souls with bad ads:

Where's Herb?

One of Burger King's biggest and least successful ad campaigns was launched in 1985. For weeks via in-store ads, billboards, and television commercials, it teased its customers with the enigmatic "Where's Herb?" slogan. Eventually it clued its customers in to be on the look out for someone named Herb. If you spotted Herb, you would win $5,000. Alas, Burger King failed to tell its customers what Herb actually looked like. That was the other part of the gimmick, see. Keep 'em guessing. Create "buzz" by having people debate each other what Herb actually looks like.

None of that happened.

The net effect of asking its customers to find Herb -- but not telling anyone what Herb looked like -- was that Burger King caused its own customers to harass each other in its stores.

Mercifully for those who liked to enjoy their fast food in peace, Burger King finally revealed on Superbowl night Herb to be this geeky looking fellow in a too-tight, loud suit.

By this time, no one really cared.

Lost on the vast majority of fast food consumers was the message that Herb had never actually tried a Whopper, hence he was a geek, hence you were a geek too if you've not actually bit into one of Burger King's moist, juicy flame-broiled patties.

It was too much of a leap in logic for most burger consumers to grasp. Since the ads were telling customers that Herb was spending all his time in Burger Kings, what the
!@#$ was he doing there if he wasn't eating burgers? Most assumed Burger King was trying to tell us Whoppers are the burger of choice by geeks everywhere.

Burger King blew $40 million on an ad campaign that only managed to drive off customers. The burger company's sales plummeted during the campaign. Advertising Age magazine labeled the "Where's Herb?" campaign the "most elaborate advertising flop of the decade". Other advertising insiders have more charitably called it "simply one of the greatest fiascoes in the history of advertising."

-- Karl Mamer

Also, check out this YouTube.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Airport 2006 pt II


The build up is generally better than the payoff, and well, quite frankly, in the spirit of inferior sequels I'll simply state that yes, we did get put on another plane and landed safely in DC a little before midnight. I generally consider it a success if we can land before the next day. This was no exception. That's it. I mean, I just don't have the energy to try to present a wide story arc that is both fresh and funny detailing our miss adventures in the airport as we explored other terminals, sampled some fine airport cuisine, drank overpriced beer, read trashy magazines, people watched, listened to our i-pods, finally board the plane only to sit on the runway for 45 more minutes because of a log jam of airplanes, panic about our luggage, pay too much for taxi fare and finally roll into our own bed and sleep, only to forget to turn off our cell phone alarms that were set way too early. Compelling reading this is not. Yet I continue to write on, to stretch the boundaries of boredom on my eternal quest....

Gentle readers, thank you for your patience.

Oh, and we got the free tickets.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Airport 2006

After a long, hot, yet ultimately rewarding)journey to Kansas, we were ready to get back to our little apartment and our little bed where we could recover. Recovery time is always necessary following any sort of adventure, and this was no exception. We got up early to head to that most daunting of places, the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. Ok, not so daunting. It is a charmingly simple place where the terminal options are basically Left or Right. Through the foggy haze of the early morning we were able to check our bags and board the plane to Atlanta with no incident.

Flying Airtran in and out of Wichita means making a trip to its hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, an airport that is a little bigger than Mid-Continent, having been designed to accommodate the 2006 Summer Olympics. Chances are fairly good that one will have to leap across terminals to make near-impossible connections. Fortunately we had plenty of time before our flight to Washington.

One of the charms of Hartsfield is its constant state of repair. For the past several years I have traveled through the ATL to get to Wichita and the Airtran terminals seem to be in a constant state of dismantle-ness. Wires dominate the ceiling. The floor is a series of torn carpet, exposed concrete, and plywood coverings. Nice. That, coupled with the controlled chaos of people rushing to their gates, arguing with customer reps (heard one fellow walk away from the counter and yell “F**K” to no one in particular. Classy. Didn’t you ever learn about your ‘inside voice’?), makes for a great time. Fortunately we didn’t have to long await in that purgatory of air travel.

Or did we? While sitting in our gate in those not-quite-retro-yet uncomfortable-chairs a rep announced that the flight was overbooked. Now, at this point I could go on and on regarding the logistical nuances of why airlines overbook but frankly that would be a diversion, a wrong turn into mundanity that would serve to only bog down this already tedious blog. Needless to say we were offered the opportunity of 2 round trip tickets per person who was willing to wait seven hours for the next flight to DC if they would generously give up their seat. The rep needed 7 volunteers. After much discussion my wife and I decided to take the plunge. Free tickets certainly would override any minor inconvenience of having to wait, right? So we volunteered. The rep explained that when the plane began to board, don’t go on. They’d then call the names of those people who didn’t get bumped, and then they would call those who did.

So people boarded and we sat. Row after row of weary travelers, happy that they were not delayed, looking forward to getting home. And they called out those on the list to board, except us. And they shut the door, indicating that no one else was allowed on the plane. And the minutes ticked away. The plane rolled. The reps ran away.

So there we were, sans the free tickets and filled with minor panic.

To be continued…