Thursday, February 10, 2011

Insidious Plots, Recurring Themes

In 1955 Frederik Pohl published his short story, "The Tunnel Under the World."  Since then other stories have been published with similar themes, and certain themes are shared with other works; the popular films The Matrix and The Truman Show have common elements.  The point of the story is a fellow wakes up from his existence, and discovers that not only is his world not real, neither is he.  He is forced to live the same day over and over, each repetition slightly different from the last.

Groundhog Day also comes to mind, but I've never seen it since I don't much care for Bill Murray's movies.  He's so unpleasant in so many of them.  I guess my favorite Bill Murray scene is when Carol Kane knocks him senseless with a toaster in Scrooged.  But that's not relevant here.

Pointless trivia: estimates place Murray's character's total time spent reliving Groundhog Day at over 30 years.

So the fellow in the story, Burkhardt (try downloading the story as an audiobook, use the link in the first paragraph.  It's free.  I love you, Librivox!) is trapped in an existence that means less than he ever imagined.  I won't give away the entire story.

But now that I've got that example out there, let's think: how certain are we that New Coke - remember that? - wasn't just a giant advertising campaign?  When New Coke came out, the hue and cry against it was gigantic, even though Coca-Cola officials insisted that in myriad taste tests this was the formulation that people came out in favor of.

I hated it.  It tasted like Pepsi.  There are diehard Pepsi fans out there and they're welcome to it.  It was ghastly.

Ask the executives that presided over the change and they'll insist that they were neither that smart nor that dumb, to conceive such a convoluted plan as New Coke to reinvigorate sales of the original formula.  I suspect that that is in fact the truth; conspiracy theorists can battle back and forth on this, and will.  But wonder.  Because the sales bump after the reintroduction of Coke Classic was just huge.

What else?  Ford.  I love Ford as an American company, love them for succeeding in the face of foreign competition, for not taking the big bailout (they did take one, but not the big ones you saw GM and Chrysler receiving).  But remember the Pinto fiasco, and the damning memo that FoMoCo even today wishes never came to light: the estimated cost of compensating grieving families for people killed by ruptured and flaming gas tanks would be cheaper than the cost of changing the design in the car.

Ultimately, at the end of its production cycle the Pinto was actually a pretty good car.  But as an example of the flip side of a social engineering project, it was the icon of How To Make Enemies and Negatively Influence Customers.

Advertising is becoming more camouflaged.  If you're one of those people twiddling your waking hours away on facebook, playing Mafia Wars or Farmville or whatever it is, you may start to notice ads or product placements popping up within the game.  As it stands, those games require you first allow facebook to access your personal profile so it can shoot more carefully tuned ads your way; wouldn't the advertisers jump at the chance to position the ads on the screen at the very place where they know you will look?  You bet they would.

Product placement is off the hook.  Lady Gaga's popular video "Telephone," along with some of her others, feature several product placements; considering how controversial so much of her material has been, it's interesting to note how willing advertisers, formerly the bastion of conservatism in their image projection, are now to step out on the edge, and maybe a little over it, to gain more exposure, to make you look and keep you looking.

NOTE: don't watch "Telephone."  It's nine minutes you'll want back.  Trust me.

For the longest time, it was advertisers who called a lot of the shots on a show's content.  Too much skin, too much coarse language, and advertisers would start to shy away from exposure during that show.  Cover the girls up, clean up the boys' language and the money came flowing back.

So I think we're at a crossroads, and the crux of the matter is this: the mood of the emerging generation is permissiveness should be the rule.  Do we as a society want to encourage that?  Do we as an economy want to reward that?

If you're one of those who don't want that kind of thing happening more and more, then I firmly recommend you get your finger on the pulse of the emerging generation.  Whatever they're buying, you buy something else.

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