Post #102: How Far Can We Really Take This?

Shaking My Head

smanI thought I’d reached the point where I’d finally grown numb to the constant barrage of product placement that saturates and infests my viewing life. From Adam Levine’s Starbuck’s cup to the Dell screens on VEEP to the kick you in the balls with it stuff on shows like Top Chef where not just the products but the actions of the contestants themselves (“The Ziploc Quickfire Challenge,” “The Glad Family of Products Elimination”) are for sale. I mean, it’s a given now, isn’t it, that you will be sold to every minute of every day that you interact with media? And with the advent of DVR and TEVO, which allows viewers to simply fast forward commercials (not to mention the fact that regular TV totally blows and more and more people are getting their television from paid cable services, or just buying the shows or streaming them on Netflix), the traditional route for companies to sell you their wares through your television screen has largely been squashed, and the companies are getting desperate. I read the other day that the NBA is going to start allowing teams to display ads on the court itself, as well as atop the backboard so that when LeBron is going up for a monster dunk and you get that above the rim looking down shot, you can be reminded to drink RedBull while you appreciate his ferocity. And don’t tell me we’re not going to be victim to a whole hell of a lot more slow motion when those logos are on screen.

But where does it end? Does it end? It must end, right?

Call me naive, but even as its grown more egregious, even at it reaches the pitch of pornography, it always seemed like there was some kind of invisible barrier, some unspoken standard that we would bump up against to keep our souls from turning completely to dust. You weren’t sure what that standard was, or where the threshold lived, only that you would know it when it had been obliterated.

And I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but it appears that the hull has been breached and friends, there is no going back because, mayday mayday, we are going down. Observe.

I just watched that ad three times in a row and I feel so dirty I want to take a shower. And I just took a shower. Maybe it’s that it’s Superman that makes this feel so particularly wrong. When the staffers on The West Wing drink Starbucks it kind of annoys me because I feel placated to, but I can at least rest on the fact that the staffers on the West Wing, though made up, are supposed to be like real people. Not only is Superman a fictional character, he’s not even supposed to be real. And he’s not not supposed to be real in the way that George Costanza isn’t supposed to be real. Superman’s not real in the sense that his existence is not merely fictional, but physically and scientifically¬†impossible, which of course, makes his interaction with everyday household products like razor blades all the more insane and insulting to ponder. We are really blending it up here. How does Superman shave? Are you kidding me with this stuff? I want to find the advertising team that cooked this up and find a way to make them feel as dirty as they made me feel. Wait, that’s impossible.

I know none of this is all that new. Celebrities and even fictional characters have been selling to us for a long time now. I’m sure I see it all the time and barely bat an eye. But it’s Superman! Superman! They’re commodifying ¬†generations of hero worship, trying things up together that should be living apart, I tell you.

What’s amazing, of course, is that it will work like a charm. Gillette will sell a ton more razors. And before you know it we’ll be asking what kind of underwear the Hulk wears (Hanes) and how Wonder Woman keeps her designer mascara (Cover Girl) so perfect all the time. And don’t be surprised to see Jay Gatsby shilling for Tanqueray any day now.

Engine room, we need more power.


Post #76: Nicholas David, A Tribute


thevoice2012p-1727795142291215960-1Yes, I watch The Voice. Yes, I love The Voice. Yes, I have a problem. No, I don’t care if you’re making fun of me right now. Go ahead. Shannon and I started watching the reality singing competition at its inception and have religiously watched all three seasons so far, cheering as Javier (Season 1), Jermaine (Season 2), and recently Cassadee took home the prize. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s a great show. Sure, it’s as rife with shameless product placement as the next reality show. Sometimes, the whole show feels like one interminable commercial for the coaches (Cee-Lo Green, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, and Christina Aguilera) or the special musical guests, and when that part becomes particularly icky, when the commercial break just happens to be plugging the new CD by the special guest who just performed, I occasionally start cracking wise. But most of the time, The Voice, more than anything, is a full on love fest. I’m serious.¬†The Voice has got to be just about the most positive, affirming reality show ever made. Nobody ever gets cut down. Nobody is ever embarrassed just because. People are encouraged, given constructive criticism, and, if they progress deep into the competition, are granted the space, time, nurturing, and corporate muscle to turn them into legitimate stars. Most reality shows’ sole purpose is to create an apparatus to humiliate its contestants. To see what stupid and erroneous things they’ll do to get famous.¬†The Voice only rewards. Yes, there are winners and losers. Yes, the early going features “knockout rounds” but even when parting ways with an outgoing guest who just choked on live television, the show wraps everybody up in a big Cee-Lo bear hug and, almost stubbornly, remains a positive space for its cast and for the viewers.

I write not just to praise The Voice overall, but to praise Nicholas David, who came in third in the recently ended Season 3 competition. In the past, I’ve enjoyed and gotten attached to some Voice contestants, but even in the early going of this season, I was invested in Nicholas’s growth and wanting him to win this show. At times, I felt ashamed at how much I wanted him to win. You wanna know how much I wanted him to win? I actually voted. I’ve never voted for anything that wasn’t an election in my life. You know how during the Olympics, you watch those little human interest stories and learn about the teenaged backstroker’s life outside the pool, and then when the big race comes you’re sweating and screaming at the television for her to take home the gold? How uplifted you feel when she wins? How crestfallen when she doesn’t? It was kind of like that. I was also rooting for Nicholas because, looks wise, he’s about the last guy who ever has a chance of winning a reality television show, where though the playing field appears to be “even,” the best looking people somehow always seem to rise to the top. Nicholas is a timeless soul singer wrapped in a chubby, gangly, geeky white guys body. He wears a lot of rings and beads and swag, but the captain of a neighborhood Dungeons and Dragons club is still under there. When he sings, he kicks his leg out in the most awkward way. He says “yeah, baby,” a lot. Bows in this weird, Budda like way. Started wearing his hair in a freaky Barry Gibb thing. But week after week, I’d watch him progress, rise to the pressure, and totally slay whatever song he took on, from “Lean on Me” to “September” to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to “You Are So Beautiful.” His version of the latter literally made me cry. Twice. The guy has pipes so soulful and pure America looked way the hell past his looks and almost crowned him the champ. He used to be way overweight and a heavy drinker and, it would seem, many times came close to giving up on his dreams. He had a few kids and watched his singing career drift away from him like a detached thought balloon. You watch this guy sing, so much better than 99% of the shit that passes for popular music and you start swearing there’s no justice in the world. Or maybe there is just a bit. Because I’m sitting here writing about him, singing his praises. Singing, get it?

Now, let’s say you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, but for some reason you’ve read this far anyway out of blind loyalty, or strange curiosity, then let me reward your patience with some samples of Nicholas’s performances from the show. I dare you not to fall in love with this guy.