Monday, May 25, 2009
The Asterisk and the Mouse
They call it mouse type in the ad trade. In a print advertisement, you’ll find it at the bottom of the page denying everything promised by the rest of the page.
FREE ELECTRIC WINDOWS AND CD PLAYER will have an asterisk right above the word free. This minuscule starburst has a barely visible companion next to that dense smudge of print at the bottom of the page which, if you had a magnifying glass with the power of the Hubble telescope, will inform you that the windows aren¹t free, aren¹t electric and that CD players aren’t available on the model not pictured above. It is only by reading such disclaimers that true contempt in which marketing executives hold us is fully revealed.
My daughter recently traded in her old mobile phone. Special Christmas offer - Free forty minutes of call-time if you upgrade your mobile now - the ad said. My daughter dutifully exchanged her old brick for a sleek, lavender-coloured jobbie. As promised, this new mobile could vibrate, respond to voice-commands and compose its own musical ringing tone. Perhaps the only other feature a teenaged girl could wish for in a mobile is for it to emit some mind distorting ray which prevents the bouncers at the Pod from asking for proof of age.
But, as my daughter discovered when she went to register her mobile, the minutes aren’t free - they aren’t even necessarily forty. If you don’t use them all up within two weeks of purchase, whatever free minutes you have left are forfeit.
My daughter enjoys talking, during just one of her mobile-phone conversations a colony of bacteria could form on a left-over pizza and evolve to a point where it developed the capacity for space-flight - so her free forty minutes will most certainly be used up long before the expiry date. But that’s not the point.
The point is there is a brand-manager who thinks I’m stupid - a corporate dimwit in a suit or a skirt who closes off internal memos with "please revert to the undersigned” - who pronounces et cetera as ek-setera - who adds up colyims of figures not columns and who wouldn¹t recognise a creative way to tell me the actual truth about the forty minutes if it jumped out of his/her leatherette personal day-planner and bit him/her in the arse.
But, maybe I am stupid.
For the longest time I was completely convinced that the purchase of any product connected to the female menstrual cycle would endow the user with a graceful gymnastic prowess and a joyous, radiant disposition. And seeing diaphanously clad women, swirl in ecstasy, pirouetting through the misty feminine freshness of exotic rainforests, who could blame me? I am a man, but after years of watching those ads I found myself wishing I could menstruate and try out for the Irish Girls’ Ballet team.
Marketing-hype is not a bad thing, not if the hyper presents the hypee with an honest proposition which is also entertaining. A good TV ad is just that, a mini entertainment. Engaging me and amusing me is not just a compensation for having interrupted The Sopranos - it¹s also a sure way to get me to respond to the message of the ad. Tricking me into spending money on the basis of a dud special offer is a sure way to get me screaming for my money back.
In the parlance of the dim brand manager, my daughter¹s bad experience with the free forty-minute scam would have been a “negative consumer/product interface”. Not the ripping off of someone who didn’t read the mice-type. That same executive would rationalise the feminine hygiene ads as “an aspirational/emotive proposition distancing the actual product from any perceived negative menstrual connotations”. Not as an asinine attempt to convince women that their periods are something to look forward to. No woman on Earth is that gullible.
I have to go to London next Wednesday, I was going to book with Aer Lingus - but I’m not. I’m going to buy a pack of StayFree panty liners - I hear they have wings.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Of Stigmata and Road Rage.
By Tony Philpott
He’s wearing a tweed cap and one of those green quilted waistcoats with the diamond cross stitching. His neck slightly bulges over the too-tight collar of his shirt and tie. He has a Padre Pio sticker in the back window of his 1989 Opel Astra and he’s driving the car in front of me.
He is Mister Certainty. And just as surely as he is going fifteen miles an hour in a forty zone, the Irish Press, if it still existed, would be on the empty passenger seat beside him. I encountered him yesterday, you will encounter him tomorrow, if not this specific Mr Certainty then his spiritual kin.
He is a man whose moral conviction and thirty years as a drapery manager, endows him with the unassailable right to creep up to the traffic lights at just the right snails pace to get him through and leave you stopped by the red.
He was ahead of me in the queue in shop at the Esso station on Grange Road. “Do you know the weights and measures people are supposed to check your pumps every month?” He irately asked the stick of teenaged acne behind the counter. He was greeted with a completely indifferent £4.50 an hour shrug. “The label on the pumps says your last inspection was nine weeks ago?” Minimum wage does not obligate an employee to respond to rhetorical propositions, so Mr Certainty was greeted with another shrug. “How do I know I’m getting a full litre of petrol for my money?” was greeted with the tolerant sigh of a twenty-first century teenager who is not in the least intimidated by old farts. Failing to get satisfaction, Mr Certainty paid for his petrol and left - I saw him go back to the pump and take written note of the last weights and measures certification.
Unfortunately, his car was just in front of me as I exited. As he accelerated from ten to his cruising speed of fifteen miles an hour, I knew I was stuck behind a man whose stock responses to all things that displeased him would include: “I blame television” “None of this would have happened if Archbishop McQuaid were still with us” and the perennial “This country hasn’t had a real singer since John McCormac”. The thing is, he is absolutely, unshakably certain of all of these things. Imagine having such a mind, a mind too small to be occupied by doubt. Imagine such blissful ignorance. I did. Of course, I also imagined myself putting my foot on the accelerator and ramming his Astra all the way up Whitechurch Road. But let’s leave my twitchy foot for a moment and briefly examine the legacy of this uniquely Irish sub-species.
Like many others, I’ve sat nervously across from his likes during job interviews in the sixties - he was the dour man who didn’t notice your exam results but did note the fact that you didn’t have a character reference from your parish priest.
His was the mindset that almost trapped us in the sociological cul de sac of the 1950’s. His was the mindset that deemed the Ginger Man to be anarchy and which forbade that small expression of human exuberance that was Saturday night dancing. The likes of him could venerate the psychosomatic holes in Padre Pio’s hands but could see no sanctity in the marriage of a Protestant and a Catholic.
I blame his shirt.
Buttoned securely round his neck since 1957 it has obviously cut off the blood supply to his sense of humour - the part of his brain that might have once given him a capacity for whimsy and tolerance has long since calcified. But I do have sympathy for him, just a tinge mind, but sympathy nevertheless. This world and this country have moved on, he lives in a world that has stopped turning. But, hey, isn’t that the world he always wanted?
Even though I was stuck behind him in a funereal crawl, I mellowed. People like him were to be pitied, their beliefs made them victims of their times - of course his driving would make him a victim of road rage - and soon, if the honking of the impatient van driver two cars back was anything to go by. As the cortege snaked along Whitechurch Road I turned up the slope of my driveway, the long trail of traffic behind crept up to fill the small gap I left.
And from the rise of my house I could see Mr Certainty still holding back the flow.
By Tony Philpott
Most people will have heard of adrenaline, serotonins and endorphins. Hormonal chemicals which provoke specific cognitive and emotional responses from the human brain. But there is another hormone unique to the Irish population – it is secreted only at night and only while in cabs - it’s called “Intaxiphin”.
A small amount of intaxiphin secreted in your cerebral cortex will allow you to feign polite interest in everything a taxi driver is saying. A larger amount of intaxiphin - such as comes with that rush of gratitude you feel when the taxi actually stops for you at 3 AM on Rathmines Road - will have you sharing all the cab drivers personal prejudices.
Combined with alcohol, intaxiphin induces a kind of faculty-dimming euphoria – this is why, when the taxi-driver gives you his unsolicited opinion on asylum-seekers, travellers and the yute-of-today, you’ll find yourself in full agreement with him on all of the above. And it’s all because of your heightened intaxiphin levels.
You may have left the house all set for a night on the town, a few jars – a contemporary, tolerant Dublin liberal out for a few scoops with the lads or ladettes - but on the way home that excess of intaxiphin ensures you become a back seat, fare-paying xenophobe.
Not that all taxi drivers are opinionated, public-transporters with a penchant for the re-introduction of capital punishment, the military conscription of joy-riders and the forced deportation of anyone who might have lingered too long in a tanning salon – far from it. I have friends who, when their surface is scratched or when their liver has been sufficiently marinated, reveal very similar sentiments.
But even before you will have inserted yourself into the cab, intaxiphin will have already begun its work on you, lowering all sense of intellectual and even gustatory inhibition, causing you lower your tolerance for fascism while initiating a search for battered sausage and deep-fried onion rings.
Like a heat-seeking missile, you will detect molecules of boiling vegetable oils and hot fatty pork being borne on the night wind. You sniff the air - target acquired – guidance system engaged – and whoosh, there you are at a formica counter in Camden Street, salivating as some dour, minimum-wage-and-hating-it, teenager selects a pallid doughy log, drops it into a vat of searing oil and minutes later it emerges – a miracle transformation from wrinkled, phallic-shaped obscenity to a crispy golden rod of aorta-clogging death. Mmmhh! Delicious!
Is this the resounding endorsement from the posturing gourmet who, just only last Wednesday night in The Bangkok Kitchen, sighed and said: “The Nam Plak Min was exquisite, but do I wish they’d used authentic Thai basil instead of the local stuff – the taste of anis is more robust”. Under the influence of hormonal Intaxiphen, the critic of the basil has become the critic of the batter.
Lips glossed in cooking-oil, fingers scented with vinegar, veins thickening with cholesterol – you wave at a passing taxi and, oh my God! It’s stopping - and it’s stopping for you and not the two gorgeous young girls at the corner. Euphoria!
You settle into the back seat. Your are driven through the main streets of Ranelagh, Rathgar, Terenure – you see their fast-food neons flash by in a queasy blur. Maybe that battered sausage wasn’t such a good idea.
But the cab driver has some great ideas.
And you are in complete agreement with them all. You are in full accord with his unsolicited opinions on the problem of illegal immigrants, the banking crisis and the issue of gay marriages. And, if the over-priced trip were to take you any further than Rathfarnham, he would have had the time to convince you that the country would be best run by a junta of his fellow taxi-drivers.
And it’s all thanks to Intaxiphin that your journey home was not merely a Joycean nighttown trek from Toner’s to your front door – it was a journey from gourmet to gobshite, from liberal to hypocrite and from a Friday-night buzz to Saturday morning amnesia when all is forgotten and thus forgiven.
Booze. Our Celtic predisposition to its mind dimming lure. Booze. Our softened tolerance for its absolving chemistry. It is, after all, nothing more than a combination of molecules exuded by yeast, a semi-alive organism that eats sugar and excretes alcohol.
Your inebriated state of mind is a result of yeast shite.
But do you care? No. It’s so liberating. It’s the social lubricant that allows the shy to converse voluably - the reticent to assert themselves, and the inhibited to release their insulated personalities. Why was it invented? In the evolutionary thrust from prehistoric nomad to settled farmer what purpose was assigned to alcohol?
Release. Pure release.
All the strictures of behaviour, from Cro Magnon to modern urbanite, are unbound by alcohol’s transit from first swallow to stupefying absolution.
A sober man will clench a fart in place while in the presence of polite company. Under the influence of yeast-excrement he will release an uninhibited trumpet of emissions and not even deign to apologise. Women will vomit into handbags, uncaring of the damage to mascara, moisturiser or paper-money. The adult male will vow “never again”, the adult female will promise “This is the last time I’ll let myself go so far…”
But booze has been with us since we first dragged our hairy knuckles off the grit of the African scrubland four million years ago. From our destiny as upright- Homo Sapiens - booze, liquor, hooch, jar, dram and pint have been our solace and our succour when things went wrong at the office and when we men failed to bring home the kill.
Whiskey. Wine. Ale. Port. They are the greatest sources of flawed inner-forgiveness. Masculine failure is erased in their vapours. Feminine indiscretion is forgiven in their fumes. Ego Te Absolvo. It should be written on the label of every bottle of Jameson, Smirnoff and Chateaux Unconchio. Your are not responsible, you are absolved – you may apportion complete blame to the grape, the hop, the malt and that exotic schnapps that was cheered down your throat by your mates as you left Neary’s on Friday night at about one AM.
Thank God you got a taxi.
Darwin and The Nail Varnish
Saturday evening my wife came into the bathroom and held up the backs of her hands to me. “Which?”, was all she said.
Superficially I was being asked to chose which colour nail varnish looked best, the one on her right hand or her left. I say “superficially” because after many years of marriage I know that I was not really being asked to make a choice - but to endorse her preference. And therein lies the trap.
How to endorse - when you not only don’t know what’s preferred - but the difference between the two shades of nail-varnish is so subtle as to be indiscernible to the naked masculine eye?
Colour perception and the ability to see fine detail are superior female faculties upon which the very continuity of the entire human species once depended. It was also an evolutionary trait which presumed just one thing - men are mostly failures.
The classic depiction of the cave-man dragging the carcass of a slain elk back to the cave is an enduring man-the-hunter motif.
But the conversion of a forty mile an hour elk into a venison pot-roast by a male Cro Magnon was an extremely rare event. Had human survival depended on a male ability to hunt - we would be extinct and the dominant species would now perhaps be a semi-intelligent hamster - but enough about politicians. So, while our ancestral male was busy trying to be man-the-hunter, prehistoric females were quietly developing skills to help compensate for man-the-failure.
Nuts, berries, mushrooms. These were the nutrients prehistoric females gathered. All very sedentary when compared to the vigour of hunting, but, pick the wrong berry or mushroom and you and your hairy family would die a toxic death and become a source of dietary fibre for the next scavenger to pass by.
A half shade of purple could determine the difference between a juicy blackcurrant and some poisonous mimic, the female ability to spot a variant shade of beige is a critical visual skill that often meant the difference between life or death – and you can see the self-same skill being used by women in Dunnes Stores or on Moore Street on any given day.
Watch a woman shopping for clothes. Witness the sheer intensity of the event. The scrutiny of the garment, the holding it up, the holding it away, the putting it back on the rack, the taking it off again. All pre-programmed female behaviour, an evolutionary echo of the need to make the right choice, it is as predetermined as a man’s genetic inability to ask for directions or to actually finish putting up tiles in the bathroom.
But back to my wife and the nail varnish. I’m sure there was a colour difference, but my testosterone-impaired vision just couldn’t let me see it. So, if my wife’s superior eyesight has already been accounted for as a valuable evolutionary trait, then how do I account for her soliciting my opinion while depriving me of the knowledge that she has already chosen to paint her nails with Vermilion Sunset and not Crimson Nights?
Sorry lads, even Darwin couldn’t explain that one.
Gender Bias and a Large Jameson.
I hate sports. All sports. Football especially. I'd rather stir-fry my own toe nail clippings and use them as croutons than sit through a match. They could be holding the World Cup final in my back garden and I wouldn't bother to open the curtains to have a look. I don’t understand the rules, the moves or the objectives of the game with two halves. I am bemused by the vast amount of air time and printer’s ink given to a sport overpopulated with prima donnas and prima dunphys.
I do understand that sport is a mass entertainment – but the mass is mostly male. I have the proper masculine apportionment of testosterone, an unfashionably-hairy chest and I never fail to leave the toilet seat up. All the proper male attributes. Yet I long to turn on the telly without hearing the wail of Formula One cars, the thock thock of tennis balls, the whack of golf clubs and the incomprehensible GAA commentary delivered by a far-too-excited Micheal O’Muirehurtaig as yet another sliotar goes over the bar. I yearn for sports-free television, but I can’t have it.
And it’s all the fault of the Feminists. Really. They’re to blame for all the sports on television.
The eternal vigilance of radical feminism knows no equal – particularly those with access to the media. Sexual stereotyping in cinema? - they're on the case with irate editorials and demands for studio time with Vincent Browne. Women priests? - an inflamed petition to the Pope signed in the liquefied estrogen of ten thousand females. No cause too large - no issue too small. The feminists made “Mrs” a bad word, they made the motives of a bloke holding a door open for a woman appear to be those of a sexual predator.
But where were they when it came to football on television? They missed football - didn't they? Wasn’t on their agenda.
They could have easily had it banned under "Gender bias in the media" or “Equal time for Feminine Expression” - either way, they could have gotten a grant from Justice, Equality and Law Reform and, quicker than the backpedalling of the Minister for Finance, they could have financed a campaign for a mandated allotment of equal television time between The World Cup and the International Women's Crocheting finals. But they missed their chance.
And, precisely because of this complete lack of focus on the part of Irish Radical Feminism I cannot sip a Jameson in the Stag’s Head on a Saturday afternoon without having total strangers opening conversations with me with the words "Do you think Rodrigo will transfer?" or "Wadja tink o'de match?".
Do you have any idea of the reaction of a fellow male when you tell him that you don’t have any idea what match or player he’s talking about? He moves two bar-stools away and makes flaccid-wrist gestures to other customers while pointing at you.
The very assumption that I watch football matches makes me a victim of sexual stereotyping. But I don’t hear any feminists taking up my cause. I don't have breasts, you see - at least not the kind capable of lactation, therefore the plights and prejudices endured by a resoundingly heterosexual male matter not a jot to organised feminism.
When forced to endure incessant yak about Keano, Gigsi, Bestie and Beckham - when every channel on my TV is constantly showing football matches, football highlights or football pundits talking about football - when some barely articulate mutant with a number on his back gets a billion quid for leaving Galasmasherai and joining Totenham Wednesday - it is then that I seriously consider the merits of getting silicone implants, slipping on pair of knickers, crocheting a doily and lodging a protest with the Equal Rights Commission.
Irish Feminism has failed me. There is far too much sport on television, I feel aggrieved, deprived and victimised - I want answers - from Nell McCafferty, from Mary Harney and that political-commentator-woman with the pert breasts on RTE.
Yours. Tony (knit one, purl one) Philpott.
If there isn't a political-commentator-female with pert breasts on RTE could they please get one?
By Tony Philpott
In humans and in politicians, there are areas of the brain that have highly specialised functions. In the cerebral anatomy of a politician, some areas are more specialised than others. For instance, in the region just behind a government Minister’s frontal lobes there is a large cluster of neurons which are only activated during pre-election periods, financial crises and televised sound bites.
“Tell me, Minister, do you really think cancelling the Monorail linking Clonakilty to Bundoran will save the taxpayer €170 billion?”
“Well, Charlie, the projected savings will, of course have certain variables within it, but this Government’s policy is to ensure that blah blah blah…”
In the time between the conclusion of Charlie Bird’s question and the beginning of the Minister’s answer, minute electrical charges instantaneously jumped across a billion synaptic connections in search of an appropriate response. In an immeasurably small fraction of time, plausibilities were retrieved from deep within the Ministerial cerebellum and tested against hypotheses stored in his frontal lobes - in the space of a nano-second, neurons and brain-chemistry reacted and combined to form the molecular structure of a lie.
An Irish Independent editorial declared some time ago “No sane person expects 100% truth from Politicians at election time”. A statement which implies that the results of elections are predicated by people with less than the full compliment of marbles.
So let’s be under no illusions here, we, the electorate, are indeed less than sane. In the last election you didn’t vote for a politician, a party or a manifesto, you didn’t even vote for the smiling Fianna Fail/Fine Gael face on the poster – you voted for a trillion brain cells and a vast network of nerve-endings dedicated exclusively to providing rapid detours around the truth.
Unfortunately too few of us will detect the detour until about three years after the hypothetical Monorail has gone 12 billion over budget and the Tribunal of Inquiry will reveal why its construction contract was awarded to a Kerry merry-go-round operator with a 5 Euro, off-the-shelf-company registered in Liechtenstein.
No use complaining now about the tax-hikes-that-would-never-happen – because when that particular politician was lying with convincing sincerity, you were too interested in who’d be evicted from Big Brother to pay the slightest bit of attention.
And Politicians know this.
On their first day in the Oireachtas, all newly-elected representatives are brought to a small room where they are given the Four Secret Maxims.
Maxim number 1: “No one is paying attention”.
Maxim number 2: “In the unlikely event that anyone is paying attention – that attention will not be of a duration sufficient for them to remember anything that will damage your chances of re-election”.
Maxim number 3: “If you have been - or are about to be – Tribunaled, the matter under investigation will have the fault of the Minister who preceded you”.
Maxim number 4: “If you want to know why the Irish public won’t even remember the name of the Minister who preceded you, see Maxim No 1”.
Even when confronted by members of the media who instinctively know when the response to their question is an evasion or an outright lie, the average Politician is armed with the fact that time and space are on his side - TV-time, radio-time and printed-space. And when operating in these dimensions he/she knows he/she has the perfect defensive weapon - The Long Waffle.
You might think the Long Waffle is a lengthier-than-usual Belgian breakfast pastry, but Politicians being interviewed in the broadcast media know that a long waffle eats up airtime. Secure in the knowledge that that radio interview will have to stop for a commercial break, or that Pat Kenny must abbreviate the Late Late Show interview because Rosaleen Linehan is up next and ready to do some amusing accents, the Politician waffles at length until his interrogator simply must move on.
But really, how do they get away with it? We have, or had, Farrell, Browne, Bowman – all of them incisive, astute inquisitors – they use their inquiring intellects to probe nightly for truth on our behalf. But that’s the problem. They are using their intellects. Wrong part of the body entirely. They should use their thumbs.
Pressed firmly against the throat of, say, the Minister for Taking Money From Pensioners and Giving It To Developers, Vincent Brown’s thumbs could squeeze for the truth. No penetrating questions, no confronting the Minister with his own contradictory statements, no putting pressure on him by citing statistics which prove his duplicity – the only pressure required is pressure on the oesophageal region.
Reporters and journalists, who receive disingenuous answers from rural politicians speaking through their gombeen arses, should swat those politicians about the skull with their own plaid head-garments until they answer the question honestly.
With such a threat, the question: “Minister, what do you say to accusations that your department is riddled with nepotism, cronyism and corruption?” is more likely to elicit the response; “’Tis absolutely true, Charlie – we’re up to our shaggin’ armpits in sleaze, backhanders and suspect tenders from Military Helicopter suppliers – and not only that, but we’re inefficient as well, so we are.”
The politician’s lie can live because of the truth in Secret Maxim number 1.
“No one is paying attention”
But of course, I’m being deliberately ironic when I blame the brevity of the national attention span on Politicians’ ability to walk away from their lies unscathed. The real blame belongs with a media who are restricted in their use of physical force and political-brain chemistry configured specifically to lying. These are the things which really will ensure the complete and final demise of political integrity – these are the things which allow those we don’t evict from the Big Brother House of the Oireachtas to continue to remain in residence and to rule. Honest.