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of geckos and burger kings
ill omens of a hollywood future
by erik lars myers (@TopFermented)
4.18.07
film

There are so many things I don't understand in this world.

In case you missed it, a television show is in the works starring the Geico cavemen, and a full-length feature movie is in the works starring the Burger King. Don't believe me? Hit Google. I haven't read anything beyond short articles about these. Frankly, I don't feel like I need to.

I'd like to feel indignant about it. I keep wanting to be angry.

But I keep going back to the fact that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was invented by department store Montgomery Ward as a give-away gimmick to help get people into the store around Christmas time. It is now so much a part of American folklore that the season would seem wrong without Captain Shiny's fog-reducing schnozz.

On the other hand, I can't help but think that there's a very specific difference at work. Sure. Rudolph was created to drive sales. But the whole point was to make a story for kids. It just happened to be a good enough story that it wormed its way into popular culture and stayed there. Going at it the other way around seems wrong somehow.

Let's examine the one thing these commercials have in common with each other:

They're both funny because of a gimmick.

The cavemen are funny because the Neanderthals are only Neanderthalish in appearance. The commercials juxtapose what a "normal person" would expect from a Neanderthal (stupid) against the "reality" of said caveman actually being quite trendy and smart. The reason it works is because Neanderthals are a poor minority. A century ago, this ad campaign could have run with white actors in blackface with the slogan: "So easy, even a Negro could do it!" It's just on the edge of actually being offensive.

The Burger King is funny because he's mute and creepily omnipresent.

In both cases, humor is achieved through slightly uncomfortable situations. It's great for one-shot 30-second jokes, but how will either sustain the comedy over large amounts of time?

Poorly, if most of the SNL-spinoff movies can serve as our example -- and they should, because it's the same premise: A brief situation is drawn painstakingly out to a feature length, a plot is mercilessly slathered over a loose framework of stock characters and scenes, and another actor can say that they're just as good as Jon Lovitz.

Ultimately, though, what bothers me the most about these is not even that they're being made. Hollywood is allowed to waste its money on whatever idiotic drivel it wants.

What bothers me is that people will watch them. The neanderthalic American public will tune in to the TV show, and go out to the theater and watch the movie. And even if they think it's the most awful thing they've ever seen, they will have already sent the wrong message.

The all-mighty dollar is king, and once you pay to put your ass in that seat, you've voted. "Make more!" you cry. "Please, let me watch more movies centered around un-lovable commercial mascots! Perhaps a movie about that wacky Trix rabbit? Or maybe that un-lucky leprechaun named Lucky? HA HA HA! Is that irony?"

Friends. People I don't know. Everyone. Whoever you are. Remember that Sylvester Stallone/Wesley Snipe movie Demolition Man where they portray the most ridiculous future ever? Where Arnold Schwarzenegger was a politician and people listen to commercial jingles on the radio instead of music?

Can we please, all together, work to keep that as a cautionary tale (Why is it even that!?) instead of a portent of what's to come? Do we have to laugh at the cavemen just because we see themselves in them? Or can we rise above it like some strange man in a plastic mask, grinning maniacally at a lumberjack?

Is this what our future really holds?


ABOUT ERIK LARS MYERS

Writer, beer drinker, brewer. Not necessarily in the order. For more, check Top Fermented and Mystery Brewing Company.

more about erik lars myers

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COMMENTS

tracey kelley
4.18.07 @ 12:29a

It's funny that you mention this, because after seeing "The Hoax" Monday, I thought, "Great. By seeing this, it's as if I'm interested in the true story of lying, cheating thieves."

Which I'm not. But I paid $5 to see the movie, a situation I could have avoided had I read some reviews beforehand, because surely I would said, "Nah. That sounds like crap."

[edited]

robert melos
4.18.07 @ 2:48a

I still want to see the gecko get his own show. Maybe I wouldn't like him so much if he didn't have an Aussie accent, but he's so darn cute and lures you in with his cunning style and crafty commentary. Plus he's got a tail, and keeps his personal life out of it. Burger King, on the other hand, is creepy.

dorothy kyle
4.18.07 @ 7:55a

I can top that, visit cavemancrib.com and see how they live. Not bad for neanderthals.

mike julianelle
4.18.07 @ 9:16a

A bit of an aside based on a point Erik makes, about sending the wrong message.

I went to a screening of "Thank You For Smoking" and the film's writer/director Jason Reitman was there to answer questions, etc. At one point he spoke about how he had recently seen a few horrible movies, the one I remember was the "it's coming from inside the house" movie remake, "When A Stranger Calls" I think it's called. He mentioned that he'd paid to see that film, and several others, and that nothing makes an aspiring filmmaker feel like he can make it in Hollywood than watching that garbage.

I had the opportunity to ask him a question, and like a prick, I asked him if he didn't think he was contributing to problem. The more people pay to see crap, the more crap Hollywood will make. He looked at me with disdain, like I was unreasonable and a party pooper, and didn't respond.

But I stand by my question. We all need to wake up and stop the madness! Just because they make it doesn't mean we have to go see it. One person can make a difference, so long as there are tons of them.

erik myers
4.18.07 @ 9:44a

He didn't respond!? He's the prick.

It's a serious and reasonable question. If you pay to see shit, you're sending the message that shit sells seats, so make more shit.

They already know to ignore critics, so the only way they're going to stop making crap is if people stop watching it.

mike julianelle
4.18.07 @ 10:05a

Yeah, he looked at me with contempt, like I was wasting his time and being a humorless douche. He was the douche!

It's an unwinnable battle, tho, as the success of every insipid reality show makes clear. The Lowest Common Denominator, trashy escapism, mindless "entertainment" is what sells.

Mencken: "No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."

jael mchenry
4.18.07 @ 10:13a

It's not as simple as "crap is made because people go see crap", though. A lot of people go to see whatever's playing, and it's not that execs start out intending to make crap, it's just that they're risk-averse. So even if a lot of people wanted to see The Lookout, they couldn't, because it wouldn't be playing near them, as the multiplex is chock-full with Blades of Glory, since that formula has worked before and is an easier sell at every stage: script, casting, budget, distribution, DVD market, all of it.

The King creeps me out.

erik myers
4.18.07 @ 10:24a

Yeah, but I see risk-averse as equal to "crap is made because people go see crap."

Crap is low-risk, so it gets made.

Innovation and art takes a gamble, so we don't see it.

The unfortunate fact is that most people go see crap just because.. well... I don't know why. I just can't fathom paying good money to watch something I won't enjoy.

mike julianelle
4.18.07 @ 10:26a

Right, but there are SO MANY different options these days, you'd think people would refine their interests a bit more. Don't like the movies that are at the local plex? Rent netflix. Watch something on cable or on the internet.

This is one reason the straight-to-DVD market is expanding and losing its stigma, because it's a cheap way to get good ROI, and an increasingly viable alternative for people who DON'T want to go to the theater. More studios should take advantage of this option.

And then, instead of more and more movies being made (and more and more bad movies) for theaters, they can concentrate on fewer, better movies.

jason gilmore
4.18.07 @ 11:38a

A friend and I were having this same conversation last night about music. We also shouldn't factor out that the big blockbusters also have big blockbuster bucks to advertise and after being bombarded by billboards, commercials, ringtones, music videos, newspaper ads, etc. for weeks, one begins to feel like he's missed his daily oxygen if he doesn't partake in this particular movie.

In music, as we all know, the songs that get the most airplay seem to be the simplest, least controversial, and are played to the point that you begin liking it just because you hear it 15 times a day.

What's sad is there used to be a time where people could differentiate between good and bad -- regardless of how popular it was -- and now popular seems to equal "good," which is ironic, because it often equals bad.

lucy lediaev
4.18.07 @ 4:15p

Which I'm not. But I paid $5 to see the movie, a situation I could have avoided had I read some reviews beforehand, because surely I would said, "Nah. That sounds like crap."

Tracey, at least you didn't spend $8.50 to $10, as you would in a major coastal city to see THE HOAX. Your crap is cheaper than our crap!


mike julianelle
4.18.07 @ 4:46p

Tracey said:It's funny that you mention this, because after seeing "The Hoax" Monday, I thought, "Great. By seeing this, it's as if I'm interested in the true story of lying, cheating thieves."

Wait. I missed this.

Hollywood isn't making any kid of character judgment on you, Tracey, for the subject matter of The Hoax. Movies about lying, cheating thieves aren't exactly there own genre and the success (or not) of The Hoax is unlikely to inspire similar stories. What they may inspire is similar roles for Richard Gere. At the end of the day, Hollywood is just glad you paid, and if they had to choose a reason, they prolly think you are a Gere fan more than anything else.

Not sure where Erik stands on this, but I think that if the Geico cavemen movie turned out to be solid gold, quality stuff that would be fine with him. Yes, the whole "this is just an ad expanded to feature length" thing clearly bothers him, but 1) there's no getting around the increasing synergy of commercialism and entertainment, despite his cry at the end of the column, and 2) I don't think it's the subject matter that is the problem, it's the quality of the movie. Unless you count Oscar-bait like biopics or historical dramas or something as the only worthwhile films, we're gonna get tons of horrible movies about stupid things, and tons of horrible movies about worthwhile things, and great movies in both categories as well.

erik myers
4.19.07 @ 10:16a

That pretty much nails it.

erik myers
4.19.07 @ 10:16a

I should hire you to write for me, Mike.

mike julianelle
4.19.07 @ 10:28a

I'm available.

Seriously. Just pay me.

robert melos
4.19.07 @ 4:25p

I agree with Jason Reitman in that when I read novels I often feel inspired because if that crap can get published then my stuff is much better and deserves to be published. Crap serves a purpose, whether it's print, film, or music.

sandra thompson
4.23.07 @ 9:25a

Bigtime cliche # 1: There's no accounting for taste. I, for one, hate car chases and explosions and most violent stuff, but I LOVE Quentin Tarantino's work, and I loved all the Kill Bills because of the lovely revenge fantasies (do we not all have a certain amount of revenge in our alleged souls?). I love movies in general, and I've never gotten up and walked out of a film showing because I didn't like it or it offended me. I will watch til the finis because I've got to see how it ends no matter how bad a mistake I've made in being there in the first place. I try to vote with my dollars for good stuff but every now and then I mess up. I actually enjoyed "Thank you for smoking" which I got from good old Netflix.

Bigtime cliche # 2: Good things will drive out bad things. This one just doesn't seem to be working, and yet it's the basis for the first amendment. I've just started to love and empathasize with all my fellow humans no matter how bad their taste might be.

I don't watch American Idol or any of the reaity shows (being a liberal I'm not crazy about reality to start with --- hahaha to all my repuglican friends) but from the clips I've seen and his appearance on Regis and Kelly this morning, I really like Sanjiya (or whatever his name is). He's cute as a button and if he really sings off key then he's a role model for all us shower divas. I'm not sure I'd ever buy a product of his, but he's a kid and he's adorable and I hope he has a great success at something. There! That's my own paen to bad taste.

[edited]

[edited]

ken mohnkern
4.23.07 @ 10:43a

sandra thompson:...I've never gotten up and walked out of a film showing because I didn't like it or it offended me.

Me neither, but way back before KR and I were dating, when we used to go to a movie every Tuesday, I slept through Dirty Dancing.

robert melos
4.23.07 @ 11:15p

I've walked out of a couple films, but I never asked for my money back, so in effect I was still supporting the crappy films. The worst was Johnnie B. Goode. It did stop me from seeing more Anthony Michael Hall films for about a decade, so in a sense the bad film may have punished some good films. Although it was AMH, so I kind of doubt there were that many Oscar worthy performances.



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