Saturday, 10 October 2009

National dilemma

Tonight England play the Ukraine and New Zealand play Bahrain. Both games are televised live on SKY in the middle of the night, our time (unlike in England itself, where the game is not going to be shown on television at all). They are on at the same time. The New Zealand one is repeated later on a different channel.

The match between the Oceania champions and the Arabic island nation that finished fifth in Asian World Cup qualifying is the first leg of a home and away playoff – the return leg is Westpac Stadium in Wellington on November 14 – with the winner progressing to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

England have eight wins from eight matches and they will top the group no matter what the result of their match. New Zealand need to win against Bahrain to go through to the World Cup. It will be the first time they have reached this stage since 1982. It’s a pretty big deal.

We watch our television through the SKY network which gives us a much clearer picture. We have a hard drive which can cope with recording eleventy billion hours of TV (I’m good with this technical stuff as you can tell). We bought it for the 2006 World Cup.

I’m spending tonight at a (SKY-less) friend’s house. Although I can set the recorder for one of the games, I can’t change channel so I won’t be able to record both of them. So the question is which do I record? Who do I want to watch more? Do I want to see my heroes – Gerrard; Crouch; Terry; Lampard; etc. – or do I want to see New Zealand try and make their sporting history with the likes of Ryan Nelson and Shane Smeltz, not to mention half of the Wellington Phoenix team for whom I have a sort of mocking affection?

Alistair Cooke once remarked the dichotomy about dual nationality was that “on a good day that you belong to two countries, and on a bad that you don't belong anywhere at all”. For me it boils down more to which football match to watch. Note I didn’t say which football team to support – there is no question there.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Racism and sexism top Kiwi ads

Last weekend, I watched the Fair Go awards for the best advert. I don’t know why I bother because it always depresses me. Actually, I do know why; it’s because I’m interested in marketing and advertising which frequently combines some of the best wit and humour a country has to offer. If this is the best New Zealand can offer, then it’s a pretty sad place.

Mitre 10 is a DIY store. Clearly it attempts to appeal to the LCD (Lowest Common Denominator) and does so successfully. This advert features precocious children, an attitude that spending time with your family or some alternative pursuit to manly prowess is somehow suspect, and a barely concealed racism. Welcome to New Zealand. The tourism board must be so proud. I’m only surprised it didn’t include sexism.

Not to worry – there are plenty of popular adverts that do.

These ads are obviously designed by blokes who don’t care whether women buy their products – the answer is no, we won’t, unless we’re still trying to be 16 and fancied by sleazy older blokes fiddling in their pockets. Sex sells, right? Yes, to men. They may remember the bouncing boobs, but not what was on sale – most of them are probably rushing out to buy spacehoppers. But this stuff is aimed at teenage boys. I am not their market.

This one, however, annoys me for a variety of reasons.

And I am not alone. There were complaints. They largely centred around the copycat behaviour in which parents worried that their darling little toddlers would scratch the paintwork on their Khandallah tractors while stealing the keys or worse, actually attempt to drive the killing machine.

I hate to see children advertising adult products. Not all of us think ‘littlies are gawjus’ – that’s a direct quote from the type of person who does. Nauseating isn’t it? I understand they have to be on television to sell nappies and baby shampoo and mushy food, but when it’s adult time and they’ve gone to bed (hopefully around 6 o’clock) can we be free of them please? Why would a child make me want to buy a car? Or a drill? Best not to answer that.

But above all that, it’s simply sexist. So he is driving the car. He picks her up because he thinks she’s cute – if it were an ugly kid he wouldn’t stop – plus she’s in her underwear, which is clearly a bonus for him. He takes her to the coast (which is admittedly where her sign suggested she wanted to be taken) and then she sits in the back of the truck like a diminutive towel rack while he gets to surf in the waves. As a reward for her adoration of his jock-like prowess, he puts his arm around her.

Final line – ‘the next generation is here.’ More like, ‘the next generation has gone back to the 1950s – the feminist movement might never have existed’. Okay, so it’s just an advert and I’m taking it too seriously and blah, blah, blah – but this is plainly sexualising and stereotyping infants. And the crime statistics for paedophilia are rising and everyone’s horrified. A coincidence? I think not.

Monday, 5 October 2009

My newest favourite thing: sarcasm font

I really dislike emoticons – you know; those smiling, winking, laughing little faces originally constructed out of bits of punctuation. Never mind that the people using them probably had no idea of their original purpose (the semi-colon; which one’s that? Oh, you mean the winking eyes!); never mind that if you actually had something to say you wouldn’t require them; never mind that if you happen to type two pieces of punctuation next to each other on your keyboard, a little random image pops up; never mind that the people who use smiley faces never actually smile in real life; never mind that I don’t actually get what half of them are meant to represent!

Okay, so this is a favourite thing post and all I have done so far is whinge. In fact the thing that I really like is not actually here yet. However, others, like me, have recognized the need for a sarcasm font – which I think is an excellent concept. It has been noted (particularly by my American friends) that I can occasionally be somewhat sarcastic. They have obviously not met a school friend of mine, a master of the device. When a teacher was once annoyed with her constant sarcasm and asked her to stop it, she raised one eyebrow and calmly replied, “I’m not being sarcastic; I’m being facetious”. My, how we laughed.

People who don’t understand this form of humour often fall back on the Oscar Wilde quote about it being the lowest form of wit. They don’t follow through with the full sentence that it is also the highest form of intelligence. Besides, as an old article by Steve Tomkins pointed out, surely the lowest form of wit is flatulence, not sarcasm.

But a lot of what makes sarcasm work is the tone, and obviously in written communication there are no verbal clues. It can be hard to tell whether the author is sincere or sarcastic. Sticking ‘Yeah right’ at the end of everything simply negates any good work you might have done and makes you sound like a walking billboard for dire unimaginative lager. If you have to explain that it was sarcasm, it hasn't actually worked.

This can cause problems with emails and text speak (half of the time that’s simply indecipherable anyway because not only has the sender omitted verbal clues, but vowels and extraneous consonants as well, leaving you with a jumble of numbers and symbols with the odd letter thrown in to reassure you that it’s not algebra).

Hence a call for the sarcasm font, which would solve all these problems. I’m all for it and would get it permanently installed on my computer. The search for the font has its own Facebook page – we all know how I feel about anti-social networking, so let’s just focus on the Sarcastic Font Movement. They have their own website and their own manifesto, and you can join and spread the word. Most wonderful. You see, that was sincere.