Thursday, September 18, 2008

Top 5 Commercials That Make Me Never Want to Buy the Product

There are two reasons for commercials: to give budding actors something to put on their resume, and to sell things. In thirty seconds, an announcer/spokesperson tells us exactly why this product will make us happy/pretty/better than anyone else. When there are a dozen different versions of toilet paper, it's up to ad executives to put together an ad that will make a viewer think, "Hey, I love that bunny! I'll buy this brand!"

Simple, right? At the very least, just extolling the virtues of some product should be enough. Sometimes the execs get it really right and actually make something entertaining. (See cat herder.)

Sometimes the execs take their crack a little too early in the day.

Not only are the following commercials bad, but they actually make me never want to buy the product. Even if the actual product is okay--hey, even preferable!--these commercials have turned me off forever. These aren't just kind of annoying or lame or stupid commercials. These are opposite-commercials. The competitors might as well use them. Here's the wall of shame, in no particular order:

1) Chips Ahoy!--"If You Want My Body"

No. No, I don't want your body, you giant cookie. Your chocolate chips make you look like a pox victim. Your singing makes my brain dribble out of my ears. Also, how can someone have sex with a cookie? What was that tiny woman planning on doing? And if a real person eats the cookie in the end, who the hell is that tiny woman? Why is she so tiny? Is she only with the anthropomorphic cookie because he's the only one her size?

2) Sprite--"Obey Your Thirst--and Sumo Wrestlers"

I love Sprite. It's my soda of choice--crisp, clean refreshing. What more could I want? A fucking better ad, that's what! The idea of my face getting squished by two monochromatic sumo wrestlers freaks me out. And this is just the tip of the "Obey Your Thirst" commercial freakdom. Don't make me associate Sprite with a creepy drug trip, please.

3) Charmin--"Ultra Strong for Ultra Poop"

Cartoon animals selling products aren't exactly new. But I don't want them selling my toilet paper, especially when they're bears. It makes me think of really big, gross poop--the kind you take care to avoid and leave alone. (Also, if you see bear poop, you're probably going to get mauled, so that's not a good connotation either.) Plus, how many pieces of toilet paper are you walking around with? If that's a serious problem for you, you're just lazy and disgusting.

4) Anything sold by Billy Mays--"If I Get Really Loud, You'll Buy This"

Why is this guy selling eighteen different products? At first I thought, "Oh, it must be some cleaning product company, they're all related and just didn't want to film commercials on multiple days, so they asked the same guy to do all of them." But the slider pan? And who thought, "He'll make people excited about stuff!" More likely, he'll make me want to rip off my own head and cook mini hamburgers with that. (Although I do secretly wonder if the cleaning stuff works.)

5) Beggin' Strips--"Dogs Can't Believe How Bad This is"

I'm a sucker for a dog in commercials. Remember how I hated the bears and toilet paper? I love the puppy and toilet paper combination in the Cottonelle commercials. Put a puppy on something and I'm ready to buy. But these Beggin' Strips commercials have made me an animal hater. If this is what dogs sound like in their heads, I will not be able to get one. But if I do, you can be damn sure they're not getting these fake-bacon treats.

There were some that I couldn't find commercials online for, one in particular being an old Perdue chicken commercial in which a really annoying voice sang "Pick...pick pick" over and over while a family picked on leftover chicken. This list might have a sequel if those ever pop up. Until then, I'll be drinking 7Up.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Best Books by Indians, or About India

I just got back from a long trip to India, which included stints in Benares/Varanasi/Kashi and Bombay/Mumbai and Bangalore/Bengaluru. I have not really read enough to compile this list, but I am flush with enthusiasm for what is at least sort of my country. So here we go, in no particular order, some random highlights:

Swami & Friends, by R.K. Narayan

The pride of South India! I have read many of his novels, but this is the only one that I really love. A great book, and I think the best novel about childhood I've ever read.

The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin, by Verrier Elwin

Pretty much forgotten outside of India, Elwin was part of the independence struggle with Gandhi and Nehru, and then spent the rest of life living with the Gonds, the largest of India's remaining tribal peoples. His autobiography is beautifully written and surprisingly funny.

Our Films, Their Films, by Satyajit Ray

The most multifaceted genius that India has produced in the modern era. In addition to making his films, he composed music, drew, and wrote some extremely good short stories, along with this collection of short essays written for newspapers. I was pretty amazed at how perceptive they are, and not just about the movies.

The Story of My Experiments With Truth, by M. K. Gandhi

Gandhi's autobiography, and much to my discredit the only modern book on this list not originally written in English. (It was written in Gujarati and translated by Gandhi's secretary.) Until the end, when it gets bogged down in the dated exhortations of the Independence movement, the book is pretty great. And surprisingly it's a real literary success as well - Gandhi has a talent for pacing and description and even comedy, and there are indelible passages throughout.

India: A Wounded Civilization
, by V.S. Naipaul

The best book in his trilogy on India. It's pretty much a big "fuck you" to the country, but it's too formidable and perceptive an attack to be dismissed. It also contains some of the best criticism ever written about Narayan and a surprisingly appreciative essay on Gandhi.

The Mahabharata, by Vyasa

Most people prefer The Odyssey to The Iliad, but among the two great Indian epics (the other is the Ramayana) the battle story is by far the more interesting. I learned these stories from comic books, a TV serial, and from the Rajagopalachari translation, which is pretty solid. "One cannot understand India's way of life," Rajagopalachari says in the introduction, "unless one has read the Ramayana and the Mahabharata." Well, I have read both and I still don't really understand, so clearly it takes a little more...

Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie

I'm not sure it deserves to make this list, because I'm not particularly interested in re-reading it. But it was compulsive reading for me when I first picked it up. An incredibly compelling and inventive plot - a triumph of imagination and technical wizardly, although not really of any deeper human understanding, I don't think.

The Wonder That Was India, by A. L. Basham

Um, full disclosure, I have not actually read this book. But my Dad says it's very good, and so does John Keay, whose general history of India I am currently reading. For homegrown Indian historians - who for some reason all seem to be Marxist - I have heard good things about Romila Thapar and D.D. Kosambi. I will head to the library shortly and attempt to justify these totally unsupported recommendations.

Apologies for the complete lack of women on this list; I clearly just haven't read enough. Also, half-points go to J. G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur, which is a brilliant novel but is really much more about the British than it is about India. Also, I like Edwin Arnold's poem The Light of Asia, about the life of the Buddha, as well as his translation of the Gita. Finally, G.V. Desani's "All About H. Hatterr" is very funny and now back in print. Keep 'em coming, Injuns and Injunphiles!