Olympics Notes
February 23, 2010, 03:59 PM
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- Isn`t it odd how skier Bode Miller looks even more like George W. Bush this time around? And how skater Johnny Weir is starting to look like Michael Madsen from all those Tarantino movies?

- Have you noticed how over the years short track speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno has gone from the Newest New Thing to the Old Reliable of Winter Olympics television entertainment? Every time you see him, you know, win or lose, you are in for a few minutes of hypnotic circling suddenly devolving into some insane wipe-out that will leave every single person in South Korea extremely worked up.

- Three commercials in heavy rotation on the Olympics broadcasts — McDonald`s, Wal-Mart, and Chevy — feature little girls` hockey teams. Is hockey supposed to be the best "keep-her-off-the-pole" talisman?

- Speaking of commercials, why don`t advertisers make slight variants of their commercials to keep people from completely zoning out the 73rd time they`ve seen it? They shoot way more footage than they use, so why not whip up alternative versions to keep viewers awake during the Olympics? Here`s an easy way to keep siblings competitively engaged: shoot three or four different punchlines and then make one slight variation in each version`s set-up shots. That way, somebody who is paying close attention will be able to achieve dominance over the rest of his family by accurately predicting the punchline. It will drive his siblings crazy, so they will also study the commercials looking for clues so they can beat him to the punchline.

- Also, advertising agencies keep missing the sweet spot between too boring and too interesting that you don`t notice what brand is being advertised. A lot of prestige ads that run on the Olympics are so expensive, so filled with show-offy scenes from around the world that you often lose the thread before they finally flash the sponsor`s logo for 0.8 seconds at the end. I`m sure those kind of ads win awards — nobody loves to give awards to each other more than advertising people — but are they really effective at selling whatever sponsor that`s revealed at the very end? Especially when the stylistic theme of countless commercials is exactly the same: Despite, or perhaps because of, global diversity, everybody on Earth loves us. The Globalist commercial is inherently distracting because it packs so much information demanding to be decoded into one 30-second spot that viewers` attentions are constantly tempted away from the point of the commercial into distraction and woolgathering. Professional advertising people tend to be so knowing and quick about standard visual imagery that they are clueless about what goes through other people`s heads when presented with a picture of a landmark that strikes ad folks as the worst depths of cliche: Oh, look, there`s that big rock that begins with an "A" in that place that begins with an "A," so that shot must be from, what, Antarctica? But, there`s no snow. That big rock must be in some other large place that begins with an "A." Africa? Argentina? No, now I remember, that big rock is in Australia! Wouldn`t it be awesome to visit that big rock on vacation? Out of all the big rocks in the world, I hear it`s the biggest! But isn`t it inconveniently out in the middle of nowhere and, in the final analysis, is just a big rock? By the way, if there`s no snow in Australia, how come there are Australians in the Winter Olympics? Speaking of no snow, whatever happened to the Jamaican bobsled team? Hey, that commercial`s over. What was it about, anyway? Well, never mind, we`re back to the luge. Wow, von Schievenhuffel is going really fast!

Instead, why not borrow a trick from cable networks that keep a small logo up on a lower corner of the screen? Hey, this show is on the Discovery Channel! I`ll have to try to remember that. Similarly, put the sponsor`s logo in the corner throughout the commercial. Your ad won`t win any awards and your ad agency might get sanctioned by the Advertising Council for violating the professional ethics of the advertising business by being overly attentive to the client`s interests instead of to your own sense of creative self-expression, but, so what?

- In general, what human beings like is Similarity-with-Variation. That`s why people enjoy the architecture of Paris more than the architecture of Magnetogorsk or Beverly Hills. In Paris, most buildings are six stories high and have mansard roof, so streets are harmonious, but there`s a lot of variation within Baron Haussmann`s limits. In contrast, as Woody Allen in Annie Hall and Nathanael West in Day of the Locust complained, there`s too much variation in Beverly Hills: "Mexican ranch houses, Samoan huts, Mediterranean villas, Egyptian and Japanese temples, Swiss chalets, Tudor cottages, and every possible combination of these styles," scoffed West. That`s what ads during the Olympics are missing: the optimal combination of continuity and difference. It`s why short track speed skating is fun to watch (once every four years): everybody always goes around and around for awhile, but then something crazy happens. People like that.