Monday, July 04, 2005

This is Radio Raspberry...

I was running errands a couple of days ago—in my car, listening to the radio—and it dawned on me that the fits of blindness, the nausea, the uncontrollable groaning, were all as a consequence of some of the lamest advertising I think I’ve ever heard on the dial in my life. And it wasn’t, I hasten to add, that the stuff was just unfunny or that it was particularly rude; I’m not a snob, not a prude. Rather, it was that it was all so nakedly characterless and unimaginative that, one feels, you’d be hard-pressed to find an eight year old—armed only with his booger collection and forty euphemisms for ‘fart’—that couldn’t have done as good a job himself.

First it was an ad for Jack Astor’s “Let the BS begin!” event … That’s Big Summer, chum! What did you think it meant?! Bullshit?! Heh, heh, heh!

Then it was one for the radio station itself: listening to Jack FM, ran the palaver, is “easier than Ebay” and “safer than porn.” Whoa-ho! Easy there, tiger! My wife’s in the car! That was supposed to be our little secret, remember?! Heh, heh, heh!

A thrice of others ran, less remarkable, but irresistibly evocative in their banality of that prize cowflop in the apparent field of prize cowflops that make up radio advertising; the ad I’d worked so hard to forget these last couple of months but which now came racing back to my mind with the irrevocability and the inevitability of death; that paltry, lousy, loutish flapdoodle; that “if the announcer sounds like John Cleese it’ll be as funny as Monty Python” kind-of-(quote-unquote-)genius-informed rubbish … I’m talking about the Firkin Pub commercial!

One trepidatiously imagines the marketing meeting that yielded such a relentlessly poisonous fruit … “You wanna explain that again, Bobby? ... Yeah sure, Dick. What I was saying was that—and please excuse the bawdy talk, ladies, heh, heh, heh—Firkin kinda sounds like Fuckin’. Yes: as in the swear word, Dick. The boys here’ll back me up on this, but your average pub-goer today is a racy, no-nonsense type. Young, shuns the status-quo. Probably back from an afternoon of extreme sports where the word, no doubt, was employed on a per-sentence basis. If he—or she, ladies, or she—hears one of our commercials using Firkin in such a way as to be evocative of the word Fuckin’, on the airwaves no less—where any child, senior citizen, or establishment type can hear it too, and be incensed at the audacity of today’s young person—I think we could expect a sizeable increase in our customer base. Which, I think you’ll agree, is good for the Firkin bank account. Heh, heh, heh!” It’s enough to make you want to blow your own head off.

(And those are heh, heh, hehs you notice—not ha, ha, has. Short, sharp bursts through the nose. Petulant, smart-ass laughter. Heh, heh, heh.)

These ads are not funny! And they’re definitely not intelligent! The difference between the hopeless crudeness of something like a Firkin commercial and, say, one of the more recent Viagra commercials (am I right in thinking they’ve been taken off the air?) is that, while they’re both vulgar, only one works for comedy--because its writers understood that it is necessary for a joke to rise above this basic premise with an explicit, even disdainful recognition of its own baseness. Vulgarity cannot be funny in a void; it has to contrast with something. Thus, in the (Viagra) ad that takes place in the office lunchroom, the humour is not in what we imagine the guy is saying behind the censor of both his lips (with a superimposed Viagra pill) and the words he’s saying, but in the sardonic “Bravo” of his colleague.

Without contrast there is no joke, there are only things. Bottoms, breasts, bowel movements, broken wind. A fart, in and of itself, is not funny at all. But coming from your average person who doesn’t for the most part make sounds like that from behind ... Well that’s funny. (Not really funny, mind you, but you know what I mean.) It’s the incongruity. It’s the contrast.

The Firkin ad men, Jack FM, Jack Astor’s; these people are mistaking frat boy, in-joke snickering at something that is unique to their very controlled experience, for a broad bawdiness of the George Carlin variety. What they don’t seem to understand is that frat boy in-jokes are only ever funny to frat boys, and only ever to a limited number of them—generally 9 of an average group of 10. This way Brad the pledge ends the evening getting his stomach pumped at the nearest hospital; the attendant nurse wondering if that is indeed human excrement hanging off the end of his nose.