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Posts Tagged ‘advertisements’

Radical Flâneuserie

August 25, 2016 | by

Reimagining the aimlessly wandering woman.

John Singer Sargent, A Street in Venice, oil on canvas.

John Singer Sargent, A Street in Venice, oil on canvas.


I started noticing the ads in the magazines I read. Here is a woman in an asymmetrical black swimsuit, a semitransparent palm tree superimposed on her head, a pink pole behind her. Here is a woman lying down, miraculously balanced on some kind of balustrade, in a white button-down, khaki skirt, and sandals, the same dynamic play of light and palm trees and buildings around her. In the top-right corner, the words Dans l’oeil du flâneur—“in the eye of the flâneur”—and beneath, the Hermès logo. The flâneur though whose “eye” we’re seeing seems to live in Miami. Not a well-known walking city, but why not—surely flânerie needn’t be confined to melancholic European capitals.

The theme was set by Hermès’s artistic director, Pierre-Alexis Dumas. While the media coverage of the campaign and the traveling exhibition that complemented it breathlessly adopted the term, Dumas gave a pretty illuminated definition of it. Flânerie, he explained, is not about “being idle” or “doing nothing.” It’s an “attitude of curiosity … about exploring everything.” It flourished in the nineteenth century, he continued, as a form of resistance to industrialization and the rationalization of everyday life, and “the roots of the spirit of Hermès are in nineteenth-century Flânerie.” This is pretty radical rhetoric for the director of a luxury-goods company with a €4.1 million yearly revenue. Looking at the ads, as well as the merchandise—including an eight-speed bicycle called “The Flâneur” that retailed for $11.3k—it seems someone at Hermès didn’t share, or understand, Dumas’s vision. Read More »

Ad Me

July 22, 2016 | by

Growing up in the context of no context.


A few years ago, my late friend D. G. Myers and I had a disagreement about the relationship between advertising and literary culture. Myers argued that the ads and articles in the Saturday Evening Post had a bearing on the stories F. Scott Fitzgerald initially published in the magazine, on the grounds that all three came out of the same cultural context. At the time, I was unpersuaded—the ads, I said, were just there to pay the bills—but I have come to see his point.

Last week, I rewatched an episode of Reading Rainbow that I have long cherished. As the episode begins, LeVar Burton, the show’s host, appears alone on a smog-filled dock on Charleston Harbor. Wearing a trench coat and fedora in the style of a hard-boiled detective, Burton is on the trail of Big Mama Blue. Suddenly we hear someone singing opera, and Burton introduces Mystery on The Docks, by Thacher Hurd. The story, narrated by Raúl Juliá, is about an opera-loving short-order cook who saves a famous singer from gangsters. All the characters are rats. Read More »

Take Me to the Burger King Spa

May 26, 2016 | by

One way to spend your free time.

I read that a Burger King franchise in Helsinki has opened an in-store sauna, serving Cokes and fries to visitors as they sweat it out, and my first thought was: I want to go there. I don’t mean “go” in the sense of an ironic pilgrimage, the way some people go to Dollywood or the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. This is a more disturbing impulse. Even if I recognize the sauna for what it is—a cynical ploy by a multinational corporation to hijack a local tradition, down to the inclusion of BK-branded robes and towels—I have an ingrained affinity for Burger King that resists rational argument. I could hurl a brick through the window of their corporate headquarters, but I know I’d only end up wanting a Whopper as the cops handcuffed me.

I haven’t eaten at a Burger King in years, but I’ve accepted that the Whopper is my madeleine. I guess this makes BK—the world’s second largest fast-food hamburger chain, an amoral monolith helping to drive up the obesity rate by plying a misinformed, increasingly impoverished public with processed foodstuffs—something like my Combray. As sad as it sounds, to sink my teeth through that sesame-seed bun is to activate long-dormant memories of … the sesame-seed buns of my childhood. Read More »

We Guarantee It

April 19, 2016 | by

From a vintage Sealy mattress ad.

“Oh my God,” I said, turning to my husband with tears in my eyes.

“What is it?” he asked, understandably alarmed. The train had stopped at a Connecticut station—Rowayton, maybe—and it smelled like sun-warmed Naugahyde and Metro-North and commuter. “What is it?”

Blinded by tears—and the fact that I’d removed my glasses to dash them away—I pointed to an advertisement on the platform. Read More »

A Boy with No Birthday Turns Sixty

March 3, 2016 | by

The long and tangled history of Alfred E. Neuman.

Norman Mingo’s canonical Neuman.

In a 1975 interview with the New York Times, MAD Magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman recalled an illustration of a grinning boy he’d spotted on a postcard in the early fifties: a “bumpkin portrait,” “part leering wiseacre, part happy-go-lucky kid.” It was captioned “What, Me Worry?”

That bumpkin became Alfred E. Neuman, MAD’s mascot, who turns sixty this year—kind of. The impish, immutable redhead made his official debut in December 1956, when he appeared on the cover of MAD no. 30 as a write-in candidate for president. He’s appeared on almost every MAD cover since: possessing, spoofing, and spooking cultural icons with nothing more than a drowsy rictus. Though MAD gave him a purpose, a permanent home, his origin story remains elusive. It involves, among other things, a plum-pudding advertisement, a dubious lawsuit, and a traveling nineteenth-century farce. Neuman is forever synonymous with the magazine and its infinite irreverence, but the riddle of his real age may be the trickster’s trump card. Read More »

Far-Out Kandy-Kolored Machine Dreams, and Other News

June 22, 2015 | by


A “dreamscape” made from random noise. Illustration: Google, via the Guardian

  • As an undergraduate at Harvard, T. S. Eliot risked flunking out—but fear not, for his febrile poetic mind was already hard at work: “He invented the characters of ‘Columbo’ and ‘Bolo,’ who for years to come starred in a series of scatological, violent, and racist poems. Circulated privately, these verses became known to a wider readership only after Eliot’s death, when they presented the immensely refined poet in a bizarrely crude light … such writing served a purpose for the shy, physically awkward, and sexually late-blooming Eliot. It was a way for him to bond with his peers … ”
  • Advertisements used to contain words—many words—even those aimed at such famously illiterate audiences as rock-music fans. A look at the Rolling Stone archive reveals a surprising amount of po-mo sophistication in record-label copywriting. A 1979 ad for the singer-songwriter Sirani Avedia, for example, begins, “After the chic anarchy of punk, the escapism of disco, and the cerebral celebrations of jazz fusion … something real.”
  • An old photograph by Giovanni Gargiolli inspires ruminations on fatherhood: “The photograph was taken outside a Franciscan church in Alatri, a village south of Rome, in 1902 or 1903 … I recognize myself in that father who is leaning out of the family portrait in the church doorway. I feel an apartness, and I wonder: Is it a movable obstacle to the fullness of fatherhood, a primordial paternal taint, or a simple truth about the way men who have children are around their children?”
  • Disturbing news from the tech sector: research suggests that our computers, the very beings on which our civilization depends, are no more than drug-addled dreamers, lost in psychedelic reveries every bit as inscrutable as those of your average dusthead. Google discovered what its image-recognition networks “imagine” by “feeding a picture into the network, asking it to recognize a feature of it, and modify the picture to emphasize the feature it recognizes. That modified picture is then fed back into the network, which is again tasked to recognise features and emphasize them, and so on. Eventually, the feedback loop modifies the picture beyond all recognition.”
  • Nick Sousanis received his doctorate in education for Unflattening, a dissertation in the form of “a graphic novel about the relationship between words and pictures in literature.” Its lowly ambition? “Insurrection against the fixed viewpoint … Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge.”