Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send Driver an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During this week many people will celebrate Halloween. They will do it mostly in the same ways as they did 50 years ago – pretending to be frightened of ghosts, ghouls, goblins, hobgoblins and haunted houses. The horror movies will be dusted off. Familiar screams will fill the air.
Few of us, including children, will be genuinely frightened. We’ve seen most of the scary stuff before. Why can’t we have some truly bone-chilling scenarios thrown our way?
For example, a movie in which a typical adult male is forced to watch 10 straight hours of “Project Runway.” That’s a TV series in which a group of designers is required to create fashionable but imaginative women’s clothing. I have watched a few of these shows, and it was a form of sustained hell for me. The torture came from my ignorance of women’s fashions, and from my not caring to learn.
The designers were admittedly creative men and women, but most of them were neurotic, bitchy people who made me long for a shot of liquid Valium just to ease the pain. After viewing the final products the designers came up with, I had the feeling that none of these outfits would ever be bought and worn. But by that time I didn’t really care. I just wanted to have the TV program end.
I watched only at the suggestion of my girl friend Liz, who has promised never again to ask me to join her with “Project Runway.” But the memory will haunt me, more than any Dracula movie ever could.
I’m writing this on Oct. 25, as the disgusting, dreadful political ordeal of the past 18 months is finally winding down. A Halloween-worthy curse to be pronounced on any American would be to have to undergo another presidential campaign before 10 years have passed. A snapshot of such a horror would be to imprison Halloween celebrants, not in a haunted house, but in an auditorium where a 24-hour debate was held between candidates who were allowed to speak for 20 minutes at a time without interruption. I would rather waltz with a werewolf.
Will Halloweeners wear costumes and masks representing Messrs. Obama and Romney this week? Probably, although the features of neither man are so distinctive that they lend themselves to satire or parody. The president’s ears stand out at an angle, but not enough to be memorable.
Enough about Halloween, horror and such. I chose this area of discussion just to be topical, and as sometimes happens I wish I hadn’t. I’d much rather write about the Volkswagen bulldog. He’s in a current TV ad that shows his owner lugging the bulldog out to the new VW. The guy puts the dog into the car, then takes him out. The owner holds the dog while grabbing the front door handle. The bulldog puts up with all of this in apparently good spirits, or at least without snarling. But after viewing that commercial several times, I have one or two questions: exactly what is its point? What does a bulldog have to do with selling an automobile? If you know, please tell me.
Another TV ad that puzzles me is the one with the two young men strumming guitars, or a banjo, or whatever. An adjoining set shows an escalator with a coiled Slinky toy bouncing down the escalator steps. A third set has a wild man with a sledgehammer attacking several watermelons, spraying pulp all over innocent bystanders. The implication (I must assume) is that these things represent happiness, which is what you’ll get from buying insurance from the sponsor of the ad. I’ve forgotten which company it is; there are so many firms peddling insurance it’s hard to keep them straight.
The big-domed executives of Madison Avenue have always been handcuffed by a two-tiered challenge. One, sell the product by persuading buyers that the soap or laxative or blue jeans are worth purchasing. But before that the ad men (and women) have to catch the buyer’s attention. In the message-clogged world of 2012, this can be a pretty nifty trick. It always has been. You may remember the classic TV commercial for Alka-Seltzer, in which a bloated, belching man was moaning, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.” That ad won several awards for creativity, but it did nothing to increase the sales of Alka-Seltzer. Go figure.
Next Tuesday most of us will have the opportunity to vote for or against men and women who, to a frightening extent, will be able to influence how we live. So let’s get out and vote. If we fail to do so, we’re not humans. We’re sheep.
Bob Driver is a former columnist and editorial page editor for the Clearwater Sun. Send him an email at email@example.com.