Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cool Shit Alert: The Cadbury Gorilla

I really like this commercial: Gorilla Feels the Groove. I haven't written about a meme in a while, and this advert gives me a good feeling, so I think I can find an excuse to write about it.

First of all, why am I so attracted to it? It's the simplicity -- the gorilla's nonverbal acting, an expressed and gestured emotion, with a perfectly appropriate Phil Collins song. There's something profoundly sincere about the drumming and the monkeyface, looking toward the sky, and I think the fact that it's a gorilla makes it more austere somehow, and more authentic.

Cadbury beats Apple, in my opinion... as far as feeling the pure joy, vicariously making love to the music, Gorilla affects me more than the rockin' silhouettes, who look like they're having fun, but may be a little too awkward, or choreographed. It might be because the silhouettes seem to be dancing for, and/or addressing, the camera, whereas Gorilla seems to be alone in a studio, complete at peace with his Genesis. If that was a human making that enchanted face, I don't think I'd buy it.

Of course, you might take a second and look for meaning, thereby delaying the inevitable happiness that the commercial can bring. Make no mistake... the search for some sort of pun is futile. The commercial is a non-sequiter.

But you need to get past that to see why it's so damn successful. The point of a commercial is to induce an effect in the viewer, to take over a piece of mental space, and the Gorilla kicks some serious ass in that regard. First, you have to catch the audience's attention, like the Apple commercial does with bright colors. The extreme close-up of a Gorilla face does the trick, in my opinion, through a combination of fascination and confusion.

The commercial never explains the gorilla, but before we get so confused that we're bored, it moves on to the second effect: inducing a mental state. When you make the connection between the blissful, distracted expression and the ghostly soundtrack, you start to get it. When the bass kicks and the gorilla fully surrenders to the beat, you fall in with him. A few riffs later, you're in love with the song, and with the gorilla, and you're either laughing in amusement or tapping in empathy. Once you get the second effect, the carefully-crafted cerebral response, you get the product shot. There doesn't need to be an explicit connection. They just need to be correlated.

It's not manipulation, necessarily. If you're not making claims about the product, you certainly can't be lying. If you can craft such a simple image of pure joy, you've probably experienced it, and you probably know its nuances, and you probably want to bring it to your audience. This is my universalist optimism about good advertising... consumers are so savvy these days that the only way to seem sincere is to be sincere.

So I'm going to stake my faith in the idea that the director of this commercial doesn't give a shit whether I buy Cadbury chocolate. I think he was just using that forum as an excuse to bring the joy of music to his Gorilla, and through his Gorilla, to me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Southland Tales: Bring It, Richard Kelly

Now here's an upcoming release that looks interesting: Southland Tales. It's a surreal-looking film directed by Richard Kelly, director of nineties teenager cult flick Donnie Darko. That connection would have been enough to attract my attention, but there's more to this movie that makes it interesting. Let's take a look.

Before my fanboyism sets in, I can tell you: the (various) premises of the movie are worth checking out. From my understanding, it follows at least three people -- an amnesiac action movie star, an enterprising porn actress, and a paranoid cop -- through various narratives and adventures. It hints at its own complications: I can speculate that the action movie star gets his true identity mixed up with the identity of a part he's supposed to be acting (a la The Long Kiss Goodnight, which was, by the way, an amazing movie). I can also sense, from the trailer's apocalyptic opening, that the cop's insight into a global conspiracy walks the line between absurd paranoid fantasy and terrifying truth.

These are interesting ideas individually. They're not brand new, but they're also not beaten into the ground yet, and if they're woven skillfully, they could make a truly bold narrative structure.

Appealing to my unique preferences, though, are the personalities that are showcased in this avant-garde movie. It stars The Rock and Seann William Scott, and the last movie they did together (The Rundown) was not only one of my favorite movies EVER, but it was also the coolest movie the Rock has done, in my overstimulated opinion. If they still have that original chemistry, they could bring something intense and appealing to this movie, which is in danger of being slightly pretentious (The Fountain syndrome, maybe).

The Rock needs a movie like this right now. He has an amazing screen presence... he's part of a new generation of action stars who can be inspiring in a choreographed action scene, on par with the Schwarzeneggers and the Stallones, and at the same time, he can muster up some class that the previous generation never managed. He's on par with Vin Diesel and Jason Statham in that regard, and it's tragic that right now, he's in danger of following the former into oblivion. Movies like The Game Plan spell the beginning of the end of a blossoming action career.

Hopefully a movie like Southland Tales will help pull it out of the crapper. Hopefully enough people notice it. Hopefully Dwayne Johnson is able to fulfill his muscley promise.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The spectrum of an idea, from the RIAA to Radiohead and Lawrence Lessig

In recent days, two things have happened simultaneously, and they represent two important, but ambiguous, developments in a struggle that has been on the radar for quite a while. This is the battle for music distribution, fought between an enterprising public and a defensive, conservative media industry.

First of all, the first RIAA lawsuit to come to trial has been decided, in a far-reaching event that proves that our legal system has no scruples about deciding against individuals in favor of megacorporations. The defendant in question was fined $9,250 per song, for each of 24 songs she made available online that the record companies focused on. For those whose Windows calculators aren't handy, that's $222,000 she has to pay for allowing other people to download things from her computer.

The absurd verdict isn't actually justified by any real-world logic, and all that's left to explain it is the RIAA's emphasis on her as an example. I can't imagine a court that would allow this to happen, nor a legal precedent that would accommodate it. It's the newest in a series of verdicts symptomatic of a neurotic, punitive society, so scared of crime and disorder that it imposes sanctions far exceeding what's called for by the situation in question. Another recent example resulted in a national controversy that's still striking some racial nerves in the CNS of this country.

The other thing I was talking about... the converging happenstance that complicates a simple statement on corporate stupidity... is Radiohead's startling, progressive decision to publish their own new album, coming on September 10, and to offer it for whatever price the buyer wants to pay. This is a powerful statement in opposition to the music industry, showing the world that the corporate machine is no longer the only way to distribute music.

Here we have an obstacle, and we have an answer. When the RIAA and the constipated corporate assholes of America try to strangle the emergent technology that offers a new promise to their medium, they will be met: they will find themselves faced with artists and individuals with an active conscience, a critical consciousness, and the power to wiggle out of a crushing grip.

In my opinion, Radiohead is taking the first step in a journey we all have to undergo. My personal and philosophical arguments with the RIAA have compounded so much that I'm not interested in any form of compliance any longer, whether it's financial, legal, or journalistic. It's time for listeners to strangle those old channels and flood the new ones. When they demand $222,000 from Jammie Thomas, who makes $36,000 a year, to make an example out of a rather trivial offense, the record companies show themselves incapable of reason, and they lose all rights to compromise.

I'm never buying music from an RIAA-based label again. If I want to listen to new music from somebody worth listening to, and they happen to have RIAA distribution, I'll find a friend who has the CD and I'll borrow it. Meanwhile, I'll make a point of purchasing any good music that's being offered independently, or through an alternative label, or via nontraditional distribution scheme.

If anybody else wants to do the same, here are some sites to inspire you and get you moving.

For fighting the powers that be:
Boycott RIAA makes the case against the RIAA
RIAA Watch will tell you if your new CD is sponsoring intellectual terrorism

For getting non-RIAA music:
Radiohead is offering the new album, independent of the system.
Magnatune has some good bands, all licensed for easy distribution

For understanding creative freedom:
Lawrence Lessig is one of the masterminds of the Creative Commons

Free, legal raw material for use in your own work:
The Film Archive has free movie clips whose copyright terms have expired
StockXchange has hundreds of free stock photographs
Flickr supports Creative Commons and reasonable rights for use of images

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dove Onslaught and the Cold War of Culture

Dove's released a new video, OnSlaught, following the success of their PSA "Evolution" last year. I'm a big fan of the campaign... it's emblematic of a new sensibility developing in corporations, who are trying to create productive relationships with their clientelle, instead of just repeating taglines and saturating media with their logo. Those who want to destroy capitalism will still object, seeing this as another method of appropriation. Those who would rather meet the market half-way... people like me... should see this for what it is: a step forward for the culture, wherein the interests of the company, the consumer, and the society are becoming more intertwined and symbiotic.

This new Dove video is interesting to me, as a media student. Intentional or not, the ad references one of the most famous PSA's in history, the "Daisy Girl" ad created by Tony Schwartz in 1964. Schwartz has discussed his own inspiration in creating the ad, saying that it isn't designed to tell the public what to buy, so much as to activate the latent emotions they already have. In that way, Daisy Girl differs significantly from previous "sales pitch" and newsreel ads. Instead of pitching adjusted informational content, Schwartz creates a visual and audio environment that elicits an emotional response and taps an audiences anxieties and preconceptions.

Some people call this fearmongering, or propaganda... I see it as a new respect for evocation and the psychology of politics. Daisy Girl was an audacious PSA that addressed peace and militarism as resonant concerns for voters during the Cold War, and it made an abstract statement that spoke to the specific fears of the public. If corporations have harnessed this method to misrepresent products and play on anxieties and stereotypes, I don't think it's Mr. Schwartz's fault.

Onslaught, I feel, renews Schwartz's productive use of mass media. On the most superficial level, we're shown an intimate portrait of a child, and then our gaze is reversed and cast upon the dangers that confront her. There's no mention, textually or audibly, of sex, objectification, or feminism, but with the juxtaposition Dove presents, viewers realize that they know this imagery is dangerous and offensive. Try to explain it and you get lost in the words. Show it, out of context, in a river of sensory overload, and we're forced to confront it and deal with our own innate response.

And when these things converge -- the abstract, oblique theories (feminism, psychoanalysis, media critique) and the gut reactions (the intuitive revulsion and anxiety that Dove elicits) -- when these yield the same result, I'm disposed to believe it: that the beauty industry, with its fashion and cosmetic culture, is an ideological payload being dropped that needs to be diffused and neutralized.