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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

The Good Old Days (Part 3)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

While it didn't generate a lot of discussion, this post will always be one of the highlights of Not Prince Hamlet, because its subject (author, documentarian, and media critic Douglas Rushkoff) actually posted a comment.

The post was simply a heads-up about a re-broadcasting of Rushkoff's second Frontline documentary, "The Persuaders." I've watched it three times.

Before there was "The Persuaders," though, Rushkoff was a Consulting Producer and Correspondent for "The Merchants of Cool" for Frontline. This one-hour documentary about corporate marketing to teenagers was actually my introduction to Rushkoff's work. One of the professors at the seminary I attended made it required viewing for her students.

"Merchants . . ." range is really dizzying. Since it's a documentary, it's tempting to say that the film "exposes" the sketchy practices of teen marketers and that it "reveals" the effects that the ubiquity of advertising messages has on teenagers. But the merchants of cool themselves, the marketing executives and the ethnographers who are mapping teen culture for advertisers' benefit, aren't doing anything they're ashamed of. There's no "exposing"anything when the subject boasts about their business.

The teenagers featured in "Merchants . . ." aren't blind to what's going on, though. There's no revelation here, either, because these young people are fully aware of the give-and-take involved in marketing and consumption. They know full well that the Nike's and MTV's of the world covet their attention, and they're more than willing to give it--as long as they get something in return: cool.

Cool is a currency that drives teen culture. Which is why the film takes the approach it does in following corporate advertisers in their quest to discover cool (called--with a straight face--"cool hunting") and then sell it to a mass market. But, as Rushkoff notes very early on, the problem with cool hunting is that it kills what it finds. Once advertisers find something cool and successfully hock it to the masses, it's no longer cool. So cool hunting is always on the prowl for the next trend to package and sell.

The effect of all of this on teenagers is the real thrust of "Merchants . . ." to my mind, and, as far as that effect goes, the film suggests rather than explains. There are loads of stats: today's teenager (today being 2001) is exposed to 3,000 discreet advertising messages in a single day; in 2000 teens spent more than a $100,000,000,000 themselves; 75% of teenagers have a tv in their room; they spend an average of two hours a day online.

But what kind of teenager is this producing? That's the important question. What does it do to teenagers, this constant stream of marketing messages? When marketers spend billions and billions of dollars each year studying teen culture and strategizing how to subvert the average teen's ability to make good consumer decisions, what is the effect on those teens?

I have some suggested answers myself, and I have some definite thoughts about counteracting forces in the lives of teenagers: families, churches, communities. But for now, let me simply recommend "The Merchants of Cool" to your attention. You can watch it free online here.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:59 AM | link | 0 comments |

The Waiter Chronicles: Three Tables of Three

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Table 11:
"Well, first of all, I was an English major, which was a mistake."
The waiter stops his pour of the second bottle of Trinchero Family Estate Pinot Noir. The woman--the English major--notices, checks her recognition with her two friends, and then states the obvious: "You were an English major too, weren't you?"

The waiter answers easily. "Yes, and I'm living proof that an English major is not a bad career move."

The ladies laugh, a little uncomfortably, as if the waiter's sarcasm holds something authentic.

Table 14:
In a thick, north English accent, they ask for more time to look at the wine menu. "Give's a few wee minutes, yeah?"

A bottle of Ripasso and some capasante provide enough time for them to settle in and loosen up. The waiter has asked what brings them to town, allowing them to expound on the UK-based grocery store they're working to build in the U.S. Then they turn their attention to the waiter. "What part of the states are you from?"

"Colorado. Denver."

"Rough night for you then." He nods to the television over the bar, the one broadcasting the bloodbath that has become game one of the World Series. The Red Sox are pummeling the Rockies 13-1.

"Yeah, thanks for pointing that out."

A conversation follows about the mechanics of baseball and the World Series: how many games a team has to win; how home and away games are scheduled; why the Rockies are losing so badly.

The waiter has to pull himself away from the table. It would have been great to pull up a chair, pour a glass of wine, and chit chat about American and British sports.

Table 15:
Separate check. The waiter hates separate checks. "These three guys all ordered the exact same entree," the waiter fumes to himself. "Why can't they pay with the same check?"

It's not exactly a surprise. After all, they have been very concerned about the dollars and cents of this dinner from the very beginning. After yielding to the waiter's suggestion of mineral water and ordering glasses of Cabernet, Chiante, and Chardonnay, they suddenly hit the brakes. No appetizers. No salads. Questions about the cost of every special. The waiter had one of them hooked on the wild troll king salmon special (pun intended) until he asked how much it cost.


The laughter and exaggerated looks of shock that follow aren't shocking, just a little tacky. Predictably, they all settle on an inexpensive gnocci and send the waiter on his way. He heads to the kitchen shaking his head, thinking, "That table could have been great. What happened?"

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:52 AM | link | 0 comments |

The Practitioner

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I got a great haircut today.

I mean, a great haircut. I look in the mirror and I think, "Wow. Why didn't I do this before?"

It's short, but not defiantly so. The part is right where it should be, and the top blends seamlessly into the sides of my rectangular head. It's the haircut of a lifetime.

And what's most remarkable is that the barber never once asked me how to cut it.

When he first started attacking the overgrowth in the back with his clippers without a word, I but looking for. It was only after he grabbed his scissors, oiled their hinges, and took the first crunching rip off the top of the mop that I was certain: he wasn't waiting for my input.

It was too late to protest by the time I awakened to reality. Anyways, there was something liberating about it, about not having to force a vague description of how I want my hair to look (it's a no-win scenario: too much demanding detail makes you a prima donna; not enough and you're likely to hear, "Then what are you here for?").

The barber snipped and pulled and clipped for about twenty minutes. His movements were sharp and decisive, brisk. When he was done we both knew that some serious work had just been done.

The whole experience set me to thinking about the practitioners among us, those men and women who practice a craft, a craft they have honed over years of experience. Like Angry Chef.
Angry Chef knows how your food should be prepared, and so he doesn't need to hear about the intricacies of your tastes. Because nobody should have the meat sauce on their pasta, even if they ask for it. The practitioner knows enough to be revolted at the very thought of it.

The barber didn't need my input to cut my hair because he could see what needed done. He was able to size up the boxy shape of my skull. assess the length of the locks, and cut until it looked right. Any direction I would have given would have only made his job more difficult.

So much of where our technological society is going is toward the tastes and interests of individual consumers. Take just about any product or service, and you can customize it however you want. The consumer is becoming the producer. That's the idea behind a blog, isn't it? And YouTube? And Wikipedia? Fast Food (ala Burger King's "Have it your way")? Indeed, the very idea of the "professional," the "expert," is being challenged on all fronts, from religion to politics to art to commerce.

But there remain those professional, expert practitioners among us. And they know that the collective intelligence of Wikipedia is a sorry substitute for the well-developed eye and the trained palate. To the practitioner, you can have it your way if you like. But you'd better not. You're better off letting the practitioner do it her way.

Because that's the right way.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 1:14 PM | link | 3 comments |

The Good Old Days (Part 2)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Back in January of 2006, NPH started a conversation about an initiative called One Laptop Per Child (OLPC).

Today we continue our review of blog highlights by revisiting that post. Find it here.

What made this post a highlight was the level of serious discussion it created among a number of different voices, including Ryno, Michael, and Stephanie.

*Update: read the Wikipedia entry about OLPC to learn more about the initiative's history, goals, and future.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 3:52 PM | link | 0 comments |

The Good Old Days (Part 1)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Yesterday's very civic-minded post scratched an itch that I haven't felt for awhile. It brought back the time when the subhead of this blog was "Media, Civitas, Ecclesia," three clearly delineated areas of focus that occupied my attention. Also, I used to write in the third person. That was fun.

Stroll down memory lane with me, and indulge me in re-living the high points of this blog's short brushes with greatness.

Here's a link to a post I wrote in June of 2006, lamenting the PC (USA)'s new television, print, and radio advertising campaign. The post itself is straightforward enough, and not that great. The real money comes in the discussion it generated between NPH and Landon.

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 10:29 PM | link | 1 comments |

Of Canines and Civics

Theolog has a post by Amy Frykholm about dog parks in which the author suggests that dog parks foster community in American neighborhoods in a way that nothing else at the present time does. She quotes Robert Putnam and the whole "Bowling Alone" argument that civic engagement in America is rapidly deteriorating. And while she anticipates that people of Putnam's persuasion will hardly be moved by what's on offer at the dog park, she's compelled to see in it something quite significant.

Here's a money quote:
Over the three years that [my friend] has been visiting the dog park, my friend has become close with a lesbian couple and their Scotch Terrier. They arrange meetings at the dog park and invite each other over for dinner. The dogs like each other, and gradually, the humans have gained each other’s trust. They ask each other for help when they need it; they invite each other to significant events. They’ve built a small, fragile community.
Trust. Reciprocity: these are two of the things that make up Putnam's ideal of "Social Capital." They're precisely the things that Frykholm sees emerging among the gaggle of mutt-lovers congregating daily in their fenced-in playpen.

Maybe I should get a dog.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:52 AM | link | 2 comments |

They'll Kick You And They'll Punch You And They'll Tell You It's Fair, So . . .

Friday, October 12, 2007

When he first told me to "beat it," I wasn't all that bothered. I had been trying to extricate myself from the table for what seemed like hours anyway, but his date just kept yammering on in a half-drunken Italian impersonation that was as embarrassing as it was insulting. So I was relieved at the sudden escape hatch, the wave of the hand granting express permission to leave the table and be done with it.

It was only after I related the dismissal to Pepe that it started to irk me. "That guy just told me to 'beat it'," I said, much in the same way that I might report someone asking for more bread. But Pepe's eyes widened at the news. His jaw slackened a little bit and his pupils took on an immediately sympathetic cast, and it was then that I started to feel the first gurglings of outrage.

That guy just told me to "beat it."

Besides top-hatted characters in 1920's musicals and Michael Jackson, besides mullet-headed toughs in 80's cop dramas, who talks like that? Who looks at another human being they hardly know and tells them to "beat it?"

What, "scram" was taken? "Shoo" not coming to the tip of the tongue? "Beat it?" Seriously?

The rest of the night is a blur of anger and self-loathing as I try to reconcile the depths of human indecency with the circumstances that have brought me to this place, where I, at 31, can be told to "beat it" by a complete stranger and not be bothered until someone tells me to.

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:58 AM | link | 1 comments |

Windell Middlebrooks Update

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

If you've not seen the Dr. Pepper commercial with the dancing football player, you probably live under a rock (or you don't spend 6 + hours watching college football on Saturdays).

NPH favorite (and college classmate) Windell Middlebrooks stars in the spot, which I have failed to locate anywhere online. However, Dr. Pepper has created a MySpace page with a mini documentary about the commercial, complete with clips from Windell's casting audition, production shots, and the stunt double.

Enjoy it here.


posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:01 PM | link | 0 comments |

MLB Hot Corner

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The baseball playoffs started today with both National League divisional series game one's and one of the American League divisional series game one. Others will blog about the games themselves; I'm interested in how to watch them.

TBS, the network that has broadcast the Atlanta Braves to a national cable audience for years, purchased the broadcast rights to these divisional series games. But if you don't have cable (or a TV for that matter), and you don't want to spend $20 at a drinking establishment to watch the games, how do you partake of this most hallowed rite of fall?

TBS launched an online component to their broadcast called The Hot Corner. It's a live broadcast, but not the game broadcast. There's no game audio, and the broadcast options include either the pitcher/catcher cam or the dugout cameras. Those are still shots that don't change. So of course, to watch the game, you use the pitcher/catcher angle. Only, whenever the ball is put in play, the camera doesn't move; it stays on the pitcher and catcher, so you're left to infer from their reactions what's going on. It's a bit like being that kid peeking through the slit in the fence to watch the game.

It's a step in the right direction, and I'm going to be watching it when I can. Hopefully we're not far from the time when an internet connection will allow you to watch a live broadcast of a game that's always being broadcast nationally. Currently, TBS, Fox, and ESPN don't allow online broadcasts of the games they're broadcasting, but how long can that last?
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 9:20 PM | link | 2 comments |