Posted by: Yorgos | June 18, 2008

Text 21 – Advertising in the Tube

I was in London recently and I found really useful to use the underground, otherwise known as the Tube (I love the fact that by using the word “tube” one can also mean the TV). What really caught my eye is the way the advertisments are made in order to fit into the “tube experience”. I was told, while I was in the university, that the text does not matter all that much (even though, it still has to be as good as possible), since it is the image that catches the eye and all that is needed to be shown in the brand name, so it can imprint itself in the consumer’s brain (this is not exactly advertising in a nutshell and I am sure I am saying lots of things wrong, but you get the meaning).

However, there is a whole other advertising tactic in the tube. The advertisers know that those who look at the posters will be looking at them for quite some time, either while waiting for the train either inside the train itseld. That is why they have made the posters rich in text, still keeping the focus on key words, but obliging in a way the commuter/consumer to keep his or her eyes on the poster for as long as possible.

In the end, the text still doesn’t matter. What does matter is for your eyes to stay on the poster and close to the brand name as long as possible. This is an amazing advertising tactic and if it was not so bluntly manipulative, I would congratulate those who started the trend.

Anyway, the goals of advertising are known and they do not differ a lot to propaganda. This is just another tactic; not the problem.

In the next posts, I hope to write more about my London and Munich experience from my recent trip, always staying within the boundaries of media, books and (occasionally) art.

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Posted by: Yorgos | June 2, 2008

Text 20 – A Little Note about News

I was watching the news today on the most popular channel in Greece and one of the stories was how they had the best ratings, how they kept people informed better than their rivals, how their work had quality, how they cared about us, bringing us all the news as it should be.

I don’t believe that this is possible, but I can accept that they have the good will or the naivety to do all this stuff. However, the next story was about the wife of the owner of that channel and how important her philanthropic work is. I have no reason to doubt that her work is important, but I am sure that there are others out there with more important things to show for.

Hypocrisy, right in our face. It made me angry. I thought I should share.

Posted by: Yorgos | May 22, 2008

Text 19 – The Monster with the University Degree

I just finished reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Firstly, I would like to address a common misconception. Frankenstein is not how the monster is named, in fact it is never given a name. Frankenstein is the name of the young talented scientist who gives it life. Oh, and in this book, at least, there is no bride of Frankenstein (although the monster asks for one to be made), nor does the scientist screams “It’s alive, it’s alive”, when it wakes up. He doesn’t even know that it is alive, until he sees it standing over his bed. This image is actually the inspiration of the novel, according to Mary Shelley’s introduction.

In any case, I really enjoyed this book, even if most people find it boring nowadays. It starts slow, but the second half of the book is a quite compelling description of the pain and agony of playing God, when you can’t handle it (and you never can) and of evil that is born by injustice.

I would like to make two comments on this book. The first one has to do with the first paragraph of this text. It is very interesting, at least to me, how the myth of Frankenstein is completely separated by its origins. So many things that we take for granted, simply do not exist in the book. I will not say if this is good or bad. Myths have a tendency of acquiring a life of their own; According to Borges, Aladdin’s tale is not in the book of a Thousand and One Nights (also known as Arabian Nights), but it was added by an early translator. On the other hand, this particular myth seems to have been taken over by Hollywood and that has nothing to do with having a life of its own. I have addressed this issue in some of my other posts, especially the one about Fairy Tales.

The second comment is an observation about the language of the novel. The monster speaks as if he has a university degree in English or as if he is an accomplished author and yet he admits at times his ignorance on the meaning of certain words. Thank to the wonderful concept of “suspension of disbelief”, I have no issues with that choice of Mary Shelley. In fact, I quite enjoyed it, because it shows that in this novel and most probably in the majority of the novels of the era, beautiful language is of prime importance and it will not be abandoned for the sake of realism. I don’t know who was the first one, but I do know that Dickens is the most important author of that era who made his characters speak in accordance with their background. But Dickens is a whole other story and the words of his crooks and factory workers are brilliant in their own mistakes.

I wouldn’t recommend Frankenstein to those who are looking for the typical Hollywood myth. But it is a good read nonetheless.

Posted by: Yorgos | May 14, 2008

Text 18 – Selective Elitism

Most major bookstores in Athens (and here I talk about exclusively -kind of- bookstores) have a really small sections where they sell a couple dozens of music CDs. If one were to examine this small stock of music, he or she would see that it is made up of only two genres: Classical and Jazz.

I could pretend to wonder why is that, only to reach, in the end, to the conclusion that since these bookstores are visited by educated people and intelligent people, if they are to sell music, then this music must be what they prefer.

The thing is, though, that I have a big problem with that choice. What does it mean that they sell music only for the educated people? And what does it mean that they automatically assume that the educated people would only listen to classical and jazz? Furthermore, how come this elitism is selective and doesn’t spread to the actual commodity that this store is providing: books? Why do they sell all those Cosmopolitan types of books or books about true crimes or books which promote racism and xenophobia. These books sell a lot and since I want to believe myself an enthusiast of free speech (while, on the other hand, political correctness is not quite my thing), they should exist in the bookstores as long as their author wants them there. But why do these stores welcome Barbies and skinheads as their costumers, but automatically assume that if someone is to be buying music from them, it is going to be the ones who read the classics and the postmodernists and I don’t know what else. And why on earth should these people limit themselves to listening to these two types of music? I listen to classical but I have barely touched jazz. And I am sure I can find songs that I like and that a Barbie and a skinhead can also enjoy (by the way, there is no comparison or analogy between a Barbie and a skinhead; I just happened to pick these two categories as examples).

If I ask one of the managers in a bookstore like that, the answer I will get is probably that this choice is market driven. Which means that it is more possible that a so-called educated person to buy music from there, since this kind of person does not visit the record stores often; while other people will indeed go to the nearby record store to buy the latest pop or thrash metal CD. What the answer will not include is the reason behind this categorization of people and the categorization of tastes; and as we all should learn (I know I am still learning), giving labels to people can lead to dangerous conclusions.

My first reaction to seeing the kind of music being sold in the bookstores was absolutely positive. “Great! They only sell good music and not the crap that is being listened to right now”. And then I thought they sell books that are the crap that is being read right now. But of course, apart from some very basic elements, good music and good books are entirely subjective. And what I feel is stupid, might be brilliant for someone else.

The sad thing is that I kind of believe that educated people are indeed closer to listening to classical and jazz than other genres. But that should not make a difference…

Posted by: Yorgos | May 4, 2008

Text 17 – Audiosurf

I downloaded (legally…I paid for it…) recently a very interesting program/game called Audiosurf. What it does is analyze the music that you feed to it (basically any song in your mp3 collection), and turn it to a sci-fi race track, where every parameter is defined by that particular music: intensity, rhythm, speed, beat, everything plays a role in how the track will be formed. I don’t think I can explain it well enough, so anyone who is curious about it, should look it up on youtube or metacafe or any other video site.

I have spent hours and hours playing this game and all of them were enormously fun. Trying to keep up with the intensity of Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand is a demanding task which needs very good reflexes. There are, however, some observations I would like to make. Even though I love playing it, my biggest objection towards it is the way it makes us experience music. First of all, it turns it into a visual experience (there are colors flying everywhere), while music is the art which has the remotest relation to vision than any other art. Even cooking has more to do with the visual outcome than music. This is, of course, the wrong way to listen to music; this change of focus can take away a lot of what makes music an enjoyment.

On the other hand, this visualization can show you a lot of things about the songs you like. Classical music, for example, plays poorly on this program which was apparently designed for rock and electronic music; until we use the pieces of the greatest composers: Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky. The richness of their music surpasses even the design incompatibilities and produces a track of unparalleled variety. Yet again: is this the right way to listen to music and, even more, to classical music? Just as it happens with the mp3 player with which we can carry our favorite songs anywhere and listen to them under any circumstances, using good music (be it classical or jazz or rock) in that program is to trivialize it, to make it another form of entertainment.

I will continue to play, though (as I will continue to carry an mp3 player wherever I go). It’s just so much fun. I am trapped in that world of mass media and I take part in the fact that we are “amusing ourselves to death”. I am smoking the entertainment industry…

Posted by: Yorgos | April 20, 2008

Text 16 – An Internet Story

This is a simple story that could only happen online and touches several of the themes of this blog.

I like to play video games; a lot. Maybe this is the one thing that can keep me away from the things I have to or want to do. Among the games I play is one called Team Fortress 2, which is basically a “3D environment-online play-kill that other guy” kind of game. It is brilliant and funny, but, as tends to happen with most of my posts, this is not what I want to talk about.

Since it is an online game, you can meet a lot of interesting people (more on meeting people online at some later post…maybe), but you never really get to find out anything about them, apart from their mysteriously chosen nickname and how good players they are (and if they like to complain a lot). With one of those guys, I started chatting maybe for no particular reason, other than the liking of the other’s comments. He turned out to have a really interesting background. Born in Bosnia, the war drove him away. He tried to get to Turkey, but us Greeks didn’t let him pass, which was not very polite of us, but it turned out that it did him good. He ended up in Sweden, where he studied Art and now he is an artist. Here is one of his paintings.

gasmaska

This picture gives an even more interesting story. The girl is his pregnant (to a now almost a year old little boy) partner, wearing a gas mask because she didn’t want to breathe all the chemicals a painter uses. She’s an artist as well. She is actually the artist behind the painting you can see on the top part of the picture.

There is something very appealing to me in the way I found out about her paintings. This whole chain of media involved, the unfathomable amount of people that had to work in order for her painting to reach my computer screen, the vast number of metaphors (the word here used both as the tropos and with its other meaning in Greek: transportation, here used metaphorically – if that makes any sense).

Right now I am wondering if there is any difference in the way I perceive my friend’s painting and his partner’s. Since he painted a painting, he remained in the same field, mediating the picture through his own eyes, of course, but we are still talking about a painting. It is a translation, in a way, which may not be the original, but is accepted as a legitimate way to enjoy a work of art.

The problems start when that picture was digitized, was sent through emails and became the trivial sequence of ones and zeros that permits it to appear on a computer monitor. The girl’s picture becomes a picture within a simulacrum, itself a simulacrum in the nth degree. The experience of my friends picture is already crippled by its digitization, let along the one inside it.

And you, reader, you only look at the thumbnail of a picture. At least I have a bigger file in my hard drive, which still cannot reach the size of the original. Even if it did, it wouldn’t fit in my monitor and my experience would even be more fragmented.

What remains of the original (of both paintings)? My answer is nothing. And the loss must be immediate, not gradual. As soon as the painting leaves its form and place, it is already completely gone. Even a painting in a gallery is not the same painting anymore.

Too many thoughts on my mind. Let’s leave the subject along for now.

Posted by: Yorgos | April 5, 2008

Text 15 – Listening to The Wall On the Road

Today I listened to the whole Pink Floyd’s album The Wall for the first time. Of course I knew a lot of the songs, but I had never really listened to the whole thing. I think it is a brilliant piece of music, and it was a mistake of mine that I hadn’t listened to it before. To be fully appreciated it has to be listened to from the beginning to end, non-stop. It is, after all, like reading a book.

I am not qualified, though, to speak about music in-depth. I am only a listener. But there is something that I find really interesting about this album and it is also (however remotely) relevant to the contents of this blog. I was listening to this album while walking somewhere (yes, pretty much the whole thing, with a few breaks – I walked a lot today), I had it in my phone and instead of listening to cars and horns and construction equipment, I was listening to Pink Floyd.

What I found interesting is the way the sounds of the environment blend, sometimes perfectly, with the music in the album. Pink Floyd are using a lot of sounds in this album that have nothing to do with the instruments (phones, baby cries, helicopters etc. etc.). That is why it was not strange at all when the cars and the yells just incorporated into the music. At some point I passed outside a store, where the radio was playing. For a minute I thought that Pink Floyd had used some greek radio sounds into their music and it took me a while to get over my puzzlement and realize what had actually happened. The Wall, as music, seems to be a perfect companion for when you are walking somewhere, just because the external sounds can actually fit together with the music.

Which brings me to a question. What is our experience of music now that it is so portable? One can listen to anything he wants to, just by carrying a mobile phone. Music has become an everyday occurrence, when it used to be something special, maybe even linked directly to moments of extreme sentiments (either of joy or misery and so on). By changing the nature of music, can it mean that we are trivializing it? I really don’t think so. I actually think that we are kind of lucky not only that we can listen to our favorite music on and on, but that we can carry it with us everywhere. Of course this brings us back to the question of man being an island (and music can promote isolation today, unlike at different eras), but it is really not the most serious problem in that department. Besides we can benefit from the repeated listening. Does someone really think that he can understand the full spectrum of Beethoven’s imagination by listening to a symphony once or twice? He comes closer to that by repetition (Umberto Eco has said something similar). Besides, modern music seems to be able to adjust to our noisy surroundings, as The Wall showed me.

Maybe music is better off (and so are we) as a small every day joy, than as a rare circumstance. In any case, though, it can always take the form of a special occasion (going to a concert for example). I find this topic about the role of music in our entertainment today very interesting. I might come back to it.

Posted by: Yorgos | April 3, 2008

Text 14 – A Literary Patricide (addendum)

Did I mention that the picture above is a 3D artist’s idea of what the Library of Babel might look like?

Oh, the implications…

Posted by: Yorgos | April 2, 2008

Text 13 – Superstition

Since I find it fun to be a little superstitious (it can make boring days interesting), the thirteenth text will be just that; a meaningless sentence (That and I double posted the previous text and somehow I can’t find the delete button).

Posted by: Yorgos | April 2, 2008

Text 12 – A Literary Patricide

Harold Bloom in The Anxiety of Influence claims that every poet struggles with his literary predecessor to the death, in order to escape his influence and acquire his own creative voice.

Can the same be said about the relationship between readers and their favorite authors? I know that parallels cannot be drawn, but readers tend to be haunted by this one (or few) writer, who changed the way they see books, introduced them to a new world. Do these readers, though, ever feel the need to escape that major influence, so they can really open up, unrestricted by a genius they cannot match, to the magical realm of literature?

I assume that every reader is different, so I guess that some have indeed felt this way and others have not. I can only talk about my own personal experience.

The writer that haunts me, the ghost of my literary house, is Jorge Luis Borges.

 

I have read almost everything available to me by him (except for his poetry, of which I’ve read fragments), I’ve written two dissertations and a number of essays on him, I can quote him, refer to him, link him to events (relevant or irrelevant to him), I’ve written short stories after his style and sent them to competitions; he is the author who has made the most distinguishable mark in my life as a reader. And yet, how many times have I felt the need to repudiate him, even to hate him. My love for books is partly his doing, but he has defined my way of reading in such a degree that I feel imprisoned. At some point, everything I was reading had to be related to Borges, I had to figure out whether he’d like it or not. He was, indeed, haunting me.

Now I can say that I have partly escaped his influence, since I have not read him for over two years. And yet I still find myself quoting him all the time, making connections that he would make. I have not completed my literary patricide and I don’t think I ever will. This post here takes the role of an exorcism, but, as we all know, an exorcism can have no effect, if one knows that it is done for psychological reasons. Then maybe it takes the place of therapy (that’s what a personal blog can sometimes be; but we’ll not get in that issue right now).

Even if he is my ghost or my Laius, Borges remains a literary genius and one of my favorite writers.

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