Monday, September 01, 2008

Notes from the Zeitgeist

There are two commercials right now that defy my sense of logic and humor. I know what "the point" of commercials are, so anyone ready for the "attack" on why I would be looking for logic in commercials can lay that argument to rest.

#1: AT & T, with their current campaign of ads that have a person in some such humorous situation while their "phone," being played by the same person, makes mention of all the things that the person is missing because they have no reception, because other people are frantically trying to call to get them out of the situation or alert them to some other news.

The one in particular that strikes a nerve is the girl who likes Michael Phelps. Her real self is watching Phelps race (this is clearly not some fan just watching highlights or a Sports Illustrated video, because she reacts to Phelps' win with gusto)...but it's too obviously not how a race would be televised, what with tons of film footage...and yet, I think I can forgive that. It's what the "phone" is saying is happening at the same time that bothers me: Phelps is apparently "just down the street" signing autographs and telling hilarious stories about Chinese food.

Phelps is an even better athlete than we thought. He can be in two entirely different places at once.

#2: Geico. Geico has had long-running campaigns with the gecko and the cavemen, and when they began they were pretty amusing. They jumped the shark a long time ago, but the cavemen ads are now entering some brutally unfunny territory.

The one with the caveman playing tennis with Billie Jean King is awful. Perhaps there's humor to be had in the caveman remarking, "I can't believe I'm beating Billie Jean King," and after the rebuttal, him saying, "I think you better take a look at the...scoreboard!" and finding out that he has in fact not won one game (it's 6-0, 6-0, 5-0). It just defies my sense of setup and delivery: is it funny because he's clueless, or is it funny because he should know better, or is he just being a jerk? I don't know. I still can't figure it out. I study these things.

But the commercial is not done in insulting any kind of intelligence you might have had before the ad started. We're supposed to believe that in this game where nearly 3 sets have been played, the caveman hasn't once seen all the Geico ads decorated around the stadium, including his own chair. This would go a long way in proving that "clueless" hypothesis, but it would bring us no closer to humor.

We've been introduced to the cavemen as "sensitive" and despite their hairy, non-evolved appearance, they still have average intelligence at the very least (which is part of the original humor, which worked). And the ad assumes you've seen all the others, or else the caveman's quitting the match because of his Geico outrage wouldn't make sense at all. I know that there are some people out there (youngsters mainly) who are just becoming aware of the cavemen and probably don't know what they have against Geico. And they would rightfully get up from their building blocks and go, "What the hell?"

Both companies just wanted a theme that matched something going on (AT & T, Olympics; Geico, U.S. Open) but it seems like you would have a long time to figure something out that made sense or had a better delivery.

More Michael Phelps. Like many people, not only in the U.S., but around the world, I enjoyed seeing him win 8 gold medals. This is amazing, incredible, awesome, and any other superlative you might want to throw out there.

But a side story for Phelps' win in the 100M butterfly over Milorad Cavic bothered me heavily. Those of you who have followed many of my posts about sports over the years will not be surprised at my reaction to it.

As many of you know, Phelps won this by a hundredth of a second, the narrowest of margins. By all accounts, including Phelps and his coach, he had actually made a couple of blunders in the race, including the luckiest blunder of them all: the final power stroke to touch the wall that beat Cavic's long stretch. This was remarkable. If he had not made what normally would have been a mistake, he would have lost. Luckily, Cavic made an even bigger one.

But afterwards, several times we would hear, Cavic made a remark before the race, "It would be good for the sport if Phelps lost," and this quip was given to Phelps at breakfast. The idea was that this kind of talk would provide "fuel" to Phelps' fire, provide extra "motivation" (as if going for a world record amount of gold medals and just the spirit of competition was not enough).

Phelps would affirm what all Americans know after Bob Costas asked the question about extra motivation: of course that remark helped Phelps win, how couldn't it? Extra motivation, pretty much 100% of the time we're told, wins all contests. This ignores that Phelps won by only 1/100 of a second, got lucky, and was the only race in which he didn't set a world record. But if you had not seen the race or not heard anything about it, and watched the interview, you would have thought Phelps blew Cavic out of the water.

By the way, here's a pretty funny video for that race:

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

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At 9/03/2008 03:49:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

What I like about the AT&T commercial is this: they have moved to a small town, and therefore can't get cell reception, but somehow Phelps has visited this place to sign autographs. Like he's signing in Shelbyville or something.


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