Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What were they thinking?

what-were-you-thinkingA long trip back from the US – lots of time to get some sleep, catch up with emails, do a little reading, maybe watch a movie.   The flight was direct Chicago – Heathrow, good in most respects except for having left from Gatwick. This required me to close the loop back to Terminal South on the only transport available, National Express.  £24 for the one-hour, one-way trip; preceded by a one hour delay in the all-concrete Heathrow Central Bus Station, complete with intermittent fire alarms.

What was I thinking when I booked that open loop (besides the few dollars saved)?

Actually, the same thought washed up on the plane during the in-flight-entertainments: Glee! Live! The Movie! 3D!  I’ve watched a few episodes of the show on other flights, and found them oscillating between tolerable social comedy and overwrought teen angst, compelling or unwatchable.  glee_3dUnfortunately, the movie veered towards the later: a cacophony of anthems to self confidence and set pieces highlighting cast members.  Entirely self-absorbed, overwhelmingly superficial.

The show features a disabled character, Artie, who competently  tooled through the concert sets in his wheelchair.  The “What were they thinking?” moment came in a dream sequence, when Artie aspired to be a dancer.  Rising from his wheelchair, he joined a troupe of dancers wheeling and shuffling across the stage.

This seems like a terrible idea on so many levels.  In a show that is so frankly aspirational, should the disabled character reveal that he is played by a fully functional actor?  That he aspires to be a dancer?  That he has failed to embrace his own inner Gleek?

It seems like a breach of the ‘fourth wall’ that has to be jarring to fans of the show.  If fans embrace the idea that everyone is beautiful (in their own way), does Artie’s artifice bring the whole construct into question?

I sank into a podcast, the 100th episode of This Week in Traveltravel-bloggerOrdinarily an entertaining compilation of travel stories and tips, this was a live broadcast from a travel convention, featuring an assortment of travel bloggers and podcasters.

The “What were they thinking?” theme was why marketing people didn’t treat travel bloggers with the same respect as “mommy bloggers”.   The ideal would be to travel the world, receiving payola from destination resorts, tour companies, and manufacturers of travel gear.  Yet the meme was slow to catch on with companies: what could be done?

The answer was publicity.  Travel bloggers needed to network better, sell themselves (and their products) more aggressively, track their performance more transparently.  It was all about endorsements, page hits, and publicity.  They shared tips on how to become a paid speaker at key conventions (“otherwise, why attend at all”), how to create a hook (“I can learn the language in 30 days!”), and how to find compelling products (“It purifies water no matter who’s been swimming in it.”).

I hadn’t realized how aggressively (and shamelessly) people run social media accounts simply to gather an audience and sell them something.  Years ago I saw a fascinating presentation by creative people from publicity firm Saatchi, describing how they created ads designed to demolish reputations of opposing politicians.  This struck me the same way, an ethics-free hour dedicated to deception.  Why would you want to publicize that?

In either case, I think it comes down to authenticity, whether asking you to root for Artie overcoming his handicap or an essayist telling about their journeys.  When the curtain is pulled back and the character is revealed to be an actor or salesman, isn’t trust lost?

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