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Signs that say what you want them to say until they say what some car manufacturer wants them to say - click opera
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Mon, Jan. 16th, 2006 12:00 am
Signs that say what you want them to say until they say what some car manufacturer wants them to say

Car commercials. They're worse when they're good, aren't they? Because when they're good, when they touch us on some sensitive point (like our love for nature or children or art) they're not only lying about the essential evilness of cars, but tarnishing the good stuff they're dragging into the frame. And I say this as someone whose music has scored a car advert, and who's profited from the association. Mea maxima culpa (and thanks, Paolo Rumi, for making it happen)!

But apart from being evil and ingenious, car commercials tell us about cultural values. Oh yes! Don't think you were getting away from those so quick, after yesterday's lecture-entry on The difference that makes a difference!

I've been looking at two sets of car commercials, all viewable online. The first set (and thanks to Jean Snow for the link) are British. Yes, they're from the land I loved, then loathed, then left. And they display all the hate and sharkiness I've come to associate with British culture since becoming an exile, a sort of semiotic Lord Haw Haw.

Now, these are good evil commercials. I'm sure there are lots of bad ones that wouldn't even be worth commenting on. These ones (they're all for Honda, and they're all by agency Wieden and Kennedy, which I've also done work for, although it was music for Nike, not for car companies) won prizes. They're linked from this page. The first is for the Honda Civic, and it shows a sort of Fluxus choir in a parking garage. A rather scary bald choirmaster (in an image typical of the Western love of hierarchy and leadership by "experts") conducts a choral group who, instead of singing, emulate all the sounds a Honda Civic makes as it drives through the world.

Now, apart from the fact that the choir-master looks like a bald Tony Blair about to justify yet again the invasion of Iraq with a motivating "Look..." (he gets increasingly manic in his authoritarianism as the ad progresses, jumping up and down by the end while his management team choristers attempt to keep up with his commands), what annoys me here is that the Fluxus choir idea is a really good one. It reminds me of Tomomi Adachi's Royal Chorus, which I suspect the director may have heard, and ripped off. The last shot is the smug grin of one of the choristers, a sort of "Didn't we do well under our team leader?" grin which unites all divisions (instructed choir from instructing master, and musicians from audience), and takes the place of the much-worked-for Last-Night-of-the-Proms applause the group clearly feel they deserve, even in a parking garage.

I'm not quite sure whether that ad really did rip off Tomomi Adachi, but there's no doubt at all that the feted 2004 ad Honda Cog completely rips off Fischli and Weiss's 1987 piece "The Way Things Go", which shows in a single unbroken sequence an amazingly prolonged domino effect, as one object hits another, chemical reactions are triggered, rubber bands fire, and so on. Exactly the same thing happens in the Honda ad, except that they cheat, using CGI at one point (it's when the exhaust pipe rolls over).

The plagiarism is only to be expected; in pretty much the same way, Volkswagen ripped off Gillian Wearing's "Signs that say what you want them to say not signs that say what someone else wants you to say" for an ad. Wearing didn't sue because another artist who'd been the victim of the same thing ended up liable for £200,000 in court expenses. Her series might well now be retitled "Signs that say what you want them to say until they say what some car manufacturer wants them to say".

Finally, here's another prize-winning Honda ad, Grrr. The music is basically "Don't Worry, Be Happy", the voice is someone trying to sound like Garrison Keillor, the imagery is bunnyrabbits and bluebirds sporting, implausibly, around their greatest enemy, a diesel engine, and the message is "Hate something, make something better!"

It's almost impossible to imagine such a slogan in Japan. Japanese car ads (there's a bunch of them here) are short, bizarre, and unfailingly cute. No surprises in that, really. But the lack of sharkiness is refreshing.

So, no authoritarian orchestral conductors or peans to hate here. Instead we get, for the Mazda Demio, a girl who keeps her car in her house. Some might find her quirkiness annoying, but I find it rather sexy. I also like how the music in this commercial follows the speech. I used to have a software program that could turn whatever your voice did into notes: these people seem to be able to turn spoken phrases into chords. Very Cute Formalist!

The Mazda MPV commercial has the first of many children, the Zoom Zoom boy, a kind of Harry Potter of car magic. Cars in Japan are protective not only of natural greenery -- they're all "eco", or claim to be -- they're also friendly protectors of everything small and vulnerable. No road-kill here, just gentle metal wombs occupied by charismatic French people, quirky single 30something women, and parents who want to calm their babies.

The cute-funny-quirky angle reaches Dada dimensions with the Toyota Fun Car Go ads. In the first a shepherd in the Alps falls asleep counting the sheep jumping into the back of his Toyota, which then plows through a field of tulips (as percentage rates flash above), then a Latin lover type with a unibrow makes eyes at the seating plan, before the car claps with its back door.

In the second a little girl plays mouth organ, then a woman bringing shopping home finds Superman changing in the back of her car. I guess its friendly shape and public utilities vibe made him mistake the Toyota for a phone booth. Easy mistake to make.

Although I much prefer the Japanese ads to the British ones (they seem gentler and more humane to me), there's something that disturbs me about both sets of films. It's not just the plagiarism of relatively interesting and fresh creative ideas from other media that bugs me (and again, the Japanese ads, if only by dint of their eccentricity and brevity, seem to do this less, but maybe I'm just not recognising the sources), it's the ransacking and tarnishing of positive images. With their huge budgets, these ads are able to present ideas powerfully. Sometimes they're ideas that artists have already presented, and they're presented uncredited, and without remuneration to the artists concerned. Sometimes they're ideas that artists might want to present in the future.

I've mentioned that I'm working on an album code-named "The Friendly Album". Some of the ideas I had when I planned this album related to Fluxus choirs, to the idea of music that followed speech, to natural and eco-friendly imagery, to childish playfulness, to supportive "feminine" feelings and solidarity. I even had that "Don't Worry, Be Happy" song in mind as a kind of template. And now I see that one of the first things this stuff will remind people of, when it's all put together, will be... a car commercial.

58CommentReplyShare

lilchiva
lilchiva
lilchiva
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 12:39 pm (UTC)

Your entry is F'ing up my F-list. Can you please help me out with this.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 12:41 pm (UTC)

What's it doing to it?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 12:49 pm (UTC)

By the way, for anyone who can't see the AVI files because they're using Mac OS X, the solution is to download them and play them with VLC, a free program.


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aberranteyes
aberranteyes
I'm Mister Cellophane
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 01:45 pm (UTC)

What if you can't see the AVI files because they take so long to launch that your browser (in my case, Firefox) freezes up and becomes Not Responding and has to be closed from Windoze Task Manager? Download?


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 12:50 pm (UTC)

They should change the selected song "Don't worry, be happy" to Eugene Chadbourne's rewriting "Don't happy, be worry" PRONTO!


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nina_blomquist
nina_blomquist
Nennen Sie mich Ninen
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 02:57 pm (UTC)

i find them quite funny. especially because the fact that here an industrial noise artist is advertising an appliance shop is completely lost at the tv audience.


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exliontamer
exliontamer
Her Very Lowness with her head in a sling
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 12:56 pm (UTC)

Sorry, but isn't it Fischli and Weiss? (/pedantry)
That rip-off of 'The Way Things Go' annoyed me a fair bit.

xxx


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 01:18 pm (UTC)

Actually, there are several visible edits in 'The Way Things Go.'

And you could say that Fischli and Weiss were just ripping off Rube Goldberg--a widely-syndicated newspaper cartoonist, and hence a much more 'commercial' artist.


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 01:27 pm (UTC)
the whole world is a great big car commercial

mmm that final line...

And now I see that one of the first things this stuff will remind people of, when it's all put together, will be... a car commercial.

maybe one day , your critique will be appropriated and used as the basis of yet another car commercial.."yes, we know we are bad, but..."
would it be valid to be involved in a car commercial that may just question the industry but at the same time risks the dilution of the criticism ?,


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jasongtokyo
jasongtokyo
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 01:30 pm (UTC)

For the top framegrab from the Demio ad, you should've snapped about 6 frames earlier. Rolling around with that pillow between her legs is a bit of a saabisu shotto for the Ito Misaki fans. She's referred to as "the Japanese Audrey Hepburn," you know.








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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 02:41 pm (UTC)

Shuttles back 6 frames



You mean this? You pervert!


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hashie
*
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 01:39 pm (UTC)

an image typical of the Western love of hierarchy

I thought love of hierarchy was universal? Otherwise why would the Japanese and the Chinese language have such elaborate systems of addressing people correctly?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 02:34 pm (UTC)

I thought love of hierarchy was universal?

It's not hierarchy if both parties do it. If someone addresses you in polite Japanese, you usually have to respond in polite Japanese.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 01:39 pm (UTC)

"The first is for the Honda Civic, and it shows a sort of Fluxus choir in a parking garage".

I love the sonic aspect of this commercial.

It reminds of the otherworldly potentials in the human voice that I always hear in old doo wop records.

Florence by The Paragons being a particular favourite.

Jake


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 02:11 pm (UTC)

making these ideas accessible to a wider audience?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC)

You mean that when Volkswagen used Wearing's "Signs that say what you want them to say not signs that say what someone else wants you to say" to sell Volkswagens they were just getting the idea of signs that say what you want them to say not signs that say what someone else wants you to say out to a wider audience?


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
ultrakurtzwelle
ultrakurtzwelle
radio valkyrie
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 03:56 pm (UTC)

It always angers me when i see car commercials ripping off other artists without paying then a dime. And i don't know if it's just me, but seeing a car commercial trying to cater to my likes makes me feel manipulated, and usually does not make me want to buy a car.


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 04:18 pm (UTC)

drive in

Your mother loved that car


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bklyndispatch
bklyndispatch
in exile
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 06:22 pm (UTC)

totally off topic, but i'd be interested in hearing what you think of this...

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/15/magazine/15japanese.html


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC)

Hikikomori exist in Japan. I first noted the phenomenon in an essay called Roomic Cube back in 2001. In fact, my girlfriend's brother shows some symptoms of being one, although he has a job.

I'm not quite sure what to say about the article. There seems to be an implication that being very introverted is some kind of crime. It can, of course, be a maladjustment. Japan is a very join-in sort of society, and if you don't join in you're a real outsider. But hikki are also related to oktaku, to furita, to "maniacs" and other Japanese phenomena. The NYT estimates them at less than 1% of the Japanese population, but they do join other subgroups, some of whom might look like losers, but in fact (and this is Takashi Murakami's line on otaku) contain a certain genius, a reserve which is also a reserve of national character. A holding-back which is also a resource.

To be honest, I recognize some of these symptoms in myself. I wonder what the New York Times would make of Franz Kafka (insomniac stay-at-home, hypochondriac) or even the character Woody Allen plays in a lot of his films? I sometimes think being normal is over-rated.


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pirateman
pirateman
Pirateman
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 10:44 pm (UTC)

I've always been of the mind that advertising is ruining the whole world. I've yet to be proven wrong, in my humble bumble opinon.

Hey, what's the "speech to music" program you were talking about? That sounds really cool! Definitely something interesting to experiment with, for sure.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Jan. 15th, 2006 10:48 pm (UTC)

It was a feature built into StudioVision circa 1995.

My favourite speech-to-music exercise is "The Cave" by Steve Reich. Done by ear, not by machine. And synched to video.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Jan. 16th, 2006 12:46 am (UTC)

Yes, I agree, all cars are evil. But Japanese cars, generally speaking, are the lesser of two evils, literally speaking (smaller size), and figuratively speaking (they tend to be more environmentally friendly). Regardless, until I see kids (read: any kid) in American suburbia riding their bikes 30 or 40 minutes to school (not uncommon among Japanese youth), I will consider Japan to be light years ahead, no matter how many cars they develop or how many different ways they choose to advertise them.


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nato_dakke
nate
Mon, Jan. 16th, 2006 02:59 am (UTC)

the kids riding their bikes don't give a damn about the environment. Their parents just don't have the means to drive them... or they are too self concious about their parents and don't want to be driven.


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