Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thinking about a new Website, Or Apparently I don't have enough to do...

 My family loves interactive television. We are constantly hassling the figures on the screen (though they don't appear to listen to us). The most extreme examples are when my sons and I watch an old movie serial (or chapterplay). We begin by providing unasked for advice to the hero (who often needs it--"The Phantom" was an especially excellent example: Quite frankly, the man would have been lost without his dog, who was the brains behind the team).

But we move on to holding the hero and the rest of the cast up to derision. The best example here is the "The Phantom Creeps" staring Bela Lugosi as Dr. Alex Zarkov. Dr. Zarkov's name is now used within our family as the ultimate intensifier for the adjective "complicated" (as in "a plan of Zarkovian complexity"). Dr. Zarkov wouldn't create a disintegration ray--he would create a chemical that, when sprayed on a potential victim, would cause the victi to attract a tiny mechanical spider that, once it climbed onto the victim, would allow Dr. Zarkov to shoot the victim with a disintegration ray. If there was a hard way of doing things, Dr. Zarkov would find it. And you'll notice the term "potential victim". As you can imagine, with a process with this many steps things often went awry.

But we don't leave the production staff untouched, either. Dr. Zarkov's henchman (he has only one) is Monk who while escaping from the G-men who are tracking down Dr. Zarkov is show. In the back. Twice. Monk throws up his hands and collapses. The G-men rush over, bend down to touch Monk's neck and announce "He's OK. He's just stunned." It's hard to imagine what the writer was thinking of when he came up with that diagnosis.

Now you may think that this is going to turn into a diatribe against software developers who create user interfaces of Zarkovian complexity that I then have to explain. Not at all! Those developers are my bread and butter. What this does lead to is another form of interactive television: Making fun of commercials.

I know: it's easy pickings. But my recent blog on "butts" vs. "bums" in commercials made me aware of what a rich ground waits here to be tilled. I think there's an opportunity here for a new site called something like "What Commercials Tell Us." Commercials can have up to three different messages (which may conflict with each other) and over opportunity for a fourth.

Most commercials have an explicit message "Take this to feel better"--though that's optional: The original "Head On" commercial ("Applies Directly To Your Head!") didn't say that the product did anything: It merely provided instructions for how to use the product.

Then there is the implicit message ("People who use our product are smarter and better looking and have more friends than people who don't use our product"). There was one commercial I saw in the US (for insurance, I think) that had three scenes: A young white woman working in the kitchen of her own home; an older white man on the porch of his own home; a young black woman at her desk. There was a second version of the commercial that had the same format. The implicit messages seemed to be "White folk got homes; black folk got jobs."

The third messages is the inadvertent message. The "butts" vs. "bums" commercial sent a message about the kind of language that North Americans could tolerate, for instance.

Finally, there is often an opportunity for a new backstory. In the time available to them, commercials can't provide much detail. To compensate, they often provide "instantly recognizable" situations and count on the audience to provide a backstory consistent with the commercial's intent. The fun here is to provide a new backstory that is completely consistent with what happens "on screen" and completely at odds with the goals of the advertiser.

I may have some free time in July. If so, I'll set up the website. In the meantime, I can gather some material.

Reading or read

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