This is Joe Frango's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Joe Frango's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Joe Frango
Recent Activity
I'm fascinated by how The Hunger Games took the Survivor franchise to the next level -- it's the same game, but overlaid with state-sanctioned murder as popular entertainment. Sure, it's Gladiatorial, but it pits the technological sophistication of the state against the athleticism of the individual. (In a way, elite athletes -- especially those of oppressed minority groups -- can be considered survivors whose amazing physical prowess enabled them to beat the odds and win the favor of the state.) Most significantly, The Hunger Games assuages us with an extreme version of our society. We all compete for survival, we all hunger for goods and services, we all fear disempowerment and disenfranchisement. But by creating a fictional world of Hobbesian proportions far beyond our own, The Hunger Games allows us to feel we don't have it that bad, that radicalism and revolution are only necessary under the most extreme conditions. We merely watch the movie; we don't live it.
Yes, the X-men are typically portrayed as persecuted outsiders. As mutants, they are seen as symbolic of oppressed minorities. I detect a starkly contrasting subtext: the X-men (in particular the cultivated an urbane Charles Xavier, the group's founder and benefactor) are symbols of American exceptionalism -- they are hated because they debunk our cherished ideal of equality. All men are not created equal, and the X-men (symbolic stand-ins for people of "superior" means and breeding) are living proof. They are threatening to the masses, precisely because their distinctive genetic composition predisposes them to greatness. They are the philosopher-kings and queens that democratic ideals contest. Of course, because their superiority is not only physical and intellectual but moral, they wind up defending the masses who fear them. Interesting that Professor Xavier runs a prep school for "gifted children" (mutants) and has the power to read and control minds. Inevitably society must accept the mutants as superior beings, the super-gifted who are worthy of our adulation. They offer a false assurance that social Darwinism is destiny, and Adam Smith's invisible hand protective.
Jerome, it's intriguing how the Godzilla franchise has evolved. Originally a cautionary tale about the Pandora's box of nuclear power, Godzilla was the embodiment of Post-WWII malaise, fraught with emotional fallout from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was a vengeful god wreaking retribution on an atom-splitting humanity. There's something Kierkegaardian about the leap of faith that recasts the behemoth as a hero, as if nature could somehow course-correct after we cause it to run amok (the blind faith, perhaps, of those who think environmental damage will just "go away"). Humanity may be helpless, but there is still a natural order that tips in our favor, no matter how reckless we may be. I suspect that this curious evolutionary fiction reflects a disenchantment with our own evolution: we cannot control our future, so we look to the past (in this case, our primordial past in the form of a dinosaur)to save us. The Jurassic series is another example of man attempting (this time with great deliberation and calculation)to recreate the past. Mankind seems nostalgic for the amoral, primordial simplicity of dinosaurs. In a way, the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise is, as all franchises tend to be, an exercise in nostalgia. The next big thing is the same old thing – which underscores capitalism’s (and in particular, Hollywood's) ability to recycle intellectual property and maintain the status quo rather than open news horizons of innovation. And much of the landscape of Star Wars, for all its emphasis on space-age science on steroids, harkens back to pre-mankind earth: other worlds evoke our world from eons ago, when strange non-human creatures held dominion over an ecologically unspoiled planet. Running counter to this cultural fixation on re-engineering the past is our obsession with super heroes and their superhuman ability to power blockbusters to box office glory. Iron Man is the most astonishing example of capitalism congratulating itself on its ability to confer god-like powers through the commerce of technology. Tony Stark is an arrogant, swaggering "industrialist" and scion of wealth and privilege. His charm as well as his genius is in his genetics, which propel him (literally) to dizzying heights of technological and commercial success as he crushes the bad guys (terrorists and the like)and even overcomes his own bum heart. He has been bred to lead and succeed -- and he does, in spectacular fashion, as the invincible Iron Man. Like Captain America, he is a metaphor of transformative technological possibilities and capitalism’s limitless ingenuity -- the triumph of science (fused with ideology) over human frailty and vulnerability. As dinosaurs and super heroes battle for supremacy at the box office, one thing is clear: we are at war with our fears and insecurities over the future. Which brings to mind Voltaire's maxim: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."
Jerome, the Stein passage brought to mind James Dean, and by extension all actors (usually whose lives are cut short) to whom we ascribe a mystical quality. Mannerisms lead to mimicry and parody, but there is something sacrosanct about actors who can communicate deep meaning with a look or gesture. It's as if their very bearing conveys a meta-message. In the poem "Flammonde," Edwin Arlington Robinson writes about a stranger who comes to town and dazzles people with the inscrutable power of his presence. Flammonde is special; he casts a spell on all he meets, but he is at bottom a mystery, a repository and reflection of existential angst, much like Hollywood's doomed legends. We wonder at Flammonde, and all those who stage presence (whether in person or magnified through mass communications) commands our attention. As Robinson wrote: What was he, when we came to sift His meaning, and to note the drift Of incommunicable ways That make us ponder while we praise? Why was it that his charm revealed Somehow the surface of a shield? What was it that we never caught? What was he, and what was he not?
Jerome, it's fascinating how poetry, because of its purity as an art form unsoiled by commerce, becomes an effective marketing subterfuge -- it doesn't sell well itself, so how can we suspect it of selling anything else? It's the voice of authenticity, however obscure and hermetic it may seem. Poetry's distance from commerce gives it the power to dignify it. But your post and the many conversations I've been privileged to enjoy with you on the subject make me think of the role of the poetic sensibility in the Creative Revolution of the 1950s and '60s. David Ogilvy, in particular, seemed adept at distilling value propositions down to a poetic core. I'm thinking of his British tourism ad for Westminster abbey, "Tread softly past the long, long sleep of kings." There's a rhapsodic quality to his copy -- every ad a paean to a particular product. Ogilvy, an Oxford dropout whose father was classics professor, had an uncanny knack for finding the intersection between the utilitarian and the evocative, as in his famous Rolls Royce ad with the headline, "At 60 miles per hour the loudest noise in this Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock." Of course, he was both revered and reviled for his quip, "It's only creative if it sells." But for him, selling was a form of poetic rhapsody. He didn't see poetry and commerce as contradictory. "Tell the truth but make it fascinating," another Ogilvyism, reflects the tendency toward epiphany that drove the Creative Revolution, where a headline, paired with the right image, could say so much about a product and its cultural context.
David Hume said: "To hate, to love, to think, to feel, to see; all this is nothing but to perceive." Perhaps inspiration is born of perception. But creative perception is often a process of revelation: the poem reveals itself piecemeal -- word by word, line by line -- to the poet, whose poetry is open to self-interpretation. Inspiration may be a case of "Seeing through a glass darkly." I interpret Ceravolo's poem as a commentary on lost fecundity and sexual depreciation. What was Ceravolo's interpretation of his own poem? Did it emerge from the edges of his perception, apparition-like? There seems to be a kind of creative relativism in play in the interpretation of art: we assign our own meanings to art, and to ourselves. Blake seems to decry this idea, however, when he says: "We are led to believe a lie when we see not thro' the eye."
Jerome, your post makes me consider the importance not only of reading the minds of others but of channeling fictional personae. We try to read other minds but our own minds morph in a constant state of self-invention, as we don different personae in our social interactions. Like actors, we channel characters that are scripted for us by nature and nurture. There is, for example, our "professional" identity, which often contrasts sharply with what we consider our authentic identity. On a deeper level,we channel the muse to whom we attribute our creativity. It is the muse who gives us our most sublime thoughts. As conduits for her creative expression, we walk a fine line between afflatus and artifice. The archetype of the muse underscores the basic human need to channel the divine and read the minds of the gods.
Jerome, the "mind reading" clip from Goodfellas is a great dramatization of the brinkmanship often involved in the assertion of marginalized ethnic identities. There is an old Italian saying, "If they will not love us, let them fear us." Joe Pesci's character seems to be brandishing the weapon of unknowable identity. Society may call him a "wop" or "guinea," but he asserts the power of the inscrutable Other. He is small in stature (physically and socially), but the mystery and menace surrounding him demand respect. There is a gallows humor to this form of social defiance - as Liota's character comes to appreciate when he realizes Devito is jesting. The "Goodfellas Painting" clip is fascinating for its portrayal of perverse empathy: somehow Tommy manages to empathize with the old man in the picture, while a flesh-and-blood human being dies an agonizing death in the trunk of his car. Art, however crude, can command a certain degree of knee-jerk empathy, even when the suffering we cause others does not.
Jerome, your post got me thinking about how archetypal the "Forward" meme is, especially in America, where the idea of progress is central to our national identity. Western ideologies tend to be linear in their march toward progress -- capitalism and communism are both, at bottom, Utopian. Our Judeo-Christan heritage also emphasizes the linear narrative of history - an eschatological march. Watching the Obama commercial, I was struck by how deep the march-of-history theme runs in our political culture. Blake's poem "Jerusalem" came to mind: I will not cease from mental fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem In England's green and pleasant land. Presidential campaigns tend to be permeated with the idea of America as "the shining city on the hill," or the New Jerusalem. Romney's belief resided in the backwardness of America; the Obama campaign positioned itself as the fulfillment of national promise, and skillfully merged modern sensibilities with a deeply cherished faith in America as the New Jerusalem.
Leo Burnett's Marlboro man is another classic of minimalist advertising (maybe even more minimalist than "Think small"). Fascinating how the image of the "macho" cowboy came to represent a cigarette brand that was originallly targeted to women. Michael mentions style as a marker of the moment. In Mary Wells Lawrence campaign for Braniff airlines, "The End of the Plain Plane," style and advertising converge to make a statement about the sexual liberation of the 60s. The campaign featured stewardess in (for the time) provocative outfits,cavorting inside of and on the wings of Braniff planes that were cast as places to party and take flight from repressive social conventions.
Jerome, your and Michael's comments beautifully conjure the communal intimacy of the dark during a power outtage. The media, of course, seem to prefer the spectacle of riots, but the quietude of a mass power outtage can be collectively empowering, if only because it underscores our dependency on each other's goodwill and forces upon us a sharp recognition of our vulnerability --as individuals and a society. So much comes to light in the dark! As for the creative vitality of the NYC of bygone days, I couldn't help but think of the creative revolution in advertising during the 50s, 60s and 70s -- the inspiration for Mad Men, of course. It was led, primarily, by a collection of ethnic street kids who morphed from creative renegades into millionaires and icons (Bernbach, Lois, Della Femina, et al.). There's something reassuringly American about their rise to glory. And yet when you come right down to it, they were salesmen -- Willy Lomans made good.
I think Michael's observations about the role of the outsider provide cutting insight into the Kia spot, where, as in the larger culture, "undesirables" morph into mavericks. I thought of the mice in the Nutcracker - nefarious figures to be sure, yet a harmonic part of a high culture narrative, without the cultural dissonance of Kia's hamsters. In the Kia commercial, the rodents are not villains but anti-heroes - embodiments of the most populist form of heroism. It's interesting to note how they are metaphors for rap music, perhaps America's most insurrectionary form of artistic expression. The hamster DJ sports the colors of the Afro-American flag, and flirts with a white woman in the audience. (Interesting, too, the sheer whiteness of the audience and opera performers -- a powdered effete whiteness seem the pervade the classical milieu.) The spot trades on the liberating effects of cultural transgression and the breaking of class/racial boundaries. Another thought: rats have long been used as a symbol of racial and ethnic infestation (Nazi propaganda posters portraying Jewish people as rats that must be exterminated come to mind). But hamsters are pets -- lovable, controllable, confined to a cage with a spinning wheel. Kia lets them loose and humanizes them further -- to the point where they become the driving force (pun intended) of history: the oppressed revolutionary masses. The shift is fascinating -- from portraying humans as rodents to portraying rodents as humans. The dialectic of history never ceases to amaze.
Yes, Schwarzenegger and Ventura were sideshow freaks on the national stage. But in the 70s and 80s, Schwarzenegger represented a kind of masculine ideal. He was an ubiquitous pop culture presence. Though deflated (literally and figuratively), he remains a significant phenomenon, I think, because he embodies the arrogance and artifice of the right. You allude to Armstrong’s fight against cancer – a key point to consider when we evaluate the public perception of him. He became a symbol of triumph over a much-feared disease. Interesting to think that chemotherapy could also be considered a performance-enhancing drug regimen of sorts. Just as the chemotherapy enabled him to beat cancer, so steroids enabled him to exceed other physical limitations. Cheating, of course, is not the same as surviving. On balance, though, he still came across as a hero – or anti-hero as he fought against the tarnishing of his image with the same tenacity with which he fought cancer.
Jerome, another fascinating post. Ryan's young gun virile image (indeed his his entire cameo on the Romney ticket) seems crafted for Kennedy-esque effect. Interesting to think, though, that Kennedy was in fact sickly. Young and mediagenic (perhaps our first made-for-TV president), Kennedy suffered from a debilitating disease and severe back pain. Under the gracefully tailored suits, he was the ninety pound weakling whose glamour was his strength. His niece Maria, on the other hand, married Arnold Schwarzenegger, the personification of steroid-inflated, Frankenstein masculinity. Though the Terminator's governorship and marriage have been exposed as shams, he capitalized on the public's fascination with physique (however false), morphing almost seamlessly from champion bodybuilder to Hollywood star to governor of California. Jesse "The Body" Ventura, another hulking mass of steroid-bloated humanity, enjoyed similar success, moving from the pop culture ghetto of Wrestlemania to the Governor's mansion in Minnesota. Both these men were heralded as anti-establisment mavericks whose intellectual deficiencies only seemed to heighten their renegade appeal. Schwarzenegger's challenger for the governorship was a balding, roly-poly lieutenant governor who seemed dwarfed by "the Austrian Oak's" towering image. Clearly, it was Schwarzenegger's body (certainly not his intellect) that lent him the gravitas to become governor. He was ambition on steroids - the physical embodiment of the American Dream run amok. How ironic that he wound up humiliating his glamorous pedigreed wife by cheating on her with the help. Virility, it seems, knows no class (or moral) boundaries.
Jerome, I'm struck by the notion of poetry as a kind of wild beast that must be caged or tamed, yet whose primal presence is undeniable, almost transcendent. Restrictive conventions are imposed upon it, but like a wild animal it longs to roam free. And because it is a product of the imagination, it cannot be limited to the confines of critical reception. No wonder the "cat" becomes the spokesanimal for poetry. Hard not to compare Moore's cat with Blake's tyger: both are fierce, dangerous, and not to be denied. Populism is primal: it appeals to an inner imperative for release and fulfillment. Like a tranquilizer gun, critical standards tame the beast of poetry, but rob it of its primal spirit. As a result, it becomes restricted to a niche audience with "refined" tastes, while to a wider audience poets become innocuous curiosities like animals in a zoo. Viewed in this light, criticism is control, and critical standards not so much refinement as confinement.
Jerome, sorry, just circling back to this. Your comment makes me think of the conflict between two management models: employee empowerment and command and control. Employee empowerment, which advocates greater individual initiative and "ownership," seems to be a corporate offshoot of the "power to the people" movement of the 60s. It argues that by flattening out the typically hierarchical structure of the old command-and-control model, companies can develop a less restrictive, more innovative culture -- one based on collaboration rather than domination. It's a democratizing inroad into corporate life, which has historically conformed to a military model based on an executive chain of command.
Whoa, brilliant post. Interesting how the idea of sharing -- a core part of a child's socilaization in our society -- is used to mask consumerism as collectivism. But "share everything" is subliminal messaging for "buy everything." The "Share It Maybe" video plays off of an intriguing irony: the stress and tedium of office life are relieved by something as trivial as cookies. (I couldn't help but think of the Pascal quote: "A trifle consoles us, for a trife distresses us.") Sharing cookies becomes an escape hatch and a team building exercise at the same time. Instead of goose-stepping, we dance in unison (as in fact we often do -- think of iconic communal dances like the electric slide and the Macarena). The "They Live" clip reminded me of the minimalist trend in advertising. In fact, there's a ubiquitous banner advertising campaign that uses the "Obey" copy platform to hawk weight loss pills, anti-aging creams, reduced insurance rates,etc. -- e.g., "Obey this one rule to lose weight." All of this demonstrates how capitalism fosters and manipulates a herd mentality. In stark contrast to the rhetoric about individual initiative and innovation, these examples underscore its push for mass uniformity in the interest of mass marketing and consumption.
Stein is an interesting parallel. Didn't think of her. "As the cat" by William Carlos Williams came to mind. The slow, deliberate movements of the cat as it disappears into the flower pot -- a measured elusiveness. Then there's Eliot's fascination with cats and his emphasis on renunciation. All of which made me wonder: Why do cats compel the poetic imagination? Their enigmatic quality, I suppose. They do seem aloof -- and human beings tend to both admire and begrudge aloofness.
Great post. For me, the poem is reminiscent of Samuel Beckett, who used the same repetive, incantatory cadence in prose to convey epistemological angst and ontological disequilibrium. In fact, the narrator of The Cat is not unlike the anonymous voice of Beckett's novel, The Unnamable. Words fail to grasp the reality 9or unreality) of the Self, but they're all we have. Consider the closing lines to the Unnamable: You must go on. I can't go on. You must go on. I'll go on. You must say words, as long as there are any - until they find me, until they say me. (Strange pain, strange sin!) You must go on. Perhaps it's done already. Perhaps they have said me already. Perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story. (That would surprise me, if it opens.) It will be I? It will be the silence, where I am? I don't know, I'll never know: in the silence you don't know. You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.
I think the influence of advertising remains inescapable, if only because of its pervasiveness. The economics of TV programming, for example, are still sstructured around advertising. And advertising on the Web is ubiquitous. The fact that online business models like Facebook struggle to monetize is another clear indication that advertising is key, however much the form of ads may morph to match technological trends and evolving media platforms. Advertising remains the propaganda of capitalism -- a force present at every turn of our lives and in every medium. The fact that social media have "democratized" advertising means that we are all now citizen advertisers. It is no longer the province of the elite, as was journalism before the Web. Now advertising is everyone's business -- we all just don't get paid for it.
Michael's observations make me think of Chomsky's take on advertising as a subterfuge that manufactures our consent to injustice. Chomsky's point was that not only is advertising diversionary, but an enforcer of status quo values and a perpetuator of a system based on falsehoods, inequities, and aggression. Perhaps that's why so much of marketing speak carries violent and militaristic connotations -- "crush the competition," "claim more market share," etc. Marketing and corporate life often mirror the military, especially in their emphasis on hierarchy and conquest.
Jerome, watching these spots in light of your insights made me think of how cyberspace has turned William Carlos William's dictum on its head: Now there are no things but in ideas. Cyber ideation (which the search engine actualizes)is the new obsession. If we have an idea of what we want, we can find it (or at least search for it) online. Hence the Dodge commercial embodies what it claims to escape. I also couldn't help but think of how car commercials in general are becoming more focused on the "user experience" (the mantra of digital marketing these days),with increasing emphasis on ease of use achieved through technology. The Jaguar spot, as it resolved into a visual caressing of the car's contours, struck me as car porn ("so seductive," the voice over says). There was such a tactile quality to it. But again, it was essentially about the ability of technology to transform ideas into things -- or more specifically, commodities.
Jerome, I'm struck by the physicality of Lewis' typewriter routine, and how it contrasts and conflicts with our increasingly virtual world. His pantomime was made possible, it seems, by the tactile nature of the technology whose rhythms he was mimicking. Could a computer inspire such joyous physical whimsy? The typewriter was active; the computer is passive. The more sophisticated technology becomes, the farther it takes us from our corporeal existence, without necessarily spiritualizing or elevating our experience. Is our cyber-passivity sapping us of the poetry of physicality? It seems that what we may gain in social connectedness we lose in physical connectedness -- not just to each other, but to ourselves. I would think that poetry requires, on some level at least, a sense of embodiment. Would computer-generated poetry be anything more than a form of faux humanity? The tension between the physical and the virtual seems especially problematic for our hi-tech age.
Not sure if Nietzsche spoke directly about irony, but one of his aphorisms may sum up his attitude to a subject that he consider rife with irony: "Pity for all would be harshness and tyranny for you, my good neighbor." That's from "Beyond Good and Evil." As you alluded, there is something pitiless about the cavalier attitude to Armageddon and the loss of "Dave." So much of advertising seems to try to position itself "beyond good and evil" in a realm of "cool" irony.
I've read that the Chevy Runs Deep campaign, which was originally driven (pun intended) by claims of authenticity, wasn't resonating and had to be retooled. The spot "It's Part of the Family," which I mentioned in a previous post, struck an emotional chord with me by dramatizing how a product can be beloved if positioned as an extension of a beloved family member. Chevy's Armageddon commercial is part of the revised campaign, which reverts to irony. The question then becomes, Why would irony be more effective than emotion? Perhaps irony is viewed as a form of power by a male audience that prizes strength over vulnerability (think of Dodge's "Ram Tough" tagline). As Nietzsche said, "He who strides across the highest mountains laughs at all tragedies."