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“It isn’t easy, coming up with book titles. A lot of the really good ones are taken. Thin Thighs in 30 Days, for example. Also The Bible.”*…

“What’s in a name?” mused Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet (first published in print in 1597 as An Excellent Conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet). Would he have said the same, one wonders, if he’d been around to hear that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was at one point titled Trimalchio in West Egg; or that for Dracula, Bram Stoker considered The Dead Un-Dead? There is certainly an art to the great title, as demonstrated by the late English humourist Alan Coren, who when choosing a name for a collection of essays in 1975 noticed that the most popular books in Britain at that time were about cats, golf and Nazis. So he called his book Golfing for Cats and slapped a swastika on the front cover.

We also learn that care should be taken to avoid tempting an ironic fate. Bill Hillman, the American author of the 2014 guide Fiesta: How to Survive the Bulls of Pamplona, was gored by the bulls of Pamplona that same year—and again the next year. And in the 2017 British national election, the Conservative politician Gavin Barwell, author of How to Win a Marginal Seat, lost his marginal seat.

The humorous literary award known as the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year has been running since 1978, with past winners including Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality (1986) by Glenn C. Ellenbogen, The Joy of Waterboiling (2018) by Achse Verlag and The Dirt Hole and its Variations by Charles L. Dobbins (2019). But we can go back centuries earlier to find their ancestors…

For example…

An Essay upon Windwith Curious Anecdotes of Eminent Peteurs (1787) by Charles James Fox

Sun-beams May Be Extracted From Cucumbers, But the Process is Tedious (1799) by David Daggett

How to Cook Husbands (1898) by Elizabeth Strong Worthington

Fishes I Have Known (1905) by Arthur A. Henry Bevan

Does the Earth Rotate? No! (1919) by William Westfield

Thought Transference (Or What?) in Birds (1931) by Edmund Selous

The Boring Sponges Which Attack South Carolina Oysters (1956) by Bears Bluff Laboratories

A Weasel in My Meatsafe (1957) by Phil Drabble

Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1977) edited by Tatsuji Nomura et al.

Just a taste of the delights at: “77 Strange, Funny, and Magnificent Book Titles You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.” From @foxtosser.

* Dave Barry

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As we nominate, we might send bright birthday greetings to Greg Sherwood Cohelan; he was born 70 years ago today. An accomplished marketing consultant, he is best known for his decades on the radio and television (as Greg Sherwood) in the San Francisco Bay area.

The son of Don Sherwood, “The World’s Greatest Disc Jockey” (who ruled the Bay Area airwaves in the 1950s and 60s), Greg began his on-air career while in high school as a correspondent for his father, doing a call-in show as he drove across country, “Young Man on the Road”; he followed that with a stint as a morning traffic reporter, flying around in a helicopter doing traffic reports for his dad.

After college he joined KQED, the local public television and radio organization, first as a volunteer, then as an employee. Over the years, he’s become the face of KQED-TV and the voice of KQED radio, hosting interviews, anchoring award-winning documentaries, and especially during pledge periods.

“Call right now, 1 (800) 937-8850.”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 1, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”*…

In the U.S., more than $250 billion a year is spent on advertising; globally, the figure is more than half a trillion dollars. So, it would seem there’s a basic question worth asking: does all that advertising actually work? The ad industry swears by its efficacy — but a massive new study tells a different story…

Have you ever been puzzled by something that’s supposed to be true, but you didn’t quite believe it — and you didn’t have the evidence to challenge it? But then, one day, the evidence appears! Today is that day. From Freakonomics (@Freakonomics), “Does Advertising Actually Work?

The link above is to Part One, which focuses on television advertising; for a look at the new sheriff in town, digital advertising, see Part Two.

John Wanamaker, pioneer of the modern department store and gifted merchant and marketer who helped define the modern consumer era

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As we ponder persuasion, we might note that, history would suggest that some advertising has worked even better than expected; case in point: on this date in 1959 the Barbie doll was introduced (at the American Toy Fair in New York).  Ruth Handler (co-founder, with her husband, of Mattel), created Barbie as an “aspirational” (i.e., grown up) alternative to baby dolls.  She adapted Barbie from a German doll, Lilli, which was based on a German cartoon strip– and which was sold as a “racy” item, primary to men in tobacco stores…  Amped via Mattel’s sponsorship of The Mickey Mouse Club (Mattel was the first toy company to use television advertising), the figurine was a huge smash…and was followed by Midge, Skipper, and– enfranchising a set of men perhaps beyond those who felt bereft when Lilli became Barbie– Ken.

 Barbie Millicent Roberts™ from Willows, Wisconsin, 1959

Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 9, 2021 at 1:01 am

“A Dictator? Why, he makes love to beautiful women, drinks champagne, enjoys life and never works. He makes speeches to the people promising them plenty, gives them nothing and takes everything. *That’s* a Dictator.”*…

“Larry Pebble,” “Moe Hailstone,” “Miss Pfiffernuss” (Florine Dickson), “Curly Gallstone” in You Nazty Spy!

Hollywood’s relationship to the Third Reich before Pearl Harbor was a complex one. Film producers – particularly Jewish ones – had ample reason to dislike Nazis, but the US was not yet at war with them, and it wasn’t necessarily good for business to lampoon the government of a large foreign market. So, with some exceptions, Hollywood tended to tread carefully in the late 1930s.

Charles Chaplin famously lampooned the Third Reich leader in The Great Dictator, which was released in October 1940. The Three Stooges got the jump on Chaplin by nine months, however, releasing their own quickie Third Reich parody in January that year, although Chaplin’s film had started production first.

In January 1940, the Stooges released a two-reel short called You Nazty Spy! in which they play dimwitted wallpaper hangers who are installed as dictators of the country of Moronica; the businessmen who elevate them think they are stupid enough to be easily controlled.

Moe plays the Hitler-like leader, while Curly plays Field Marshal Gallstone (a mashup of Goering and Mussolini), and Larry is Propaganda Minister Pebble (a spoof of Goebbels). Various comic hijinks ensue, culminating in the dictatorial trio getting deposed and eaten by lions. In 1941, a sequel came out called I’ll Never Heil Again

The first Hollywood film to spoof Hitler: a Three Stooges two-reeler called You Nazty Spy!

See You Nazty Spy! here. More on Chaplin’s rather better-known The Great Dictator here.

* “Mr. Ixnay” (Richard Fiske) in You Nazty Spy!

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As we ridicule the ridiculous, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that Sesame Street aired episode #847, featuring Margaret Hamilton reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.  It scared children so badly that the episode has never been re-aired. (This, after she had appeared as herself in three episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, between 1975 and 1976– because Fred Rogers wanted his young viewers to recognize the Wicked Witch was just a character and not something to fear.)

220px-Sesame_Street_Margaret_Hamilton_Oscar_The_Grouch_1976

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“Commercials are about products in the same sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales”*…

The Superbowl has, since its inception been… well, the superbowl of broadcasting; this year’s expected audience is over 100 million. Even in this pandemic-challenged economy, 30-second spots on today’s sold-out Superbowl telecast listed for $5.6 million each (though in Scott’s Miracle-Gro reportedly scored a steal at $5.5 million); there’s an extra $300,000 fee to be included in the livestream.

With that kind of investment at stake, and their sights set on the gargantuan audience who will see their commercials, the companies that advertise take their ads very seriously. And as for viewers, many report that the commercials are their favorite part of the show…

Like millions of viewers who tune into the big game year after year, we at FiveThirtyEight LOVE Super Bowl commercials. We love them so much, in fact, that we wanted to know everything about them … by analyzing and categorizing them, of course. We dug into the defining characteristics of a Super Bowl ad, then grouped commercials based on which criteria they shared — and let me tell you, we found some really weird clusters of commercials.

We watched 233 ads from the 10 brands that aired the most spots in all 21 Super Bowls this century, according to superbowl-ads.com. While we watched, we evaluated ads using seven specific criteria…

Superbowl commercials, as only FiveThirtyEight could analyze them: “According To Super Bowl Ads, Americans Love America, Animals And Sex“… sometimes even all at the same time. (Videos included!)

* Neil Postman

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As we contemplate our culture, we might recall that the first organized Mardi Gras celebration in (what is now) the United States was held by French settlers in Mobile, Alabama on this date in 1703.

The first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans processed on this date in 1827 when masked and costumed students danced through the streets.

Mardi Gras 1937- by Eudora Welty (who, before she became a writer, took photos for the WPA)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 7, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Wrestling is not sport, it is a spectacle”*…

Your correspondent has been musing on Roland Barthes’ eerily-prescient essay on wrestling, and on its relevance to the Manichean dramas playing out in the political arena today. At the dawn of his career, your correspondent had a close encounter with wrestling (on the television production crew of a weekly wrestling show in Charlotte, NC), so you can imagine his interest in the following, from that same period…

One Friday morning in the spring of 1971, Geoff Winningham picked up the sports section of the now defunct Houston Post. At the time, Winningham had just begun teaching photography at Rice University, but at night, he’d grab his camera and head wherever he could find a crowd to shoot. In the paper, he saw an ad for a wrestling event happening that night at the Sam Houston Coliseum. “I’d bet there be some crowds there,” he thought.

Winningham was familiar with wrestling; he’d grown up in Tennessee, watching Saturday night fights on TV. Yet what he saw at the coliseum that Friday floored him. “I walked in and walked down the aisle, through the crowd, and toward the ring,” he remembers. “All these bright spotlights coming down on this white mat with the ropes around the ring, crowds screaming, and big guys throwing each other through the air and jumping on each other and torturing each other. It was madness.”

The coliseum’s promoter, Paul Boesch—who also served as the ring announcer—welcomed Winningham, and the photographer became a regular, returning to the revelry night after night. Boesch let him photograph locker rooms, gave him access inside and outside the ring, and introduced him to the wrestlers. With that, Winningham—who became known inside the coliseum as the professor of wrestling—spent the next nine months photographing the Houston wrestling scene, capturing the villainous heels, heroic baby faces, and fervent fans…

Almost fifty years later, Winningham—still a professor of photography at Rice, whose work has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art—has revived the spirit, grit, and excitement of those sweaty wrestling nights in Friday Night in the Coliseum. The book, which was first published in 1971, saw its second edition released in February of this year.

Geoff Winningham‘s glorious record of baby faces, heels, and their fans: “Houston’s 1970s-Era Friday Night Wrestling Come Alive in a Stunning Photo Book.”

* “There are people who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport. Wrestling is not sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble to attend a wrestled performance of suffering than a performance of the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromaque.” – Roland Barthes, “The World of Wrestling,” Mythologies

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As we roll off the ropes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1954 that the first of five hour-long “Davy Crockett” adventure-dramas aired on ABC as part of Walt Disney’s Disneyland series. While the form became popular in the mid-1970’s with limited series like Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots, “Davy Crockett” has some claim to the title “first mini-series on American television.”

Fess Parker in “Davy Crockett Goes to Congress”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 15, 2020 at 1:01 am

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