Mark and I just came back from a visit with my childhood friends —friends of 50 years or more. We spent a lot of time just hanging out. Early in the visit, someone brought up the seven things you are not supposed to talk about. The list was evidently put together by a French woman, who passed it on to an American woman, whose daughter Sara was interviewing her and filling in for Ira Glass on This American Life. Some of the things are obvious, some not so obvious, but I will share the whole list here.
The first, and most offensive, said Sara’s mother, was “route talk.” The very idea of telling someone how you got there –to wherever –was at the top of the list of colossally boring subjects. No one wants to know how you got there. No one wants to know about traffic. About getting lost. About stopping along the way. Sara’s family, for some reason, sometime ago, had invited Robert Redford to their home. And when he got there the first thing he did was engage in route talk: “how he got lost and asked someone for directions, and they recognized him and asked for his autograph, and so on.” According to Sara’s mother Redford’s recitation of route took as long as it took him to get there — two hours. Sara asked her: Is he dead to you now? Her mother replied: Pretty much.
Money was a big one, and we all know about that. I can’t imagine any one who was brought up without knowing that talking about money is rude. And, yet, says Sara’s mother, that is all that Americans do. (Including her, she admitted).
One applies to only half the population, and it’s easy to understand. Never, ever talk about your period.
Then there is your health — no one, says Mrs. Mattheison — is interested in your health. The only exception is a serious illness, and among friends.
After that there is diet. Especially offensive at the dinner table. That includes whether you are trying to lose weight, what you’re eating, what you can’t eat, what you don’t eat. Vegans, beware. I understand this one, because my brother, who is incredibly healthy and skinny, will inevitably take a bite of dessert and comment that he shouldn’t be doing it. I, of course, do not talk about how I should not eat dessert, even though I shouldn’t.
We’re on to sleep. It’s boring to talk about how you slept, or didn’t sleep. Boring to everyone, but maybe you.
And finally, there are dreams. No one cares about your dreams. For Sara’s Mom the pinnacle of boredom could be Dream Groups.
Having learned all of this, I, along with my friends, did our very best to bring up the seven things you don’t talk about in every conversation we had.
Howdy Doody had plastic surgery. I learned this fact while watching Jeopardy! So I looked it up. As it turns out, the original Howdy Doody was made by a puppeteer named Frank Paris, and apparently bore no resemblance to the one which we grew up to love. He (Frank) had a dispute with the network and departed, taking the original Howdy with him. The new freckle faced Howdy Doody was created by two artists (Margo and Rufus Rose) who were alums of Walt Disney Studios. When some kids asked how come Howdy’s appearance had changed, they were told he’d had plastic surgery. Which he hadn’t. So they lied. And Jeopardy! was wrong.
In the process of learning about Howdy Doody’s “plastic surgery” I learned that in 1948, the year before I was born, Howdy ran for “President of All Boys and Girls,” and that year the show received 250,000 requests for “Howdy for President” buttons. The show flourished, Howdy’s popularity blossmed and it ran five days a week until 1954 (when air time had become too expensive to run a children’s show five days a week), was moved to Saturdays, and went off the air in 1960. Clarabell, who never talked (I do not remember this), gave up his series long silence to say “Good Bye” at the end.
This little exercise got me thinking about two things: elections and plastic surgery. First of all, this year’s election turnout was the lowest in 72 years. Maybe if Howdy was running for Congress or Senate, more people would have come out. Depending on how you feel about Howdy Doody, maybe several Howdy’s did run (and win) in this election. As an Obama fan, I will not conjure a Howdy Doody president — though some of you might. As for plastic surgery, in 2012, there were more than 14.6 million cosmetic plastic surgeries done in the United States. Several of them may have been on the Howdy’s running for office.
With elections just around the corner, I have been thinking about the little man in my glove compartment. He has been riding around there, in his vending machine ball, since he was given to me by my ingenious friend Nancy Aleck.
For an art project, Nancy fashioned several (dozen?) little clay people to represent politicians and put them in vending machine balls with “Vendo Vote” on the bottom. She couldn’t afford the size of vending machine that would allow the Vendo Vote toys to come out, so she used a regular gum ball machine — making it even funnier, because you could put in your 25 cents again and again and nothing would come out. Her piece was a little bit of performance art and a lot of political commentary.
In my mind, the idea of buying politicians has never been expressed so simply or humorously. The little clay figures are all faceless, making it even more ridiculously appropriate.
P.S. Possibly not coincidentally, this dollar bill showed up at the grocery store the other day:
The following is a poem by my adored friend Mary MacMillan who is a super talented person, an artist and a poet. It really hits the nail…
PET Scan of the World
The massive machine dwarfs the orb
stilled by the pill to relax, rolled onto
the sheet-swathed slab.
The buzz, hum begins as the bruised
sphere yields to pixilation, and hot spots
scream on the imaging screen.
I see the open wounds wrought by Palestine,
Israel, the cremated remains
of the plane shot down
in Ukraine as Russia encroaches, a blood-stained
grab, while Sunnis, Shiites, radical sects
tear at the febrile, ill-built Iraq, tribes
torture Afghanistan, babies
bleed out in hunger-scorched Africa,
pure white bears cling to frail bergs
as the ocean opens its plastic-choked maws
to inhale the pristine shores, dunes,
and dirt-germed, thirsty children
trudge through our borderless lines
of demarcation to protestations of who
belongs in this once sacred
nation, and the prisons are engorged
with men of color, and guns blast
through the hearts of innocence.
I study the magnetic, scattered splotches,
hear only the words; chaos, metastatic,
see the scabby, oozing globe emerge,
wobble onto its scarred axis, hobble
through the hall, trip, fall,
gasp for breath.
Macro wasting into micro.
Just like us.
It’s been difficult to watch tv this summer without seeing commercials for Bud Light’s “real town,” Whatever, U.S.A. I have periodically gone on the site “Upforwhatever.com,” signed in with my age (to prove I am over 21, which anyone can do.) I have to confess that I am not the target audience, and I am basically too old to decipher what is happening here. There is a renamed town called Whatever U.S.A. where people can party on. Whatever. That town is Crested Butte, Colorado, to which Bud Light paid $500,000 for the privilege of bringing 1000 Bud Light-drinking-fans for three days of partying and entertainment. One Denver Post article said that Honey Boo Boo and Jay Z were spotted among the crowds. In keeping with Bud Light’s blue bottle, main street was painted blue, and blue buses were carrying around Bud Light imbibing passengers. Whatever USA officially opened for business just this week. Whatever.
The run up to Whatever U.S.A. was pop up Bud Light Whatever experiences, running throughout the summer. I was able to follow one video which featured two random guys who told the Bud Light Rep they were “Up for Whatever” and an experience ensued, among other things, meeting Alonzo Mourning in a hotel room, and having Karl Malone arrive as a mailman and hooking them up with the full whatever treatment. This included being driven around town by a bull, riding on a bus with cheerleaders, playing H.O.R.S.E. with some NBA players, and getting tricked out at a men’s store in real N.B.A. goin’ out on the town style. Now, that’s hardly whatever. But there you go.
I got interested in the rankings of beer by sales and found some figures for the top 20 in 2013. Brook and I used to use Budweiser as an example in our branding presentation, with its “This Bud’s for You” (i.e. anyone) line which was part of making them the King of Beers for a very, very long time. Turns out that in 2013 Bud Light was the King of Beers, topping the top 20 with $5,945,776,000 in sales. Among the top 20 are 11 beers distributed by Anheuser Busch, including #20 Bud Light Straw Ber Rita which had $246,550,800 in sales. Budweiser, it’s audience growing older, clocked in with $2,1110,352,000 in sales. Not bad, but not close to Bud Light. Whatever.
Bud Light’s UpforWhatever campaign is what marketers calls “experiential.” In addition to Whatever, U.S.A., Bud Light has surprised people all summer (who are up for whatever) with experiences like the NBA one described above.
One of the first experiential campaigns was Saturn’s Homecoming Weekend, described in 1994 by the Chicago Tribune:
SPRING HILL, Tenn. — They arrived from 47 states and a handful of countries. They strapped themselves into harnesses and climbed walls made to look like mountains. Two of them took a respite between the plant tour and the Wynona Judd concert and got married.There were bands, singers, magicians and a fireworks display with “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful” as background music. Tattoo artists left their mark (briefly-they were washable) on guests while even a blacksmith demonstrated how he plies his trade. This was a happening, an event likened to Woodstock revisited.When 38,000 people braved heat, humidity and subsequent cloudbursts to attend.
Saturn was one of the first corporations to recognize that people connect with their stuff and the more you help them connect, the more they want your stuff.
One of the most bizarre experiential campaigns is the Marlboro Ranch Campaign, where winners of contests can go to Crazy Mountain Ranch and smoke with other smokers. As Crazy Mountain Ranch *Marlboro* says on its Facebook page:
Gloria. Circa 1955.
Gloria. Circa 2012.
Other than working for the American Red Cross in Korea for two years, Gloria Garvey has lived in Hawai`i since 1971. Her opinion and other writing has appeared in: The American Philatelist. Honolulu Weekly, The Honolulu Advertiser, The Honolulu Star Bulletin, The Star Advertiser, Hawai`i Reporter, Pacific Business News, Island Scene, The Design Management Journal.