Saturday, August 28, 2010

When Mad Men Days Ruled the Advertising World

The smash success of the TV show Mad Men has really opened up the nation's romanticism of the good old days of office life that included daily doses of martinis, cigarettes, and sex.

While it all sounds fun, it also sounds pretty exhausting. But somehow advertising legend Jerry Della Femina survived the 50s, 60s, and every decade since, and is still working and telling us about how the TV show looks like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm compared to those days when he was starting his own firm.

Della Femina begins his memoir, From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, remembering how agencies in the 1950s "were broken down among ethnic lines. The Mad Men flourished in large Protestant ad agencies [and] monopolized all the large advertising accounts (cars, food, cigarettes, soft drinks, beer). The other, small accounts (dress manufacturers, shoes, underwear, small retail stores) were regulated to tiny, 'Jewish' ad agencies."

By the late 60s, the ethnic agencies, of which Della Femina had always been a part, had turned the tables and captured most of the primo accounts. The chairman of the Protestant Mad Men, David Ogilvy, even declared at a conference in 1968 that "the lunatics have taken over the asylum."

One example of the debauchery in the advertising golden age: "Thousands of people took part in the Agency Sex Contest. Everyone in the agency voted anonymously on ballots for the three people they most wanted to go to bed with. They were also asked to vote on the person of the same sex they would consider going to bed with. And, of course, there was the menage a trois category, in which they selected the two other people they wanted to go to bed with. Sometimes as many as 300 votes were cast.

"For one week [each year], the walls of the agency were covered with [sometimes nude] posters made by people who were campaigning for themselves." Winners shared hotel room suites for a weekend or a night and also were allowed to have sex on Della Femina's couch during a work afternoon.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Inception Plants a Pretty Good Story in My Head

Inception is a good story that gets bloated with action-adventure on its way to a suspenseful ending.

Leonardo DiCaprio is his usual wonderful self, in a young Jack Nicholson, rich man's Christian Slater kind of way.

He plays a guy who can get into other people's dreams, but when he gets the final assignment of his career (which will supposedly allow him to go back to his children in America), he risks dragging down the "dream" team he assembles.

Ellen Page of Juno fame is the right actor to play the architectural designer of the dreams. She also slowly unfolds the complicated, creepy, and fascinating back story of Leo and his dead (or not?) wife, played by Marilon Cotillard. Leo's wavering commitment between his wife and his team, including good performances from Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, threatens their mission to successfully perform "inception," which means to place an idea in someone's head that could change their entire thinking and life course.

Director Christopher Nolan can't repeat the majesty of 2000's Memento, not that anyone could reasonably ask for such a feat. However, he assembles a formidable team to try. The problem is that he gets a little too big for his britches. I seriously almost fell asleep in the middle as Leo and crew went Bond with shootouts in the rain, high-risk mountain skiing, and a very long fall off a bridge in a van. Luckily there was enough meat in the story to make this worth seeing in the theater.

*** out of ***** stars (This would come in #10 on my list of the 14 best DiCaprio movies.)

White House Tour Follows Steps of First Ladies

Eleven years living in DC and today I finally took my first tour of the East Wing of the White House.

Although I consider myself an eager student of U.S. presidential history, I hate to admit that the tour is just an OK experience. Probably the best things about the short walk are the historical photos in the entryway (including one of John Travolta dancing with Princess Diana and lots of White House pets), the inspiring glimpses of the backyard and the Jackie Kennedy Garden that frequently appear on the news, and the often recognizable furniture sprinkled throughout the half-dozen or so rooms on the tour.

The East Wing is essentially the president's living quarters while the West Wing consists of working offices. The current East Wing was added to the White House in 1942 primarily to cover the construction of an underground bunker, now the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. Around the same time, Theodore Roosevelt's coatroom became the movie theater.

Rosalynn Carter, in 1977, was the first to place her personal office in the East Wing and to formally call it the "Office of the First Lady." The first ladies have continued to similarly use the East Wing ever since.

Weird, Wild Weather: A Preview of Global Warming’s Effects

Nice article that appears at The Nature Conservancy's blog and in The National Journal. It is based on talking points that I drafted so that when all these crazy weather events like in Russia and Pakistan happen, our experts are always ready to talk about how weather relates to global warming. Enviros have not always spoken so convincingly on this in the past, at least not as convincingly as Big Oil lobbyists.

Have you been paying attention to the weather lately? How could you not?

After two months of record-breaking heat and withering drought, Russia is finally getting some relief. But not before extreme weather stoked wildfires that blanketed Moscow in choking smog, contributed to thousands of heat-related deaths and drownings, and shriveled one-quarter of the country’s wheat harvest.

Torrential monsoonal floods are still ravaging Pakistan, forcing as many as 20 million people from their homes and provoking concerns about political instability in an already unstable region.

Right here in the United States this summer, we have suffered heat waves and witnessed downpours — as much as 10 inches in just 12 hours — that flooded towns and took lives in Massachusetts, Tennessee, Arkansas, Iowa, and Oklahoma.

Coincidence? Probably not. Weird weather is giving us a preview of what climate change means for people.

All around the world, we are seeing hotter hots, wetter wets and drier dries. These extremes, in turn, are resulting in destructive wild fires, choking air pollution, ravaging floods, lost crops, lost homes and lost lives.

Data released from the U.S.’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Climatic Data Center shows that June 2010 was the warmest month of June globally since record-taking began in 1880.

It was also the 304th month in a row in which average worldwide temperatures have been above the 20th century average. There is no question that our world is warming.

We are just left to wonder when, where and how the consequences will be felt. Warmer air makes for wilder weather because it holds more moisture. As warmer air masses move across the landscape, they can pick up more water from the ocean, from lakes and from the soil, creating drier conditions for crops and evaporating water supplies.

Eventually, what goes up must come down, as moisture-laden air unleashes deluges of precipitation – such as the torrential snows the East Coast experienced this past winter.

This is probably the point where I am supposed to remind you that any single weather event cannot be definitively linked to climate change. But that’s not the point. If climate is what we expect and weather is what we get, we need to start changing our expectations.

Record high temperatures are being broken twice as often as record lows; you would expect them to be equal if climate were steady. According the U.S. Global Change Research Program, over the last 50 years, heavy rainfalls in the Northeastern United States have increased 67 percent, and snowpacks in the Western United States are melting up to three weeks earlier.

These sorts of climate changes are serious business. Heat waves hurt air quality and threaten people’s health. Droughts shrivel crops and dry up water supplies. Floods wash away communities. As the news of the last few weeks has made so vivid, extreme weather costs money and costs lives. Climate change increases the odds that we will experience more wild weather and then suffer the consequences.

With so much at risk, we need to act now to stabilize the climate and safeguard our communities:
- We need policies that immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions and wean us off heat-trapping fossil fuels and onto clean, low-carbon energy sources.
- We need to invest in protecting the world’s remaining forests that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide clean water and other valuable benefits.
- We need to help make nature more resilient to change so that people can keep counting on it for food, water, jobs, and protection from storms and floods.

We may not be able to control the weather, but, by strengthening nature, we can help reduce the odds that it will get more extreme.

Hanna-Barbera's Top 13 Cartoons

My recent discovery of Family Guy led to this: a list of my favorite cartoons from the best animation shop in history. It all began with a pair of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio directors (William Hanna and Joseph Goldwyn) creating a cartoon called Tom and Jerry in 1943.

13. The Smurfs
12. The Magilla Gorilla Show
11. The Yogi Bear Show
10. Charlotte's Web (film)
09. Richie Rich
08. The Jetsons
o7. Fantastic Four
06. Scooby's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics
05. Scooby Doo, Where Are You?
04. Super Friends
03. Jonny Quest
02. The Flintstones
01. Family Guy*

* Not technically a Hanna-Barbera production, but the creator worked there before hitting it big with this show.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Family Guy Adds New Chapter in Animation's Hilarious History

How have I never been into Family Guy? With its lightning-fast plot lines and witty vignettes mocking pop culture, I can barely call myself the Pop Culture Lunch Box Guy until I've given myself an education in this cartoon. A true slice of Americana for our times.

Already eight seasons old on the FOX network and like The Flintstones and The Simpsons on steroids, Family Guy is the story of the Griffins (father Peter voiced by the show's creator and former Hanna-Barbera animator Seth MacFarlane, mother Lois, dog Brian, and kids Stewie, Meg voiced by That '70s Show's Mila Kunis, and Chris voiced by Dr. Evils's son Seth Green).

Just to help you imagine how funny this show is: Last year, Family Guy was the first animated show nominated for an Emmy for best comedy series since The Flintstones in 1961. Not even The Simpsons could ever do that.

The show has been accused repeatedly of plagarism, but that's really the whole point. The show uses culteral icons at ever turn and its very essence is that it's a take on our wacky American ways. I'm watching Season One: Disc One, which, in the first two episodes, already lampoons Star Trek, E.T., and CHiPS, to name just a few.

Looks like I've got my work cut out for me if I want to see all the episodes. Luckily, the first episode starts with no back story and it appears to make no difference whether I watch episode #3 or episode #100 next.

Hulu's got a bunch of full episodes here. If there are any of you out there who haven't seen the show, check it out.

****1/2 out of ***** stars

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Better Words Needed: Will Somebody Please Explain Global Warming?

This is my last weekly column for NetGreen News. This retires a nice little run of 15 or so environment columns because NGN is ending its text-only blog and opting to become a video-only site. Should be interesting to see if they can become a major source for environmental video footage for mainstream media outlets. I wish them the best.

North Carolina is my favorite state. I love the Tarheels. I love the Eastern Carolina BBQ found at great restaurants like Wilber's, McCall's, and Parker's. The beaches, mountains, and Research Triangle are all tough to beat.

And I don't hold it against the citizens of the state that only 13 percent of voters there could identify “cap and trade” as legislation that would impact environment or energy policy. The findings were recently reported in a poll by the Civitas Institute.

Some other interesting findings in the poll:
- Fifteen percent of voters thought cap and trade was somehow foreign-trade related.
- Of the 13 percent of voters who were informed about the contents of the legislation, 7 percent negtively thought it would mean higher taxes on energy, while only 6 percent said it would help protect the environment. That's strange, even though it doesn't surprise me.
- Weirder still: unaffiliated voters were somehow more informed about the issue than members of either party. Seventeen percent of unaffiliateds were able to identify it as an environment or energy issue.

All this tells me that, once again, the environmental movement has not done a good job of framing the issues. Global warming, speaking more broadly, would probably be solved by now if it had been couched as a technological or military issue. We have no problem investing in those areas, but we're much slower to preemptively fund big environmental problems that might take years to eventually come back and haunt us.

Many environmental groups jumped quickly into trying to sell a policy called cap and trade. But most of the focus was on trying to influence big business and politicians. When those groups finally failed to fully embrace the idea, environmentalists realized they had forgotten to speak to the public about the importance of this economic policy mechanism.

Not that economic policy mechanisms are ever easy to sell to the American public. Family, friends, daycare, PTO meetings, a few minutes of NPR, and American Idol each battle for time in the mind of Americans each day. There's not a lot of room left for global warming. And there's understandably little room left for cap and trade.

No matter what you think of the merits of such a plan (and there is considerable debate in the environmental community), cap-and-trade credits would be much more palatable if it had a warm and fuzzy name like "clean air credits" and/or "delicious water certificates." Can you imagine a factory getting a seal of approval with something like that? It would be a pretty nice patch to have on the homepage of the website.

For now, for better or worse, we're stuck with the ghost of a good idea with a terrible name called cap and trade. And no national policy whatsoever to deal with global warming. Makes me want to go back to thinking about eating some Wilber's BBQ in Goldsboro.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blogwatch: Who's the Dirtiest Congressman?

Very impressive new website by all the big guns of environmental protest-advocacy, like Bill McKibben's, Greenpeace,, and others.

The site is called Dirty Energy Money and allows you to see how much energy and oil industry money has been accepted by politicians and companies. It also lets you search by zip code.

By the looks of this graphic, you would think climate-hoaxer Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma would be the "dirtiest" coal-funded politician. But no, he's only number three. I'm sure he'll get his staff right on rectifyin' that.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hot Tub Stupid Machine

I knew Hot Tub Time Machine would be overwhelmingly stupid, but I was unprepared for the lack of laughs.

The movie serves as a vehicle for Rob Corddry, who had mostly so far been a bit player in movies like Old School, W., Semi-Pro, and Blades of Glory. Although he was brilliant in his four years at The Daily Show, Corddy is far from that here, even if he supplies the bulk of HTTM's very few laughs.

Craig Robinson (who is great in The Office) and John Cusack may be likable characters, but they both are stuck with writing that leaves them sleepwalking here. Cusack is nowhere near the inspired actor he was in Better Off Dead, which, along with Hot Dog The Movie, led the pack for greatest 1980s ski comedies.

With all its 80s imagery and references, this movie aspires to be cute and adorable like The Wedding Singer, but perhaps the big-hair mullets and neon-colored outfits have become so cliche that they're just not that funny anymore.

Clark Duke should be funny in a McLovin or Jonah Hill sort of way, but he's given virtually no funny lines. Same goes for Chevy Chase as the hot-tub repairman and Crispin Glover as the one-armed resort employee.

Hot Tub Time Machine isn't a total waste of time if you like really silly comedies, but it misses a lot of chances to be much funnier than it is.

** out of ***** stars

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Music Reviews In 3 Words or Less: Volume 21

The Henry Clay People - Somewhere on the Golden Coast (2010)
Pavement as PartyMusic
Touchstones: Pavement meets The Hold Steady
***** out of ***** stars

Allo Darlin' - Allo Darlin' (2010)
Twitchy honeyed hookfest
Touchstones: Camera Obscura meets
***** out of ***** stars

The Wannadies - Be a Girl (1999)
Happy Swede pop
Touchstones: Gigolo Aunts meet Dillon Fence
***** out of ***** stars

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs (2010)
Jaunty death symphonies
Touchstones: David Bowie meets Interpol
**** out of ***** stars

Beck - Andy Warhol (Record Club) (2009)
Can't-go-wrong VU covers
Touchstones: Beck meets Velvet Underground
**** out of ***** stars

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Before Today (2010)
Muddy FM-radio takes
Touchstones: The Move meets The Frogs
***1/2 out of ***** stars

Devo - Something for Everyone (2010)
Goofy Devo-trademarked synthrock
Touchstones: Kraftwerk meets The Dickies
**1/2 out of ***** stars

Women - Women (2008)
Mind-hurting psyche buzz
Touchstones: Animal Collective meets The Zombies
** out of ***** stars

Novel, Part #14

Rock star Rory is in the middle of trying to convince Paul's dad to let him become one of his roadies. For the rest of the start of the book, go here.

But Rory calmly broke in. “I know it sounds crazy, but Paul here is a rare find. The people who tend to cling to these rock n’ roll tours can be real losers and I want to get it right. I want to have a really strong business team around me so I can worry about writing great, entertaining music while being surrounded by people - friends - who I like and can trust.”

I have to admit that Rory was beginning to make an admirably sensible argument.

My dad was still clearly fighting the urge to throw both Rory and his only son out the front window. “But he’s got a job, and he wants to turn his lawn mowing into a business. Why would he want to give that up?”

“Yeah,” added Ernie distantly and dumbly.

We all looked over at him. He sensed our glares and pleading looks, and realized we were actually waiting for his rationale. When this happened, he turned his head towards us and left his eyes on the TV, “Graig Nettles just hit a homer.”

This moment, I forever thought, softened my dad a little.

“We’re doing very well, Mr. Andrews,” Rory resumed. “We can pay Paul better than what he would make owning his own company, he can get to see the world some and see how it operates outside of Papersville, and he’ll get to meet a lot of extraordinary people who may just help him discover what it is he wants to do with himself as he grows up.”

“Yeah Dad, I really think it’s a great opportunity, and Rory’s really got a lot of confidence in me, even though we only met yesterday.”

“I just think I know people pretty well,” Rory added, as if closing the case.

Dad looked like he had plenty of questions for Rory, but he stopped himself short and said, “I’ll have to discuss it with your mother, Paul. It is a very kind offer, Rory.”

With that, we all stood up, except for Ernie, who at least surprisingly looked up. Rory thanked my dad for his time and said he had to head back to New York City tomorrow to plan for a tour starting in two weeks, but that the Andrews could take all the time they needed in making a decision. He was amazingly courteous for a rock star, even my dad must have noticed.

“Pretty neat havin’ that Cocksure in the house,” Ernie said to my dad after it was just the two of them remaining.

“Yes. He certainly wasn’t what I would have expected,” my dad said. “I would have to be crazy to let my son work for a bunch of rock n’ rollers, wouldn’t I?”

“I s’posse you would have to be. Got a point though. Paul would prolly meet some pert interestin’ folks.”


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Who Lose Their Monopoly on The Kids Are All Right

Several levels of family drama consume the new indie flick The Kids Are All Right. The film takes viewers through intense and uncomfortable situations that dig pretty deeply into showing why marriages can be such fragile agreements between two human beings.

I would be surprised if Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore aren't nominated for Academy Awards. Ruffalo (whom I really like and am surprised that he hasn't been in more really good movies; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the only one that comes to mind) is the sperm donor to Moore and her wife, played by Annette Bening. Moore has been in too many great movies to mention, has been nominated for best actress four times, and may seriously take home her first win this winter.

Although I really wanted to see Inception or one of the silly comedies currently in theaters, this ended up being a really good choice for date night this past weekend.

***1/2 out of ***** stars

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Strange Sun Pop for Cali Kids

The T.A.M.I. Show kicks off with a collage of teenagers living a sun-pop California lifestyle before launching into a captivating 1964 rock show recently restored to video.

Chuck Berry is the first performer before Gerry and the Pacemakers join him mid-song on stage to segue from his version of "Maybelline" into their own version. It's unbelievable how animalistic the fans were for rock, as the constant teen-girl screaming drowns out some of the songs, but not Gerry's strange facial expressions or Chuck's St. Louis cool.

The Beach Boys in their candy-striped shirts, with Brian Wilson on bass and Mike Love on vocals, is legendary. "Surfer Girl" is one of the most beautiful pop songs (and great to sing to your babies as a lullabye) and watching rather than just hearing them perform it is a pleasure.

Billy of Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas leads some catchy songs that sound like British Invasion meets Elvis. And he's strange to watch, acting more like a politician, with all his winks, waves, and perfect hair and suit.

"Baby Love" by The Supremes features some particularly weird and basic moves by the backup dancers. But the dancers are a pop-culture early-60s lesson through much of this film.

James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Lesley Gore and others are loads of fun, but the main stage goes to The Rolling Stones. Keith Richards actually runs out onto the stage and then plays with exciting and peppy-cool enthusiasm. Their six songs plus the four Beach Boys tunes makes this a must-view for rock fans.

****1/2 out of ***** stars

Covering Great Songs

Music website The A.V. Club has a great little project going on. They came up with 25 classic songs and had 25 different bands/solo performers go into a small room to play them one-by-one.

I particularly love the Fruit Bats' version (below) of "One on One" by Hall and Oates. Not many can pull that off!

Also check out Superchunk covering The Cure and Ben Folds nailing an Elliot Smith tune.