A composite of 1950s American, Italian and French movie end title screenshots from one of our favorite websites, The Movie Title Stills Collection, created by the most excellent designer Christian Annyas. Here are the film titles, from left-to-right, top-to-bottom:
Observations (& Inspirations)
Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893–1930) was the leading poet of Russian Revolution of 1917 and of the early Soviet period. He was,
…an individualist and a rebel against established taste and standards, one of the founders of Russian Futurism movement. Originally Mayakovsky planned to become an artist. His early poems have strong painterly visions and sequences in many of his works recall film techniques. Mayakovsky was deeply concerned with the problem of death throughout his life, and in 1930, troubled by critics and disappointment in love, he shot himself with a pocket pistol. (Authors’ Calendar)
This is a great video talk by veteran designer Milton Glaser from 2011, created by students from Stockholm’s Berghs School of Communication. The theme of the talk is “Fear of failure,” its causes and consequences.
Fear of failure. It’s a phrase that requires a little thought. I also have a sense that unless you analyze both the nature of fear and the nature of failure, you won’t come to any agreement about the consequences of fear. When I talk to students, about the distinction between professionalism and personal development, I very often put it this way: In professional life, you must discover a kind of identity for yourself, that becomes a sort of trademark, a way of working that is distinctive that people can recognize. The reason for this is that the path to financial success and notoriety is by having something that no-one else has. It’s kind of like a brand, one of my most despised words.
This is funny. I get where Glaser is coming from, and share the skepticism of branding that many people have, which of course is based on bad branding. Marty Neumeier has a good article on the AIGA website, Who’s Afraid of the Big Brand Wolf?, which analyzes several “irrational fears” of branding and brands and offers up the thought experiment of replacing branding with a new world, existing or made-up, and the futility of such an attempt. But let’s get back to our Milton.
So what you do in life in order to be professional is you develop your brand, your way of working, your attitude, that is understandable to others. In most cases, it turns out to be something fairly narrow, like ‘this person really knows how to draw cocker spaniels,’ or ‘this person is very good with typography directed in a more feminine way,” or whatever the particular attribute is, and then you discover you have something to offer that is better than other people have or at least more distinctive. And what you do with that is you become a specialist, and people call you to get more of what you have become adept at doing. So if you do anything and become celebrated for it, people will send you more of that. And for the rest of your life, quite possibly, you will have that characteristic, people will continue to ask you for what you have already done and succeeded at. This is the way to professional accomplishment–you have to demonstrate that you know something unique that you can repeat over and over and over until ultimately you lose interest in it. The consequence of specialization and success is that it hurts you. It hurts you because it basically doesn’t aid in your development.
This is a profound insight, and bears repeating: specialization and success hurts you in the long run because it hinders your further development, as an artist, writer, thinker, or namer. Success leads you to coast, coasting leads to stasis and predictability, predictability leads to boredom and, ultimately, the loss of the audience that came with the initial success. Yes, we all crave success, but the only way to keep developing, and thus insure continued success over the long haul, is to be willing to to take great risks at all times, even when the result lead to…you guessed it…failure:
The truth of the matter is that understanding development comes from failure. People begin to get better when they fail, they move towards failure, they discover something as a result of failing, they fail again, they discover something else, they fail again, they discover something else. So the model for personal development is antithetical to the model for professional success. As a result of that, I believe that Picasso as a model is the most useful model you can have in terms of your artistic interests, because whenever Picasso learned how to do something he abandoned it, and as a result of that, in terms of his development as an artist, the results were extraordinary. It is the opposite of what happens in the typecasting for professional accomplishment.
But moving on from that particular idea to the idea of fear of failure, which is an inhibiting characteristic. One question is, What are you afraid of? Is it the condemnation of others? If you do something and it is inadequate is the criticism of critics and other experts and even your friends and relatives, that embarrasses you, that makes you unwilling to go forward? Of course there’s also in professional life, the fear is, that you won’t get any more work, because visible failure is a detriment, people think–and perhaps correctly–that you don’t know what you’re doing. So, there is that inhibiting factor. Another one that may be more profound, and more interesting, is our own self-criticism.
A characteristic of artistic education is for people to tell you that you’re a genius. And that you’re an artistic genius, and that you’re a creative genius, and so everybody gets this idea, if they go to art school, that they’re really a genius. Sadly, it isn’t true. Genius occurs very rarely. So the real embarrassing issue about failure is your own acknowledgement that you’re not a genius, that you’re not as good as you thought you were. And doing a project that is truly complex and difficult tests your real ability, and since we all have a sensitive ego, alas, within our confident facade, the thing that we most fear in regard to failure, is our own self-acknowledgment that we really don’t exactly know what we’re doing.
There’s only one solution, and it relates to what I was saying earlier: You must embrace failure. You must admit what is. You must find out what you’re capable of doing, and what you’re not capable of doing. That is the only way to deal with the issue of success and failure because otherwise you simply will never subject yourself to the possibility that you’re not as good as you want to be, hope to be, or as others think you are. But that is, of course, delusional.
So my advice finally about fear of failure, which is a kind of romantic idea, there’s only one way out: embrace the failure.
This is very astute, and a great analysis of how mediocrity, conformity and predictability prevail in most creative endeavors. Fear of failure, in its myriad forms, leads to a repetition of what you (and others) know you are good at, in order to avoid failure. Professional success reinforces the tendency to do what you are good at and not to risk failure, and gradually anything that may have been interesting in the initial work, idea or dream has been squeezed out. Glaser is right: you have to embrace failure, make it a part of your process, use it to learn from and grow. Don’t focus on the outside pressures, real and powerful though they may be–focus instead on the internal need to try, fail, learn and grow. That’s the only way to develop, in art, in science, or in naming.
Buckminster Fuller said it well: “Whatever humans have learned had to be learned as a consequence of trial and error experience. Humans have learned only through mistakes.”
[ Source: Berghs’ Exhibition 11 videos ]
This Alcoa ad, which appeared in April 2, 1960 edition of The New Yorker, proves the point that they don’t write ’em like they used to. Not a value judgement, just an observation. Our age is too cynical for such flights of poetic fancy. We obsess over the Mad Men depiction of that era, but this is the real deal, the kind of ads those mad, closet-poet ad men were actually churning out way back then. Take a closer look at this inspired ad copy:
Drive doughtily to salty Fort Lauderdale…(Falcon’s grille is aluminum)
Let it rain, let it snow, let salted streets splash and briny breezes blow! Corrosion’s passé with the aluminum grille and brightwork of your new Ford Falcon. Anodizing is the reason–an Alcoa process that makes aluminum sapphire-hard and sapphire bright. To preserve this royal sparkle year after shining year, merely wash down occasionally with plebeian soap and water.
Elsewhere in the Falcon–in engine and transmission, to be precise–strong Alcoa Aluminum alloys trim off the pounds while adding speed and mileage. Look for aluminum in your next car. Aluminum Company of America, Pittsburgh 19, Pa.
Alcoa Aluminum…for lasting Gleam and Go!
Obviously, whoever wrote this was a poet, trying to make ends meet as an adman by day. It’s also likely that this anonymous scribe (or, likely, team of scribes) never set foot in a South LA sweatshop that actually anodized aluminum (I have), or his metaphors might have tended more toward Dante than Tiffany. And in case you were wondering, doughtily is the adverb form of doughty, pronounced “dou-tee,” meaning brave, bold, intrepid, fearless, dauntless. Not a common word today, and perhaps no more common in 1960, but what a great rhetorical flourish to combine it with “drive,” “salty,” and “Fort Lauderdale”–to create this poetic gem of a headline: Drive doughtily to salty Fort Lauderdale… Now that’s copywriting with lasting Gleam and Go!
Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004) was one of the greats, and for years he taught right here in Zinzin’s backyard at the University of California, Berkeley. The Poetry Foundation writes,
Czeslaw Milosz ranks among the most respected figures in 20th-century Polish literature, as well as one of the most respected contemporary poets in the world: he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. Born in Lithuania, where his parents moved temporarily to escape the political upheaval in their native Poland, he left Poland as an adult due to the oppressive Communist regime that came to power following World War II and lived in the United States from 1960 until his death in 2004. Milosz’s poems, novels, essays, and other works are written in his native Polish and translated by the author and others into English.
The Furniture Guy
Just who is Vinnie “T” Testeroni, the would-be daredevil spokesperson for “The Furniture Guy”? And why doesn’t “The Furniture Guy” appear in his own commercial? Whoever Vinnie “T” is, director Paul Thomas Anderson went to great lengths to recreate his character in the 2002 film Punch-Drunk Love. In fact, the main antagonist in the film, Dean “The Mattress Man” Trumbell, played here by Philip Seymour Hoffman, was based on the above commercial blooper for “The Furniture Guy.”
The New York Times published a book review last Sunday by Dani Shapiro (The High Road), of “Wild,” a Hiking Memoir by Cheryl Strayed. I want to quote part of the review, which quotes a passage from the book about how the author created her name:
To begin to understand something about Cheryl Strayed, know that Strayed is not her given name. We never find out the name she was born with, but we are made to understand with absolute clarity why she chose to change it, and just how well her new name suits her. Contemplating divorce, she realized that she couldn’t continue to use the hyphenated married name she’d shared with her husband, “nor could I go back to having the name I had had in high school and be the girl I used to be. . . . I pondered the question of my last name, mentally scanning words that sounded good with Cheryl. . . . Nothing fit until one day when the word strayed came into my mind. Immediately I looked it up in the dictionary and knew it was mine. Its layered definitions spoke directly to my life and also struck a poetic chord: to wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without a mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress. I had diverged, digressed, wandered and become wild. . . . I saw the power of the darkness. Saw that, in fact, I had strayed and that I was a stray and that from the wild places my straying had brought me, I knew things I couldn’t have known before.”
This is a beautiful expression of what it feels like when you discover the perfect name, whether it be for a company, product or service, or, as in this case, for someone’s own identity. Sounds like a great book.
Hamish Fulton (British, born 1946) is one of my favorite artists, all the more remarkable since I have never seen his work in person. Nor, for that matter, has anybody else. That’s because Fulton is a “Walking artist,” whose primary artworks are solitary walks he undertakes in (often) remote places all over the world. The work he exhibits and sells in galleries and museums, books and essays, are the abstracted photographic, diagrammatic and concrete poetry descriptions of his walks, which he is the first to admit are no subsitute for the initial experience, his true artwork.
It is rare to encounter a published author from the relatively recent past for which almost no biographical information can be found online. I have found such a person, in the form of a philosophy scholar by the curious and intriguing name of “St. George William Joseph Stock.”
Right off the bat, so many questions. Who gets named “Saint,” or did he give himself that moniker? When was he born, and when did he die? Where did he live? Trying to suss out the life of this enigmatic “Saint George” is maddening. Maddeningly fun.
You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?
Kipple is a word invented by the science fiction author Philip K. Dick for a concept similar to entropy. Here is the passage explaining kipple from Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was made into the film Blade Runner:
Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s home page. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you to go bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up there is twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.
The novel’s philosopher of kipple, J. R. Isidore (who became J. F. Sebastian in Blade Runner), explains:
…the First Law of Kipple (is that) ‘Kipple drives out nonkipple’… (one) can roll the kipple-factor back… No one can win against kipple, except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I’ve sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I’ll die or go away, and then the kipple will take over. It’s a universal principal operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving towards a final state of total, absolute kippleization.
Kipple is everywhere, and in many ways our lives are defined by how we do battle with kipple. Many people have begun to realize there must be a healthier alternative to the continuous consumption that leads to ever larger masses of kipple crowding our lives, an alternative variously called minimalism or simplicity. Kipple is nothing if not resilient, however, and the twin engines of entropy and capitalism keep churning it out at an incredible rate. Notes the technovelgy.com entry on kipple:
Kipple seems to be a combination of entropy and capitalism. I don’t think past civilizations had the resources to produce so much packaging to hold our stuff until we buy it or consume it.
…Physicists will note the similarity to the concept of entropy, which is most usually taken to refer to the tendency of closed systems toward increasing disorder.
I like the definition taken from classical thermodynamics, that entropy is a quantitative measure of the amount of thermal energy not available to do work. In the 21st century, we seem to be working as hard as we can to take available resources and transform them into objects that cannot be used for anything (kipple).
Kipple is the perfect word to describe the entropic clutter filling our houses, our cities, our computers and our minds. It’s a very sweet word, gentle and disarming, but, just like the physical stuff of kipple, it sneaks up on you. And when the balance swings way over to the side of kipple, you get hoarders. Daniel Rourke has a great essay about kipple and hoarding, Kipple and Things, over at 3 Quarks Daily. It brings into the mix some early Philip K. Dick stories, the lists of Jorge Luis Borges, and the story of the Collyer brothers, Homer and Langley, who withdrew into their New York City mansion until they were found dead in 1947, killed by–and absorbed into–the kipple they had piled up around themselves for decades. Rourke references the Wikipedia list of objects pulled from the Collyer house, noting that it “reads like a Borges original”:
Items removed from the house included baby carriages, a doll carriage, rusted bicycles, old food, potato peelers, a collection of guns, glass chandeliers, bowling balls, camera equipment, the folding top of a horse-drawn carriage, a sawhorse, three dressmaking dummies, painted portraits, pinup girl photos, plaster busts, Mrs. Collyer’s hope chests, rusty bed springs, a kerosene stove, a child’s chair, more than 25,000 books (including thousands about medicine and engineering and more than 2,500 on law), human organs pickled in jars, eight live cats, the chassis of an old Model T Ford, tapestries, hundreds of yards of unused silks and fabric, clocks, 14 pianos (both grand and upright), a clavichord, two organs, banjos, violins, bugles, accordions, a gramophone and records, and countless bundles of newspapers and magazines.
Finally: There was also a great deal of rubbish.
Yes, finally we get to the rubbish, as if the rest of the debris wasn’t rubbish. But of course it wasn’t–it was kipple. Whether on the floor or in the drawer, the tabletop or the shelves, in the attic or in the crawlspace, on the lawn or out back in the garden shed, kipple is everywhere, and ever growing. It is the great plague on Civilization, and in many ways it defines our lives through multiple phases that all exist simultaneously: 1) acquisition of kipple; 2) management of kipple; 3) purging of kipple. Only death can free us from kipple; unfortunately, then loved ones inherit our kipple, and the cycle continues. All we can do to counteract the force of kipple is to make an effort to consume less, recycle more, throw more away, and love and laugh as much as possible. The New Yorker cartoon, below, gets right to the crux of the kipple problem.
With so many people lately consumed by the TV show Mad Men, it’s worth taking a look back to what the real mad genius ad men of the 1950s and ’60s were cooking up in their ginsoaked three-martini lunch and evening highball pickled cerebral cortexes: insane pharmaceutical ads that took DuPont’s famous Better Living Through Chemistry slogan to heart, and went from there off the deep end with the belief that we can control the uncontrollable with the proper chemical flavor.
More vintage pharmaceutical ads: Psychiatric Drugs: A History in Ads; Japanese Pharmaceutical Ad Gallery; Truly Marvelous Mental Medicine: Thorazine shuffle.)
Henri Michaux (1899–1984) was a beautifully strange and idiosyncratic Belgian poet, writer, painter, and maker of exactly one film. He was often called a surrealist, but did not really belong to that or any other group. Notes the Poetry Foundation:
Unless, like me, you are not from New Zealand, you’ve probably never heard of the artist Colin McCahon. Regarded by many as New Zealand’s greatest painter, McCahon (1919-1987) created many works in a variety of styles, from landscapes to religious-spiritual narrative paintings, to cosmic spiritual abstractions. But it’s his strange, (mostly) religious text paintings that really stand out for me. And not surprising for someone so compelled to put many words into his paintings, he has some great titles; here are some of my favorites:
[Read more…] about Text paintings by New Zealand’s Colin McCahon
Kraft Foods is separating its higher-growth global snacking business unit from its North American grocery division, so it needs a name for the new company. The process Kraft used to get that new name, and the rationalization of the name, make a great example of what not to do in a naming process.
The “potential” new corporate brand name (pending shareholder approval vote on May 23), Mondelez International, is fraught with problems. As the New York Times DealBook blog mildly puts it (Kraft, ‘Mondelez’ and the Art of Corporate Rebranding), “The move highlights the potential complications that come with corporate rebranding, especially when a company decides to make up a name out of whole cloth.”
Potential complications is an understatement for the activity of launching a major company with a terrible name that nobody will remember. So how did a global giant like Kraft get into the position of adopting a weak, unmemorable and unpronounceable name for its new spinoff? They did it the old fashioned way — by (very large) committee: “Kraft said that the moniker came from submissions by more than 1,000 employees around the world, who suggested over 1,700 names.” For a company that makes food products from recipes, you’d think they might have noticed that democratizing the naming process like this is a recipe for disaster. For example, let’s say that we’re going to have a free ice cream day for our 1000-employee company. Everybody can have as much ice cream as they want, but we can only get one flavor, so we need to reach a consensus on which flavor to serve. Will it be Cherry Garcia or Chunky Monkey? No, it will be either vanilla or
chocolate (oh wait, some people have chocolate allergies ) — ok, vanilla it is.
Once Kraft had a process in place to guarantee that the name squeezed out the end of their soft-serve branding machine would be vanilla, all that remained was the justification, and here it comes:
The winner: Mondelez, cobbled together from submissions from a North American employee and a European one. It’s a combination of “monde,” the Latin word for “world,” and “delez,” a made-up word meant to suggest “delicious.” Hence, “delicious world.”
“Cobbled together” is right. The problem is, real people inhabiting the real world would never encounter a name like Mondelez and feel the warm glow of entering a “delicious world.” And who says that the made-up “word” delez suggests “delicious”? You could make a better argument that it suggests “delays” or “deletes,” as in, “Food you can’t eats, so you should deletes. Don’t delay.” Pardon my pigeon Esperanto. Better yet, Mondelez sounds like a slang term for oral sex in Russian. Delicious world, indeed! But since they manufacture “snacks,” this connotation can only help improve brand recognition, at least among horny/hungry Russians. Score one for Kraft.
The next part of this process train-wreck is to trot out the CEO to perform, as if on cue, the Name Announcement Song & Dance, which Kraft dutifully obliges. Here is the marketing robospeak attributed to Irene B. Rosenfeld, the chairman and CEO of the new company:
“For the new global snacks company, we wanted to find a new name that could serve as an umbrella for our iconic brands, reinforce the truly global nature of this business and build on our higher purpose – to ‘make today delicious.’ Mondelez perfectly captures the idea of a ‘delicious world’ and will serve as a solid foundation for the strong relationships we want to create with our consumers, customers, employees and shareholders.”
My question for Ms. Rosenfeld is, when was the last time you entered a “strong relationship” with a brand that had a name like Mondelez? Would you even remember its name a week later?
Perhaps a shareholder revolt will veto the Mondelez name on May 23, and send Kraft back to the drawing board (and brawling ward) with one more chance to do naming right. They need look no further than their own Nabisco brand cookie product, Oreo, for an example of an outstanding invented name that is warm, poetic, fun to say, memorable and meshes beautifully with the product it identifies. With the right process in place, Kraft could still pull off a winning brand, one that is less vanilla, and more Karamel Sutra. Then it really would be a Delicious World after all.
Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, which won the 2000 Academy Award for best documentary feature, is an amazing film. It tells the story of how roughly 10,000 Jewish children were able to leave Central Europe for safety in England in the months before World War II began, in what came to be known as the kindertransport.
The scene in the video below is especially beautiful and haunting. It depicts the moment when the first children are leaving by train for a strange land full of strangers who spoke a language they did not speak, with a song, Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär, sung by a child. Most of these child exiles, spared from the concentration camps, would never see their parents, family and friends again, who were not so lucky.
While recently watching the DVD, I was moved to replay this scene several times, and snapped photos of the paused screens showing the translated text of the song in subtitles over background footage of the train taking the children away. Composited together, they form a sad poem of this heartbreaking moment that defined the lives of these children.
Here is the text of the words of the song Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär from the translated subtitles, with repetitions derived from lines of the song that repeat across several different scenes, as depicted in the composite above:
If I am far from you
in my sleep
I am with you.
When I awake
When I awake
When I awake
When I awake
I am alone.
There’s not an hour in the night
when my heart is not awake
and thinking of you.
thousands of times
thousands of times
gave me your heart.