There Goes the Ruddy Two-shoes

Archive for the ‘TV, Film, and Literature’ Category

Divirginizer Whopper

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on January 17, 2009

Whopper Virgin (AP Photo)

"Whopper Virgin" (AP Photo)

Jon Steinman of Deconstructing Dinner takes a good look at Burger King’s latest marketing scheme and American cultural imperialism:

Perhaps you’ve already heard the buzz. In late November, Burger King (BK) launched a marketing gimmick called Whopper Virgins. The campaign would be waged via the Internet as well as a series of television ads directing people to the Whopper Virgins web site.

Whopper Virgins is the product of American PR firm Crispin-Porter and Bogusky. The company employed a film-crew to travel the globe and introduce BK’s famous Whopper hamburger to people in some of the world’s most far-flung places. Inuit of Greenland, Transylvanian farmers, and the Hmong of Thailand were among those targeted for the experiment.

It was hoped that Americans would be fascinated to see the reactions of such ‘foreign’ people tasting the homogenous staple of American fast-food — the hamburger.

In some cases, participants were also engaged in a taste-test to compare McDonald’s Big Mac with the BK Whopper.

While it was likely not the intention of BK or its hired PR firm, the Whopper Virgins campaign has revealed the sheer ignorance of Western culture, and has managed to proudly celebrate the cultural imperialism that North Americans have become so famous for.

Located on the campaign’s web site is an approximately seven minute video that showcases the film-crew’s Whopper expedition.

In the early stages of the film, a member of the crew is recorded expressing his excitement at the de-virginizing of the Hmong people: “They’ve never seen such a foreign piece of food before,” he proclaims. “They didn’t know how to pick it up.”

Maybe I’m being picky here, but of course the Hmong of Thailand have not seen a ‘foreign’ piece of food before, that’s what makes it ‘foreign’!

I’d be curious to observe whether or not this member of the film crew would be as amazed with himself upon being presented with a bowl of salted crickets (insects being a staple of many cultures) only to then realize he doesn’t know how to use the chopsticks placed beside the bowl. Hmm, that could make a good film!

The Whopper Virgins film continues with an animated map of the world, and a diagram of where the film crew (and Whoppers) will be travelling to. The same person who was shocked to see people who had never seen a hamburger is heard narrating in naïve wonder: “You’re going to go all around the world and find people that are really off the grid, who perhaps don’t have televisions, who don’t have access to restaurants and what-not, who really live outside of things.”

‘Outside of things’?

And what would the Hmong, Inuit and Transylvanians think of these half-witted Americans trucking Whoppers around for the purpose of producing a marketing gimmick?

I seriously question just who of those represented in the film are ‘living outside

of things’.

Of course, the spreading of their brand around the world has long been the

objective of BK.

BK restaurants number 11,900 and are dispersed throughout 69 countries, with 34% of the outlets outside of the United States. So in the case of Whopper Virgins, BK is simply celebrating the global influence the company has exerted thus far.

However, I consider it a fair assumption that while North Americans may well be aware of the downsides to cultural imperialism, our continued support and participation in this long-standing phenomenon does not seem to be abating. Perhaps the widespread viewing of the Whopper Virgins film will succeed in showcasing exactly how our Western culture can so easily pollute and patronize other cultures.

As one case in point, when the film moves to the Inuit of Iceland, an older member of the community is seen unwrapping his first-ever Whopper. The wrapper is swiftly discarded in what was likely the first piece of non-reusable food waste that he’s ever been responsible for.

Many critics of Whopper Virgins have suggested that the gimmick was purposefully designed to create controversy.

I would disagree.

The orchestral music played throughout the duration of the film is suggestive that what the film crew and staff are doing is a noble cause and a sign of American superiority. The music is so epic in tone, that in many respects, the handing over of Whoppers to ‘foreigners’ evokes an image that introducing a Whopper to a Whopper Virgin is akin to a gift from God.

In the end, I propose that Whopper Virgins ranks as one of the greatest displays of unintelligence ever seen in the world of marketing, and not because of the content of the film, but because of the name of the campaign.

‘Virgin’ is often used to depict purity and something uncorrupted. By choosing the title ‘Whopper Virgins’, BK has indirectly admitted that the introduction of the Whopper to people who have never tried one, amounts to corrupting what was once pure.

I for one agree with Burger King.

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A Few Things

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on December 21, 2008

I thank the universe for the luck it has bestowed upon me. In a rather blue state such as Washington, I have the opportunity to spend forty hours of my week around staunch ultra-conservatives, who have posed good enough reason for a coworker, who leans center-right, to make the pronouncement that I have landed “in the wrong office.” I have, indeed, felt that way a number of times, but instead of harboring anxieties over our diametrically opposed socio-political viewpoints, I consider it sheer luck that I am in the company of individuals who further my personal growth via thought-provoking conversations. Such discussions have not only broadened my knowledge on various matters but also led me to delve deeper into my strongly held beliefs, dissect and improve my reasoning, enhance my analytical skills, and better my rhetorical abilities.

I do not remember exactly how they sprung, but several debates on gay marriage, all of which saw me as an ardent participant, silently broke out in the office in the past week. I was, not surprisingly in this case, one of, perhaps, only two people — the other one being a lesbian who has lived and parented adopted children with her partner for years — subscribing to the idea that the right to marry should be extended to same-sex couples.

Interestingly enough, the only relatively flamboyantly homosexual there, who also happens to be a devoted Republican and member of the Pentecostal Church — something that I find quite mind-boggling — is firm in his conviction that due to the purported sanctity of matrimony, gays, who he insists are all unfaithful to their partners, should not be allowed to marry. Others consistently voice their concern over the hypothetical effects of legalizing same-sex marriages on the traditional, biblically prescribed family unit — that which is created by two parents, one male and one female. Some, on the other hand, slightly go off on a tangent to maintain that homosexuality is a choice, and therefore, homosexuals have the power to choose to be heterosexuals. This gives me the impression that they do not deem same-sex marriages necessary because gays can straighten up to partake in the business of customary matrimony if they choose to do so.

To respond to the third argument, I say some people confuse sexuality and lifestyle. Lifestyle — how you express your homosexuality, what you wear, who you engage in sexual intercourse with, your manner of speaking — is a choice, no doubt. But can you name one homosexual — in a society that forces everyone to go under two and only two gender boxes — who ever said he or she wanted to be gay?

Then, to kill the first two arguments with one stone, I cite the sacredness of marriage and the gleaming, scripturally supportive family model that Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, both perfectly heterosexual, have championed.

And if that does not cut it, we can look at that super-holy matrimonial ceremony that also involved Britney Spears and a childhood friend in Las Vegas a few years ago. Oh, and what about Whitney Houston’s sanctimonious union with Bobby Brown? What about my mother’s short, unfortunate marriage with my biological father who was clearly unable to attend to his responsibilities as a husband, a parent, and a family member?

Furthermore, you are not taking marriage away from homosexuals who supposedly do not have the ability to keep marital relationships. You are taking it away from those homosexuals who are prepared to commit to, or have already committed themselves to, their partners. Besides, there is no question that heterosexuals have the tendencies to be extremely disloyal to their spouses as well. Are there really any grounds for upholding the exclusivity of marriage to heterosexuals?

And, finally, I just have to ask: What is it that really makes a marriage? Is it heterosexuality or the scientific potential to procreate? Or is it love — the magnificence of which unquestionably outshines color, geographical distance, religious denomination, and gender?

Mike Huckabee appeared on The Daily Show two weeks ago. I loved the discussion this video shows, and Jon Stewart was golden that night.

Also, watch and hear Keith Olbermann’s gripping statement a few days after Proposition 8 triumphed in California:

In addition, check out Milk, a powerful Gus Van Sant film detailing the struggles of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay city supervisor of San Francisco, starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco; For the Bible Tells Me So, a stirring documentary on how the Christian right wrongly exploits biblical passages to justify gender discrimination; and Nava and Dawidoff’s Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to America. I am certain that there are heaps and heaps of films, videos, and literary works on gay marriage and gender equality out there, but these are what I have gotten my hands on over the last month or two.

The passing of Carol Chomsky, who contributed greatly to the study of language development, should not go without mention here tonight.

Here is the obituary that appeared on The Boston Globe yesterday.

I am deeply saddened by the news and sincerely hope that Noam, who reached his eightieth year on earth just a few days ago, does not run out of fuel to stay around a little longer. This world is going to keep needing him for a bit.

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Good Read

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on November 15, 2008

I could very well be a Chris Hedges fan some days. This appeared on Truthdig.com on November 10 and is a great tie-in to my November 9 blog.

America the Illiterate

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and cliches. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities.

There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate. And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book.

The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information. American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives. Political propaganda now masquerades as ideology. Political campaigns have become an experience. They do not require cognitive or self-critical skills. They are designed to ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation. Campaigns that succeed are carefully constructed psychological instruments that manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal. They create a public ecstasy that annuls individuality and fosters a state of mindlessness. They thrust us into an eternal present. They cater to a nation that now lives in a state of permanent amnesia. It is style and story, not content or history or reality, which inform our politics and our lives. We prefer happy illusions. And it works because so much of the American electorate, including those who should know better, blindly cast ballots for slogans, smiles, the cheerful family tableaux, narratives and the perceived sincerity and the attractiveness of candidates. We confuse how we feel with knowledge.

The illiterate and semi-literate, once the campaigns are over, remain powerless. They still cannot protect their children from dysfunctional public schools. They still cannot understand predatory loan deals, the intricacies of mortgage papers, credit card agreements and equity lines of credit that drive them into foreclosures and bankruptcies. They still struggle with the most basic chores of daily life from reading instructions on medicine bottles to filling out bank forms, car loan documents and unemployment benefit and insurance papers. They watch helplessly and without comprehension as hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. They are hostages to brands. Brands come with images and slogans. Images and slogans are all they understand. Many eat at fast food restaurants not only because it is cheap but because they can order from pictures rather than menus. And those who serve them, also semi-literate or illiterate, punch in orders on cash registers whose keys are marked with symbols and pictures. This is our brave new world.

Political leaders in our post-literate society no longer need to be competent, sincere or honest. They only need to appear to have these qualities. Most of all they need a story, a narrative. The reality of the narrative is irrelevant. It can be completely at odds with the facts. The consistency and emotional appeal of the story are paramount. The most essential skill in political theater and the consumer culture is artifice. Those who are best at artifice succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of artifice fail. In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we do not seek or want honesty. We ask to be indulged and entertained by cliches, stereotypes and mythic narratives that tell us we can be whomever we want to be, that we live in the greatest country on Earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities and that our glorious future is preordained, either because of our attributes as Americans or because we are blessed by God or both.

The ability to magnify these simple and childish lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives these lies the aura of an uncontested truth. We are repeatedly fed words or phrases like yes we can, maverick, change, pro-life, hope or war on terror. It feels good not to think. All we have to do is visualize what we want, believe in ourselves and summon those hidden inner resources, whether divine or national, that make the world conform to our desires. Reality is never an impediment to our advancement.

The Princeton Review analyzed the transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It reviewed these transcripts using a standard vocabulary test that indicates the minimum educational standard needed for a reader to grasp the text. During the 2000 debates George W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Al Gore at a seventh-grade level (7.6). In the 1992 debates Bill Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while George H.W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8), as did H. Ross Perot (6.3). In the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon the candidates spoke in language used by 10th-graders. In the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas the scores were respectively 11.2 and 12.0. In short, today’s political rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level. It is fitted to this level of comprehension because most Americans speak, think and are entertained at this level. This is why serious film and theater and other serious artistic expression, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of American society. Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century. Today the most famous “person” is Mickey Mouse.

In our post-literate world, because ideas are inaccessible, there is a need for constant stimulus. News, political debate, theater, art and books are judged not on the power of their ideas but on their ability to entertain. Cultural products that force us to examine ourselves and our society are condemned as elitist and impenetrable. Hannah Arendt warned that the marketization of culture leads to its degradation, that this marketization creates a new celebrity class of intellectuals who, although well read and informed themselves, see their role in society as persuading the masses that “Hamlet” can be as entertaining as “The Lion King” and perhaps as educational. “Culture,” she wrote, “is being destroyed in order to yield entertainment.”

“There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect,” Arendt wrote, “but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.”

The change from a print-based to an image-based society has transformed our nation. Huge segments of our population, especially those who live in the embrace of the Christian right and the consumer culture, are completely unmoored from reality. They lack the capacity to search for truth and cope rationally with our mounting social and economic ills. They seek clarity, entertainment and order. They are willing to use force to impose this clarity on others, especially those who do not speak as they speak and think as they think. All the traditional tools of democracies, including dispassionate scientific and historical truth, facts, news and rational debate, are useless instruments in a world that lacks the capacity to use them.

As we descend into a devastating economic crisis, one that Barack Obama cannot halt, there will be tens of millions of Americans who will be ruthlessly thrust aside. As their houses are foreclosed, as their jobs are lost, as they are forced to declare bankruptcy and watch their communities collapse, they will retreat even further into irrational fantasy. They will be led toward glittering and self-destructive illusions by our modern Pied Pipers–our corporate advertisers, our charlatan preachers, our television news celebrities, our self-help gurus, our entertainment industry and our political demagogues — who will offer increasingly absurd forms of escapism.

The core values of our open society, the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to understand historical facts, to separate truth from lies, to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable, are dying. Obama used hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds to appeal to and manipulate this illiteracy and irrationalism to his advantage, but these forces will prove to be his most deadly nemesis once they collide with the awful reality that awaits us.

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Goodnight, George

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on June 23, 2008

Before MSNBC went back to “Religion or Mind Control” after one of their commercial segments Sunday evening, they went to breaking news to announce the death of comedian George Carlin, who will be remembered as one who boldly cried of and ridiculed the turpitudes of various aspects of American life with unapologetic ribaldry in his zippy stand-up routines. He died of heart failure. He was 71.

Snagged from Youtube and one of my favorites:

Good night, George. Thank you for the laughs and the laughable truths.

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Thanks, Bill Moyers

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on May 4, 2008

As millions of Americans scream about the “unpatriotic” Reverend Jeremiah Wright, people like Bill Moyers decide to zoom in on the former US Navy, past the now ubiquitous audio clips, to learn more about what is inside there before jumping in the Wright-bashing boat. He made excellent points about why the reverend’s remarks have been so blown out of proportion by the America who takes pride in her people’s freedom of speech. This appeared on Alternet.org yesterday.

Thank you, Bill Moyers.

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“Body of War”

Posted by ruddytwoshoes on April 27, 2008

A big antiwar crowd, including a number of Vietnam vets and members of IVAW and Veterans for Peace, flocked to the NuArt Theatre this weekend to see Body of War, which I fervently, fervently, FERVENTLY hope everyone would watch. It is extremely well done, and while many of us have already been led to the correct conclusion that little Georgie’s lies about Iraq are not bringing this country any good, this documentary provides us with a more up-close look at what his bellicose policies have done to our troops. Co-director Phil Donahue appeared after the presentation for a little Q&A with the audience, and he is so wonderfully bullshit-free you would wish to see him on TV everyday.

Take a few seconds to watch the trailer below, and visit http://www.bodyofwar.com/ for locations and showtimes. DO NOT MISS THIS MOVIE. You need this kind of enlightenment.

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