Posts Tagged ‘commercial values’

American Style!

June 24, 2021

soundtrack
(Dedicated to Elvis Gratton)

Love, Love American Style!
Truer than the Red, White and Blue-hoo-hoo-hoo!
Lo-ve, American Sty-y-y-yle!
That’s me and you!

Theme song for “Love, American Style”
Lyrics by Fox and Margolin
(altered by author to reflect what they sounded like to a very young child)

Hobbies – American Style!

It’s 1972. The Limits to Growth has just been published – the end of industrial civilization is nigh. I read it, and as a boy, was impressed by the science of computers that lead to its conclusions.

But way out in suburbia, we’re watching TV and have no time for non-commercial food for thought like this. In the burbs, our information diet is mainly fast food-based – TV and radio.
Watching TV and calling it “family life” is as convenient and American-Style! as eating hamburgers in a crowded car while listening to car ads.

We were always careful to remove the chewing gum before eating our vegetable-oil-infused sandwiches and potato by-products.

We just received some Nielson’s Rating forms to fill out. I feel so grateful our suburban family has been selected to represent ordinary Canadian TV viewers. Already ten years old, I’m thrilled to be recognized for my average TV-viewing habits, which means: seven hours per day. That is how much TV the average suburbanite watched.

Of course, I’m going to lie on the form and write that we’re watching Canadian TV programs (like Front Page Challenge) while in reality we’re watching commercial crap like Love American Style. This was my favorite program when I was a young child with no close friends – only favorite shows.

One thing that TV has taught me is to lie and misrepresent in order to get what I want. Even if *what I want* is just something that someone else’s lies and misrepresentation made me desire in the first place. I’ve heard on Canadian media that Canadian media is a good thing, so I am willing to lie for this cause, though this cause is probably a lie anyways.

(By the way, there is no Love-Canadian Style. But I do remember Love-French-Canadian style from my grandparents, and it was something that happened in real life, and not on TV shows)

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Socialization – American Style!

It appears to me that many of my family, neighbors and schoolmates have only experienced, in their previous televison-less lives, a kind of lack-of-Love…Canadian Style. So, to remedy our tragic pre-TV condition, we all watch lots of American TV to learn a better way. A way to find *the love* that comes with following *this style*. Plus, what choice do you have when there’s nothing to do in your bungalow because every activity is so far away.

A pathetic attempt at a Love-Canadian-Style is represented by Canadian TV of the era – a series of boring government-funded TV shows that are guaranteed to drive you into the arms of ABC-NBC-CBS. Game shows about newspaper headlines, a show that gives you lightbulb-buying advice, sitcoms about normal people in Ontario that contain one forced laugh every 23 minutes.

For newly-bored suburban Canadians, Love-American-Style was The Television Show on a hill – an RGB beacon – a flickering light among the nations… where the stars came out every single night – Sonny and Cher, the Vietnam War, Superman and Lite Brite! They will save us! They will know what to do!

We watched and learned the ways of American-style Love: punchy sarcasm, fast one-liners, softcore porn moments that make you giggle, and the eternal search for new consumer products. All enjoyed from the isolation of a pre-fab bungalow.

And we heeded the American-style call-to-arms – to follow every trend, or risk dying of sadness and loneliness on a lawn in the middle of nowhere.

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Oligarchy – American Style!

The actors on Love American Style will, for decades, show up on other hit shows – along with their brothers and children. The lead actor’s sister does the soundtrack, his wife is the daughter of the casting director, and so on.

The casting normalizes nepotism, in the same way that the shows themselves normalize infidelity, cars and suburban products. The end credits of every production whisper things to the audience that very few can decode. The shows tell them not to even bother trying to decode them.

Tribalism American Style or the global village – are two ways to describe this incestuous, peasant-like hiring policy. And all of this incest-produced narrative-management is punctuated with car, processed food, and oil company commercials.

As we fled to suburbia to escape all the easy female polygamy opportunities in the as-seen-on-TV city, we never really experienced the free love that this show titilated its audience with, but we got car culture imprinted in our brains – psyc-op style.

The sitcom-style sarcasm was another useful skill to learn from TV. Trapped suburban peasants often feel so bitter in their incestous suburban alienation, that we had lots of occasions to use sarcasm and irony on one another. As heard on TV.

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Community – American Style!

We learned to put on sitcom smiles by watching TV shows full of smiling, frolicking suburban kids. The instant recognition of sitcom smiles is very handy when the only time you run into people is while you’re driving and only have a few seconds to communicate community-belongingness.

(Stopped at traffic lights)
“Look, it’s Henry and Marge.”
(rolls down window)
“Hey Henry, Hey Marge! How are you enjoying your new ski-doo?”
(traffic light changes, sitcom smiles, gotta go! drive away)

Love-American-Style showcases a life made of soundbites and signalling. And suburban social contact is also mostly soundbites and signalling because, um, that’s about all you have time to do when you are always inside a motor vehicle, alone in a suburban bungalow, or inside a private facility like a mall, surrounded by a moat of parking lots.

There is no community in suburbia, only soundbites and sitcom smiles.

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Elvis – American Style!

My father’s generation decided, when they were young commercial radio fans, that they would forget their Acadian and Francophone culture and become true American-Style! As heard on the radio.

To be more like the the Shadow, they refused to speak French with their parents or relatives. They learned to smoke cigarettes, chew gum, talk back to their parents, eat hot dogs, to play baseball and to drive cars. The commercials for American products were like commandments they followed to get to Heaven-American Style!

My father and all his brothers listen to American radio dramas in the car alone, and marry anglophone women who speak no French – only the language of the Shadow. These women are all trying to be Donna Reed or that witch on Bewitched.

Boomer couples made up of one Shadow and one Donna Reed will – en masse, like sheep – move to car-dependent suburbs, and let American television act as the main socialization tool of their kids, who rarely see their own father’s shadow – he”s always gone in the car like the Shadow, while Donna beats her kids over the head with reeds.

Elvis Gratton is the result – obese dummies with no roots anywhere. American cities are the model to follow, and so are American actors and pop stars. We will all be fatter and more naive than our grandparents, and have fewer social contacts. We will sing American songs alone in our ugly and cheap bungalows. We will be bored and anxious all the time, and suffer from lack of community or social activities.

We grow up with television as our primary teacher and guide. American Commercial media is also our primary babysitter, just like morphine-brands like laudanum  were the primary babysitter a century before TV was invented.

To imitate the Shadow, we will live in the shadows of our own lives in the burbs. I wonder if my father’s generation ever figured out that these sainted icons like the Shadow and Donna Reed really didn’t know or care about their millions of viewers’ lives at all. That these icons were just part of a manipulative gang who only wanted viewers for their money.

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Lawn – American Style!

Our house is a 40 minute walk from a shopping mall, where all you can do is shop. It’s not a great place to hang around, and you cross paths with no one when you walk there. The sidewalk in front of it is just skinny enough to waddle towards the sliding door into an individual shopping unit (“store”).

The mall has a parking lot that extends all the way to the river, eliminating any kind of wetland transition or publicly accessible trail. This is the largest infrastructure in our town – a parking lot.

The entire population of Rust River (3000) would fit in three-story housing in the parking lot of our mall. But we all spread out, cut down all the trees and wasted lots more land, with massive lawns which also dilute any urban proximity.

There is nowhere to walk as there are only bungalows and ugly lawns for an hour’s walk (on the road at times) in every direction. And people who walk are made to look like losers in all our TV shows and magazines. The same media that are filled with car ads…

All the children in my suburb watch too much TV, and grow up lonely and socially awkward. The nastiest people in North America can be found in spread out suburbs, and not in the poorest inner city ghettos.

Failed-Urbanism-American Style! (the car-dependent suburb) has eliminated *a life-fulfillment necessity* that mammals took for granted since they left the oceans – walking around and finding interesting things to see and do.

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Zombies – American Style!

My mother, myself and my sister are walking towards Walmart, when we see Davy Kass, a neighbor, walking towards the mall from a different parking place. We stop in the middle of the asphalt, and my mother initiates smalltalk.

Ma: “Hey, Davy. I hear Brian got a job at the plant. Not easy with all the lay-offs.”

(Steel City has been in a depression since before I was born. Rust River-style suburbs were a way to escape the depressed housing stock and social problems of the inner city by staring at a TV or lawn)

Davy: “Yes, I know about the lay-offs. They say our economy is in trouble, but just look at all the new cars!” he says as he waves his arm at the parking lot – Vanna White style – with a huge sitcom smile on his red, round face.

Seconds later, a white Ford Bronco almost crushes my sister as it spins around a row of parked cars. This is obviously no place to be talking to a neighbor, it turns out – in front of a store. (Facebook still hasn’t been invented so we’re still stuck with face-to-face).

My mother angrily grabs my sister’s arm, sneers at her, and then smiles shamefully (but sitcomfully) at Davy, as we say bye and walk towards the Walmart entrance. She’s angry that my sister’s almost-getting-killed ruined a rare social moment of free conversation.

So we aren’t going to get an ice cream because little sister ruined the small talk by almost getting hit by a truck. As children, we have learned (by watching lots of TV) that getting hit by a vehicle is a huge mark of failure for a child and their parents. Later, in high school, we will find out that Darwin said the same thing – that losers walk and freedom rides around in a Trans Am.

I don’t know why Davy was so happy about all the cars in the parking lot. The main industry in slowly dying Steel City is rails for railroad tracks. Steel City (and Rust River) need to sell railroad track parts or we will not have jobs, or eventually, a reason to exist in the capitalist economy.

Cars and trucks are eliminating the need for rails. All those cars! means that our town is going to die a slow, painful death. – American style.

Why was Davy so Vanna White – so sitcom smile – about this sad fact?

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Fences – American Style!

Our streets have no sidewalks, and it takes about 45 minutes to walk anywhere. I don’t know much about any of our neighbors, but I know what kind of car they drive as they drive by me.

One of our neighbors – Mrs. McTall – is a young mother who recently moved to our subdivision. She knows no one. When she passes by me as I walk to the top of the street, she always offers to give me a lift. But I have never accepted because I like walking. I like my autonomy and find it awkward to sit right next to a stranger in an enclosed metal box.

After 20 years of living next to her, I still only know that she drives an Oldsmobile 98. I know most of my neighbors by the cars they drive, and very little else.

I think Mrs. McTall died a few years ago… I’m not sure. But what I do know is that the Oldsmobile division was discontinued in the year 2000. I don’t miss either one, though Mrs. McTall may have been an interesting person. Who knows. I only knew her car.

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MK Ultra – American Style!

Virtually everything in commercial media is trying to sell the audience products. When athletes aren’t joyfully consuming fastfood in ads, car sponsors are providing the heroes on the Action Series they fund.

And so it is with Love-American Style. During the 50s and 60s, the meta-product that commercial media is selling is suburbia. By getting people to move to suburbia, car sponsors, oil sponsors, media itself, and a whole series of corporations… are creating a captive audience for their products and marketing.

So in every episode of the show, the majority of gags are set up as a woman cheating on her husband. For married men watching this show, the message is that you can never trust women left alone in urban environments. By moving to suburbia, a male can *entrap* his wife in a situation that limits her opportunity to meet sexable men in parks and other urban settings.

I first saw this show when I was three, but my father didn’t like when my mom and I watched it because every second gag is about a woman cheating on her husband, or mocking marriage in some other way. A lot of men seem to be frightened of losing their wives to some dark-haired man in a city park. I guess this show is one reason why.

Love, love, love! And lawnmowers and station wagons and TV sets. Normalization of these products. A new normal in suburbia where your wife is safely locked away, and everyone needs the products that the sponsors sell you as you gawk at boredom-reducing entertainment products for hours on end.

Never underestimate the power of psychology when it is used against you.

Love, Love American Style!
Truer than the Red, White and Blue-hoo-hoo-hoo!
Lo-ve, American Sty-y-y-yle!
That was me and you!

“Speak White” – Michèle Lalonde

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(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

click for fruit

Wallpaper Sample Books

December 20, 2011

soundtrack

(dedicated to all fathers)

Dad’s store makes me think of vinyl and paper cuts. Only time I’m allowed to go there’s when I have a doctor or dentist appointment. When this happens, I have to wait for a ride home. No choice.

I’m ten and in Grade Five, and just had my first dental fillings. Boy, was I scared. It’s hard to face first-time events like this when you have no older brother or father to say he’s been there. I never know what to expect or how to react.

My old man had all his teeth pulled out in his twenties, but I never heard about why or how. I guess the words got pulled out as well.

So today is the day. Right before I left for my appointment, my mother assured me I’d be fine. Her exact words: “Stop bein’ such a jeezus sissy!” Then she growled at me like a tiger to give me cat-like encouragement.

Just before filling my teeth with hot lead, the dentist snarled at me and called me a baby because I cried in pain. Dr. Hickstein’s hands shake like an epileptic seizure and he usually tears my gums to shreds during the freezing-slash-interrogation phase of each appointment. All I remember of him is: “You’re a baby!” *slash!*

So now it’s 1 pm, and I’m injured and weak at my father’s shop, and I start to tell him about the experience. “Shut up and go sit in the front of the store,” he snarkily tells me before I can finish the story. I keep forgetting it’s still World War Two: dental secrets can sink ships.

So, I slowly get up – embarrassed to be treated like a dog in front of human strangers – and sadly limp to the front of the store with my tail between my wegs. This is the farthest part of the store from the office – an outpost, almost in the display window. It’s raining, so no one is walking by.

For the next four hours, I look at wallpaper sample books all by myself: patterns and textures and colors and shapes. I guess I’m supposed to be learning that work is boring and lonely. Only one customer walks in during the whole four hours. As a form of solitary confinement, looking at wallpaper samples for four hours is probably worse than watching TV in a bungalow for the same duration.

Every once in a while I hear my dad laughing along with others coming from the office. I wonder what they’re laughing about? I wonder what subjects the men are talking about? Will I ever know what to say to other guys?

Patterns and textures and colors and shapes.

After a few years of these treasured educational visits to the store’s wallpaper counter, I decide to become a graphic designer whenever I grow up. My father laughs at my first attempt at imagining being a grown up, saying mockingly: “When I was 15, my guidance counselor said I was gonna be a paint and wallpaper salesman.”

The burn of the sarcasm helps me understand my low place in the universe.  I will forever be the Steel City Fruit.

(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)

Tourne la page !

June 25, 2009

soundtrack

tourne la page

June 24 is Quebec’s national holiday – Saint Jean Baptiste Day. Like a lot of other national holidays, it’s a time for fireworks, parades, alcohol and…franco-rock.

At my job, we listened to trance music and lounge on that day,  like we always do. It keeps the customers calm as they reach for their wallets. But the staff is pretty well 100 percent Quebecois, so we ended up talking about Quebec music, and which songs and artists we like.

For me, what really stands out in the world of franco-pop and franco-rock are the silly commercial ballads that are fed to empty-headed look-alike pop stars. Shotgun marriages between vapid, small-scale celebs and superficial, lowest common denominator pop craft says more about consumer society and the texts that spawned it than any sincere and whiny folk song about whales and women named Suzanne.

One of my favorite mind-worm songs from franco-AM radio is the soundtrack – a last-gasp of celebrity backwash from the brother-sister team of Nathalie and Rene Simard.

Let’s ignore the sexual abuse from Nathalie’s manager (a star’s gotta do), as well as brother Rene’s post-boyband media whoredom, and take a quick glance at the lyrics’ subtexts and the hidden meanings that can be discovered using only a microscope, an atom-smasher, and a bit of imagination.

First the title: Tourne la page. This is a French expression that means, literally: turn the page. But its connotative meaning is more like: move on, or carry on, or even keep moving. This refrain, like the refrains of so many other pop songs from this era and every other era, urges the listener to continue on his trajectory no matter what the consequences. It is manifesto for zombiehood.

While this may at first seem encouraging and empowering, it is more accurately the voice of an industrial Leviathon telling workers to continue on their suicidal and life-denying course no matter what their instincts say. Just keep on working – turn the page – nobody’s gonna break-a my stride – I will survive – carry on our wayward son… etc. However it’s phrased for whatever market, it always boils down to Back to your cubicle, you survivor you.

I’m sure the foremen on Egyptian pyramid-building teams had similarly encouraging words for their worker bees as well. “What happened? Your foot got crushed by that massive brick? Just turn the page!”

So it was a slave-creating text the Simards delivered to the Quebec people. And they belted out this soul-stifling message in their naturally-occurring angelic voices just so they could stay rich and famous for five more minutes.

The only interesting thing about their horrible lyrics is how they discreetly underline the relationship between slavery and text. For the Tourne la page narrative to work, the listener has to imagine that personal experience is no more valuable than a book with pages that can be quickly turned and forgotten whenever you don’t like the content. Of course, we all know that life is more serious and more complicated than a page of a novel (even novels are more complicated than Tourne la page makes them sound), but the Simard’s have ingeniously interpreted this parasitic relationship of text-preying-on-reality as a kitschy, throw-away pop song. They have spoken the unspeakable by disguising it as trite, disposable garbage. Landfill memes for better social health.

And for this reason – on the day immediately after this very important day – we thank this incestuous singing duet for their hollow and stupid words. Merci, les mercenaires!

Tourne la page

(René:) Un oiseau d’acier raie l’horizon de la plage
Griffe les nuages avion sauvage
Il trace à la craie la dernière ligne de l’histoire
Sur tableau noir comme au revoir

(Nathalie:) Un avion déchire le soir
(René:) Emporte quelque chose de moi
(Nathalie:) Un signal dans ta mémoire

Tourne la page…
(René et Nathalie:) Tourne la page

rest of lyrics


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