Monday, August 2, 2010

These Are the Best Videos and People You'll Meet Today

If you're like me, you've spent the last four months watching at least three hours of baseball per day. You, like me, subscribe to the "MLB Extra Innings" cable/DirecTV package that enables you to watch roughly a dozen games per day. You, like me, are able to read, write, cook or do general chores while keeping one ear on the games, pausing your productivity to see the key moments of an at-bat, but otherwise getting tons of stuff done while still feeling like a fan jacked in to one of the greatest sports in the world. You, like me, are beautiful, funny and a demon in the sack.

I would like to exchange pictures with you. (No dudes.)

Also, if you're like me, you've been watching the same ads over and over. Because most baseball games are carried by regional FOX Sports affiliates, flipping channels to different games from cities around the country results in the same staple advertisements and the same promo music set to highlights that differ only by team uniform. The occasional regional differences suck you in momentarily — "A Del Taco ad? I haven't seen a Del Taco in years!" — only to set you up for another battering at the hands of a national ad package. A mere taste of the exotic or unusual keeps you alert enough that the familiar can still seep in, lodging more fully in the brain.

Take "This Town." It's a song by a band called "OAR," named apparently after something that Tom Ripley uses to kill people. I'm not sure what informed this name choice. Most people probably lack positive mental associations with oars, even if they don't think about fictional murderers. They probably just think of mindless toil beating against a ceaseless current. (Which, I suppose, makes one think of fictional Fitzgerald murderers, but what can you do?) Technically the name stands for, "Of a Revolution," but this full name seems emptier and more risible than the acronym, so it's probably more generous to think about sticks that you shove in water.

OAR isn't a good band, although its members have great names. There's Richard On (which could inspire the response, "What?" or make you think of his dropping his pants and yelling, "DICK ON") and Chris Culos, which I guess makes his last name "asses." OAR ostensibly plays music for college kids and loved by college brahs, including saxophone that sounds friendly enough to be played at you while you wait to speak to a bank representative on the telephone. OAR seems like the ideal band for people who consider Dave Matthews too disruptive for miscegenation or the nerves.

Nevertheless, the good people in charge of the regional FOX Sports affiliates designated their song "This Town" as the go-to song for regional highlight promos during commercial breaks. Tune in to FOX Sports LA, and you'll hear the song set over Dodgers highlights and clips from local college games. Ditto Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, etc. It's not bad. It's cheery, has a decent riff, seems pretty positive. The rest of their songs seem pretty unappealing, but it's all right. The chorus has a let's-do-this feel, with the lyrics:
This Town, this night, this crowd
Come on put them up, let me hear it loud
This Town, this city, this crowd
Stand up on your feet put your worry down
And everyone of you all around
Come on ya'll let's take this town
The revolution that they are of doesn't seem to be a very deep one. Evidently the town in question needs to party heartier and be seized by those most capable of inflicting the hardiest of partygoing. Putting them — the hands — up is voluntary and not at gunpoint. It's the music that inspires people who wear clothing from Hollister to jump in place emphatically enough to be visibly into it but not so emphatically as to result in punitive beer spillage. Beer loss is worry up, not down. You can get pumped to this OAR song, but it's probably not something to think too much about. Play it in a car, skip the rest.

"This Town" isn't even the most indelible fixture of the ads on FOX Sports affiliates. That distinction easily belongs to the Foundation for a Better Life, which runs cheery slice-of-life commercials encouraging you to be more sincere than you are. Some of them are pretty easy to make fun of, and it's not hard to see why. Take this one called "Think Young." In it, an actor who is obviously not 90 celebrates his 90th birthday. Then he pretends to be 60 to mack on an old lady. The message is in the title, but it might as well be, "HEY, DON'T GET OLD SOMEHOW." While having a young outlook has been shown to generate positive results in the elderly, if only by a placebo effect, it's such a strangely airy position to take. Growing old sucks; we all know this. The ad, however, has a solution: be sort of a wiseacre and then be younger and not be old. Okay, I guess.

Most of these ads follow the same basic formula of a simple setup followed by a mildly unexpected twist followed immediately by a morally and socially decent conclusion. They're pleasant, anodyne, not really mentally rigorous. They mean well, and it's kind of them to do so. The scummy skater kid stands at a crosswalk, and the nice old lady asserts herself and offers to walk him across the street. Fair enough. There are a bunch of these. That they're hosted on a website called "Values.com" would normally be cause for alarm, but they seem totally harmless.

The Foundation for a Better Life seems to be as well. Despite funding from an evangelical christian with extensive corporate ties, the ads work off a mandate to promote "values" irrespective of party or religious affiliation. (The Foundation doesn't accept donations and refuses to engage in partnership with other non-profits, PACs or groups. The only largesse it accepts is free billboard space or broadcast time for existing content, without endorsement from or linkage to the parties providing that ad space or time.) You can watch its ads repeatedly without finding anything for or against any major faith or political ideology. Its whole mandate might as well be, "Be nicer." In fact, watching more than a few ads in a row makes you feel like a total clod. Too many at once and it feels like going to a funeral, when you haven't been to church in a decade. Then the minister mentions the three different volunteer activities your dead relative was involved in, and then — just when you're rationalizing her being retired and old and having nothing else to do — he thanks cousins younger and busier than you are for participating in the same thing. The natural alternative name for The Foundation for a Better Life is, "You're Kind of a Lazy and Inconsiderate Piece of Shit, but I Guess There's Still Hope for You Anyway."

The absence of saccharine or leaden emphasis works incredibly well. There they are, all artless and out in the open, and you have to take them on their merits. Finding something dumb or wrong about them requires invention, the creation of agency for the people in them, a deliberate superimposition of motive on your part. Mock them if you like, but you have to mock them on terms you introduce. They're impressively unassailable in just being polite. Except for one.

To be fair, the Foundation for a Better Life might have erred more than once, but I haven't had the fortitude to watch all their ads. Mainly, I just don't want to watch muted counterpoints to my own crass venality over and over. But I have seen an ad in which they completely dropped the ball and overextended themselves (no pun intended). In it, a kid playing basketball touches the ball as it goes out of bounds, but he isn't called for the touch. Despite this being the State Championship, he confronts his coach and the referee and overturns the call in his favor, insisting "rightly" that it should go against him and his team. It's completely absurd.

Not only does it assume the kid would not feel an obligation toward his team to win, not only does it assume that bad calls are not a fundamental part of the game that both teams must accept as part of the game, it also assumes that sports referees just capriciously reverse themselves and undermine their own authority because somebody said something. The message is "sportsmanship," but it is presented in a vacuum without any realities of sports. Here, take a look:


I planned to break down just how clumsy and misgiven the thing was, but then, when looking for a copy of it on Youtube, I discovered I didn't need to. Somebody had beat me to it, and he or she did so with fantastic economy and style. I realize I might be poaching on someone by doing this, but you should read the whole thing. Take us away, politics333nation:
A Preposterous commercial, which aired in the winter of 2009-2010. It portrays an alternative universe where referees will undermine their authority and defer judgment to a player as long as that player is acting in an illogical and self-destructive manner, which is something they are expected to do.

In keeping with the Preposterous movement, this commercial seeks to create a world that is almost identical to our own except for a few slight variations. This slightly flawed facsimile of our everyday existence produces a feeling of overwhelming revulsion as predicted by the Uncanny Valley hypothesis:

In this commercial the Uncanny Valley sensation derives from the alternative world's peculiar definition of 'sportsmanship'. Whereas in real life 'sportsmanship' simply means to play the sport as it is meant to be played, to respect one's opponent, and to respect the judgment of the designated third-party arbitrator (i.e. the referee), in this life 'sportsmanship' is equated with an irrational urge to fuck over oneself and one's teammates because of an absolute faith in an imperfect sensory experience. Curiously, 'sportsmanship' seems to still be a good thing in this world.

The closing christian rock ballad identifies this commercial as a product of the Family Values school of the Preposterism, best known for its 'marijuana is black magic' commercials.
And that's great. That's just very well done, going out on a great general comedic note. It hits everything about this video that someone could mine for a laugh or an observation. But then, out of nowhere, he or she tacks on a single-paragraph addendum about another terrible video, arguably the stupidest sports-related commercial ever:


Apparently NFL refs have some space-time portal into Buffalo Wild Wings. Apparently they'd prefer to bother to ask the patrons of Buffalo Wild Wings about things that affect millions of people nationwide, including gamblers, instead of trusting in their own judgment or the rules of the sport. Such is the wild power of these wings. But politics333nation has a great observation (emphasis mine):
Other notable commercials from the Preposterous movement:
- The Buffalo Wild Wings commercial where the referee consults the fans at Buffalo Wild Wings during the replay review. This commercial is not preposterous because of the review booth's unrealistic videoconferencing abilities (an awkward but excusable ploy), but because the fans, when given the extraordinary opportunity to actually determine the outcome of the game, take no interest in whether their team actually wins or loses; they only care that the game is prolonged so that they can stay at Buffalo Wild Wings, which will apparently kick them out rather than continue to sell them drinks and turn on the next game.
It's a perfect dismissal in a single paragraph. The sort of person who gets pumped up by Buffalo Wild Wings commercials will probably always be a mystery, but anyone who reads that graf couldn't possibly still be one.

It's a cynical and biting analysis, closing out a seemingly unrelated breakdown of a non-profit commercial that means well but falls on the face of logic and sports reality. You can't blame politics333nation for going for that tacked-on observation, going after the cynical to wash away the desperately earnest. Without it, he or she might have to wrestle with taking apart a commercial whose point is, "Do good as much as possible, even when it's inconvenient." That's a hard message to impugn and even harder to wrest a laugh from.

The most frustrating thing about those "Foundation for a Better Life" ads is that they're on dozens of times per day, on every channel carrying baseball, and they're all totally sincere and unimpeachably decent. They aren't even sponsored by assholes for some asshole intent. You see the commercial about the kid walking over wet cement, and the moral is, "Patience." You can't idly wave it away by saying, "Well, what they really meant is that abortionists are scum." It's just nice. How incredibly confusing.

A billionaire endowed a foundation to encourage human decency without agenda. The agency that insists you empathize with others is itself so anomalous that you might as well weep not for its message but just for the rarity of its existence. That it's even there is probably more moving than what it has to say. A cynic is adrift, all at sea. Take the OAR. Throw 'em up, put your worry down. With any luck, and with His blessing, this will make sense eventually.

11 comments:

  1. As regards "justice" within the confines of Sport, this article (though dealing with soccer) is interesting and provocative, dealing as it does with the spectre of video technology in the game:
    http://www.runofplay.com/2010/04/15/technology-and-justice/
    To what extent should one wish to push the notion that "Sport is Life" and, conversely, how much gamesmanship or duplicity ought we to encourage or explain as "part of the game"? It seems that treading the Uncanny Valley line of enquiry leaves us at a conservative standstill in terms of sporting ethics and abdicates, to a point, individual responsibility from all involved, save the officials.

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  2. are you serious? those foundation for a better life ads are horrible sanctimonious bullshit, ugly and dishonest from concept to execution.

    That the foundation's existence is anomalous rather than the norm is what I find heartening; it's enough that i have to see anschutz's peerless vision of proper proletarian morality every day on the way to work, I'd hate to see what would happen if even half a dozen other billionaire ubermenschen got in on the act.

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  3. If I had a billion dollars to start a foundation I'd consider launching the "Partnership for a Drug Filled America."

    Or change the Gander Mountain sporting goods chain to "Gender Mountain," a non-profit entity promoting tolerance of gender diversity... Without changing the exterior of the building in any way & then laughing hysterically at the security footage of shocked people who stopped by for duck decoys.

    Without a doubt I'd start several "charitable" foundations with graphically embarrassing names that I'd insist be displayed on every banner/logo for every event we'd sponsor.

    Or a "Porn. Isn't It... About Time?" ad campaign promoting Teen Abstinence Through Wanking. As a matter of fact, you could bet that the Abstinence Through Wanking Foundation would be sponsoring a LOT of corporate golf tournaments. Maybe we could get Tiger to do a heartfelt, if not touching, endorsement.

    Starting some gooey, hand-wringing, sing-a-long get-a-long foundation ain't on the list of things I'd do.

    Oh yeah, remember that the, now respectable, Howard Hughes Medical Institute was founded by Howard as a massive tax shelter. Call me cynical, but I'd bet the Sing-a-long Get-a-long foundation is a tax write-off.

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  4. Reminds me of the commercials the Mormons used to put on the Saturday cartoons of my youth. (They told me "lying is bad" to a song-and-dance number. "Be nice." "Help people out." Sponsored by the Church of the Latter Day Saints.) Defensibly decent, but cynical old me sees that kind of unabashed humanity as the usual sort of cover for churches and faiths, the justification to unbelievers of all that other stuff that comes along with hierarchical organizations that base their power on interpreted parables and One True Beliefs, and who generally reserve rules-to-live-by for the masses. Sometimes those rules are nice (and I do think the ads were well-intentioned), but in that propagandic light, the Mormon commercials come off as offensive as patriotic music, as vomitous as Lee Greenwood.

    As for the values themselves, when no one tries to own them? I'm impressed if they could be isolated. (I don't watch baseball.)

    "Uncanny divide" is awesome in that context.

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  5. lol @Greg M. Fartz

    Hi, Leduc. I'm curious what dishonesty and sanctimony you'd like to point out. I'm also not sure how the morality is explicitly proletarian, unless this is just some lazy Nietzschean stab on your part.

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  6. @ Phoenix
    If I had a billion dollars to start a foundation I'd consider launching the "Partnership for a Drug Filled America."
    lol


    Call me cynical, but I'd bet the Sing-a-long Get-a-long foundation is a tax write-off.
    So what?

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  7. @Keifus

    I grew up with ample PSAs from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as well as Northern Californian agnostic PSAs about diversity, as well as generic christian PSAs, and I'm still healthily uninterested in both organized religion and organized multicultural organizations. I don't think I know of anyone from my youth peer group swayed toward Mormonism by the commercials that hit our screens every day during the cartoons hour. I remain unpersuaded, both by them and by suspicion of them.

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  8. @Mobutu

    Oh I'm not saying that's unusual, or even the sole motivation behind the spots. Just that I suspect the motive behind running them is at least a little selfish. I have to say, it also strikes me as being a modern version of a church "indulgence" to salve the wounds of the billionaire's sins.

    But as I said, I'm a cynical jaded bastard who's inclined generally to view this sort of thing with suspicion. I'm certainly biased in that regard and could be wrong here.

    Overall, regardless of the (possibly) selfish motives behind them, I'm not sure how effective the spots are. I think it'd be more effective to depict more imperfect characters who admit fault or correct their actions, instead of a group of earthly saints. Anyone who'd just finished grading wet cement is gonna really lose it on a kid who screws it up. But depicting a more realistic and healthy interaction might have a shot at teaching people how to handle that situation better. How do you handle anger appropriately etc?

    Instead, we see totally unrealistic interactions from enlightened earthly saints towards imperfect earthly humans. Not really helpful and it squanders a sorely needed chance to teach realistic interaction/parenting/conflict resolution skills.

    In a way, the unrealistic perfection may tarnish more souls through feelings of guilt than it inspires. Absent trainloads of mood stabilizer, they'd never reach the level of saintly perfection depicted.

    So personally, even suspending the suspicions that lurk in my dark and shriveled heart, I'm a little stunned that given this opportunity to actually impart some needed relationship skills, they chose instead to lecture us.

    Now, if you give to the Partnership For A Drug Filled America, we'll make sure everyone gets trainloads of mood stabilizers. Donate now.

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  9. Be careful: you first start to think that OAR is innocuous and inoffensive (have you listened without cringing to "hey girl"?) and soon you believe that Dave Matthews is better than fingernails on a blackboard.

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  10. mobutu i'm not much for nietzchean stabs; i've never read the guy and i hear he's a dick. i am lazy though, so you have me there.

    the ads are [if not cynical and dishonest] sappy, shallow, and dumb; do you think that the people who bankrolled, designed, and acted in them share those same qualities?

    *puts shrek on a billboard next to the words 'ogre achiever. pass it on' * yes, this. i believe in this. Cynics, I bid you adieu

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Et tu, Mr. Destructo? is a politics, sports and media blog whose purpose is to tell jokes or be really right about things. All of us have real jobs and don't need the hassle that telling jokes here might occasion, which is why some contributors find it more tasteful to pretend to be dead mass murderers.