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Archive for June 2008

apocalypse now

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If we Lombrosoed the best, wide-panning footage from recent collapse/catastrophe/dystopian films, we might well come up with something like this still I’ve just sniffed out of a HD version of the trailer of Blindness. From what I can tell / remember, looks like downtown Shanghai, though I’m probably wrong. The empty-tank abandoned cars, the gray-scale midrise blocks smothering the tight highway in the center. No one’s been around to sweep up casual debris for awhile.

Whether from environmental catastrophe or meteor strike, heatwave or coldwave, terror attack or ultra-SARS, vampires or the end of female fecundity, the mass blindness or bad politics or cannibalistic rage, we always end up here, under a gray sky, walking where we shouldn’t with shopping bags.

We even build the scenario into our fanciest new parks:

There’s lots to say about this. The least interesting thing, perhaps, is that, sure, everyone’s writing allegories and slantsenses of the same imminent catastrophe that really is around the corner, involving peak oil and the like. (It’s a bit more interesting to consider why they don’t simply make a movie about that. No fun, I guess, to see the shit that’s really about to hit the fan, but I don’t think that’s it. More pertinent is the trouble it takes to narrativize / visualize it, as it moves slow and mostly out of sight).

And more interesting, I think, are a few things that are a bit more obliquely there. A sense of possible or even manditory trespass on public grounds where you’re not, in normal times, supposed to walk. It’s a form of desperate liberation, and has a childlike fun adhering to it I think.

Also, there’s the entire question of the role of these gray ersatz buildings, the way they signal a catastrophe that had perhaps already started, that began perhaps even when the first nomadic sheepherders decided to put their tents up along a single path, then some travelling salesman came along and decided to stay put and just sell to them. Or maybe it’s the modernness of the architecture – the way the non-descript individuality of each building mirrors and matches that of the folks walking on the street. A generic family, a kid generically holding a parent’s hand, just as the building on the left has balconies you can enclose if you want, and the one next to it has a different sort of balcony, etc…

The uncollected rubish (you can imagine a crew sprinkling the set with little strips of paper, cuttings of plastic bags. Maybe someone even wedged that one down in the sewer inlet) brings to mind both a street party, a parade, before the cleanup crews pass through. Or is it just the everyday trash that flutters on city streets that aren’t well kept (like mine, I’ve quickly noticed…) because there’s no one left to collect it. The failure of services, of the civic, of public employment. The wind will take care of that, the ocean will collect it, as there simply isn’t the cash on hand, we’re in a crisis don’t you know, structural adjustments will have to be made, sacrifice the clean streets for the sake of…

The gray sky, of course, is more than just a marker of the weather. Sure, of course, it’s global warming, polution, the hot and damp that will soon enough mark the other season, all over the world, in its oscillation with hot and dry. But it’s also the lidness that keeps us in, that keeps our thoughts cycling on two-axes, the axes that run through this picture and these films and our gasping lack of hope for change – the wider weather that means the furtherest left we know how to get is the circulation of fantasies, like this one and all the rest it stands for, of our imminent and increasingly visible demise.

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June 26, 2008 at 12:56 pm

oooof

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Well, there goes the summery part of summer for me. News neither good nor bad, neutral I guess shading OK, but bringing a sluice-stream of work, and now my semi-idle tapping away at various projects (and this blog) is, as of immediately, severely curtailed. I wish I could bring myself to post on matters personal/professional, but it’s bad form.

A few years ago, when I started my first job, the slightly-senior guy who was the pointman in hiring me (and with whom I didn’t get along at all, as he thought that he could, like, be my dad because of this) had us over for dinner, and my wife took our babe upstairs for boob-dinner and saw, next to their bed, his side of the bed, this giant stack of academic monographs. HUP, PUP, CUP, OUP, CUP, CUP just like that. Like fifteen of them in a column. Bedtime reading, presumably. We come back to this image so frequently, the bathos and pathos of it. I have to read monographs now because I’ve been told to, and I’m feeling none too chipper about this. Even ancient I.A. Richards books are better than these. And, truthfully, I’ll blame no one if they don’t read mine.

We really need to get this academic publishing issue worked out, don’t we?

Anyway, less / more blogging to follow. You know how it goes. Both probably. Internet at home tomorrow, which means I’ll also have less time to drink Tesco-brand wine (just “Australian” – can’t be any more specific than that?) in the evenings and watch videos on freeview.

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June 26, 2008 at 11:13 am

Posted in meta

“Nous n’avons pas signé de contrat avec Castro”

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Rue89 clears it all up: Castro has not signed a promotional contract with Adidas. He just likes their gear.

I’m not sure I’d be opposed to Adidas simply becoming the exclusive footwear/sportswear supplier of sporty communists worldwide. It’s maybe a New Jersey thing, deep rooted, but I’ve got a few of their “training suits” in my own closet, I must admit. Though I try not to wear top and bottom at the same time, as that’s a bit too much, unless you’re Castro I suppose.

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June 24, 2008 at 11:53 am

Posted in ads, americas, socialism

act now to save our chubby children

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MoveOn.org’s latest ad is tailor-made to fuel the usual semi-automatic exchange of fire about “hating our troops,” “loving our troops by hating the war,” and the rest of the dreary playout. But you don’t have to be a right-winger to think this ad is awful. Could the organization have come up with a clearer materialization of the class gap that undergirds any ideological question in this country? Is it possible to show more clearly that the sides of the struggle have formed, that that the game is played between the right and the wealthy center?

(I’m afraid that Obama is yet another vivid materialization of the situation… But let’s hope for the best as we take what we got…)

Alex, I’m afraid, will never fight this war. Not in eighteen years, not ever. He and his mom have been cast as relatively well-to-do (see the hardwood floors, and her BKLYN yummie mummie-ness, and the antique-ish chair in the corner), and the well-to-do will never fight wars again, not in America. There are, however, lots and lots and lots of people with more immediate reasons to worry about what is going on – among other things, their kids are there now. It’s a bit like one of those Save the Children ads, except recast with chubby American kids. “What would happen if the food supply ran out? What would become of young Timmy here? Where would he find his daily bag of Cheez Doodles, his four liters of Mountain Dew? What if, in eighteen years, Timmy can’t afford his snacks?”

It would be an offensive ad, of course. But really, not much more offensive than this one.

(Actually, there is probably a simple fix. Think of how much more sneakily effective an ad would be with a different mom and kid, this time from the sticks, and he’s seventeen, and he wants to enlist because he’s a patriot and there’s shit all else to do in Nowheresville, the plant closed long ago, and now there’s just the hotdog stand at Walmart etc etc. But he can’t enlist, or mom doesn’t want him to, because rather than actually defending the country, he’ll be sent into some quixotic imperialist meat-grinder, come back scarred psychologically like his cousin or in little pieces, and for what??? Wow, that’d be fucking amazing – make that ad MoveOn. Or just Obama – you could be properly dialectical for once, and do a turn on the “against our troops” flag wavers. And then we can talk about my consulting rates…)

Obviously, the well-to-do have just as much reason, and perhaps even a greater duty, to resist the war. But it might be helpful to think through the gut reaction semiotics of your response, what it signals about you and your investments, and what it tells others about where your head and heart really are.

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June 24, 2008 at 11:19 am

Posted in ads, america, uspolitics, video

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From a column at Bloomberg.com:

With gasoline at $4-plus a gallon, lots of thinking people see the U.S. undergoing a vast demographic shift, with millions of people moving back to cities. The suburbs, and those places beyond the suburbs, the exurbs, will dry up and blow away.

The notion appeals especially to people who like to think they’ll be in charge after the revolution. They would apparently love nothing more than for the population to be confined to Soviet-style concrete-block high-rises and be forced to take state-run streetcars to their little jobs at the mill.

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June 23, 2008 at 9:28 am

london, for free

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Hey, I didn’t know that Patrick Keiller’s London is available on-line… You have to watch it very, very small though.

Strange thing, how centrally important this film is over here, how relatively unknown it is on the US side. (I have to admit, I’d never heard of it before I arrived…)

(I hope this link works outside of the UK – please do let me know if it doesn’t…)

A question for another day: why is it that New York City seems to resist or at least has proved unfertileground  for the production of psychogeographic / hauntological materials? Is it simply the relative youth of NYC as a city? Does it have something to do with the wider arc of political aspiration / disappointment that exists in London? An issue of the co-location of political and economic and cultural power in London, whereas NYC only has two of the three? Or is the answer more material, more architectural? London’s weird (to me, anyway) chaos of hub-and-spoke villages provokes more ruin sifting than the rectilinearity of NYC? Or does the significant difference lie at the site of intellectual production, the funding of a documentary culture in the UK that’s missing in New York. (The exception, in a way, proves the rule on this point – as WNET has made forays in this direction…. such as this series, but it’s still far too sunny and touristical to qualify). Or, there’s the last chapter of Marshall Berman’s generally under-appreciated All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, which is far far closer….

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June 20, 2008 at 11:15 am

Posted in distraction, movies

testmarketing the October Surprise

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Ah, interesting, horrifying. Every summer on the summer in the run-up to major elections…

WASHINGTON — Israel carried out a major military exercise earlier this month that American officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Several American officials said the Israeli exercise appeared to be an effort to develop the military’s capacity to carry out long-range strikes and to demonstrate the seriousness with which Israel views Iran’s nuclear program.

More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters participated in the
maneuvers, which were carried out over the eastern Mediterranean and
over Greece during the first week of June, American officials said.

The
exercise also included Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue
downed pilots. The helicopters and refueling tankers flew more than 900
miles, which is about the same distance between Israel and Iran’s
uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, American officials said.

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June 20, 2008 at 10:17 am

Posted in distraction, war