Society as a Failed Experiment

Here’s a thought-provoking post from davidswanson.org

There’s little dispute among social scientists that most of our major public programs are counter-productive on their own terms. There is also little analysis of this phenomenon as a pattern in need of an explanation and a solution.

Prisons are supposedly intended to reduce crime, but instead increase it. Young people who when they commit crimes are arrested and punished become much more likely to commit crimes as adults than are those young people who when they commit crimes are just left alone.

Fixing public schools by requiring endless test-preparation and testing is ruining public schools. Kids are emerging with less education than before the fix. Parents are sending their kids to private schools or charter schools or homeschooling them or even pulling them out of school for a few months during the worst of the test-preparation binging. 

Free trade policies are supposed to enrich us. Trickle-down tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations are supposed to enrich us. We keep trying them and they keep impoverishing us.

War preparations are supposed to enrich us, but impoverish us instead. War is supposed to protect us, but generates enemies. Or war is supposed to benefit some far away place, but leaves it in ruins. Is more war the answer?

When a road gets crowded, we enlarge it or build another road. The traffic responds by enlarging to fill the new roads. So we cut funds for trains in order to build yet more roads.

We’re several times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist. So, we give police officers weapons of war to make us safe.

We’re making the earth’s climate unlivable by consuming fossil fuels. So we ramp up the consumption of fossil fuels.

Guns are supposed to protect us, but the more we spread the guns around the more we get killed intentionally and accidentally with guns.

What causes us to pursue counterproductive programs and policies? And why does it seem that the bigger the program is the more we pursue its counterproductive agenda? Well, let’s look at the above list again and ask who benefits.

We’ve made prisons into a for-profit industry and an economic rescue program for depressed rural areas. Enormous profits are being made from children who abandon public schools; from the point of view of those profiteers there’s every reason to fix schools in a manner that actually makes them horrible. Corporate trade pacts and tax exemptions for billionaires don’t impoverish everyone, just us non-billionaires. Some people get rich from road construction. Weapons companies don’t mind when one war leads to three more (especially if they’re arming all sides), or when police pick up used weaponry that can then be replaced. Oil and coal profiteers aren’t focused on the inhabitability of the earth. Gun manufacturers aren’t worried about how many people die so much as how many guns are sold.

What keeps us from seeing this as a pattern is the myth that we live in a democracy in which decisions are made by majority opinion. In reality, majority opinion is badly distorted by anti-democratic news media and largely ignored by anti-democratic officials. 

Major public pressure will be needed to change this situation, to strip corporations of power, ban bribery, provide free media and public financing of elections, and create a democratic communications system.

We should begin by dropping the pretense that we’re rationally testing policies and adjusting them as we go. No, the whole thing is broken. Experiments keep failing upward with no end in sight. Enough is enough. Let’s change direction.

David Fincher’s Gap ads

With some added guff here.

I think they’re a great example of how a top director can make a slight concept feel much more substantial and rewatchable.

They’re clothes ads with the basic concept that the person who wears the clothes looks good (seen that before a few times), but there’s a loose freshness to this angle that elevates the campaign.

Depressing anti-gun ad

But it was posted in December 2012.

So, evidently, the number of fucks given was roughly zero.

And how many more?

About 15,000 since then, including this guy.

Hashtag monumental fuckwittage, as the verbose kids might say.

 

Writing: a cruel but saucy mistress

Here is a bunch of great writing advice from George ‘Game Of Thrones’ R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb, who I just looked up on Wikipedia (she writes fantasy books. No, me neither).

Here are the parts that ring most true for me:

“The best writing advice I had was [in] ‘Heinlein’s Rules for Writers’ by (American science fiction author) Robert A. Heinlein. His first rule is that you must write, and I was already doing that, but his second rule is, ‘You must finish what you write,’ and that had a big impact on me.” – George R.R. Martin

Here’s an interesting truth: if you don’t finish it you might as well not have started it. Yes, there’s something to be said for the hours of writing practice you put in that will eventually benefit your ability, but if you want anyone else to read it, it must be finished to a standard that you would be happy to show. It’s like George Lois’s dismissal of having a drawer of great roughs: they’re meaningless until they are completed. The Question might then be: how do you know it’s finished? When I spoke to David Abbott about that he said (and I entirely agree) that no matter how ‘finished’ you think a draft is, you will always spot glaring errors or instances of crapness when you look at the same material one more time. So you just have to read it, be satisfied/happy/ecstatic enough to let someone else see it and that’s that. The version of Instinct that got me an agent is vastly different to the one that was published; if I were to read that early version now I would shudder with embarrassment and burn it for fear that someone might discover how badly I could write. And yet I thought that version was worth sending out – and it was. Go fig.

“When both my editors say ‘This is really bad, you need to change this,’ I ignore that at my peril.” – Robin Hobb

Yeah… When to give a shit about what other people say – that’s another toughie. Every piece of criticism comes loaded with what’s behind it. Who is saying it? A few harsh words will hurt more coming from a respected colleague/editor/ECD than your mouth-breathing cousin or some reviewer on Amazon who thinks his anus is somewhere between his wrist and his armpit. And how many people have said the same thing? As Robin suggests, consistent negative feedback deserves more attention than one-off barbs. And if you know the person and their taste they might well be grinding an axe about something they personally dislike rather than a universal issue. And then, at the bottom of all of that, it’s still up to you. I finished another novel a year ago and the response, although generally positive, has had enough negativity for me to sit up and notice. And yet… I really believe it’s actually fine and none of these comments are properly swaying me from my opinion that the whole thing works well. So I’m sitting between a rock and a hard place where the negativity is taking some of the wind out of my sails, but when it comes to attempting to address the concerns I don’t have the enthusiasm to change what I think it already good. It’s fun being a writer!

“I will sit there and say, don’t do that, don’t do that, you’re going to make this story three chapters longer, and of course he doesn’t listen.” – Robin Hobb on her main character, Fitz.

“It’s all very well to discuss some of these things in the outline, but when you sit down to write it, other plots occur to you, secondary characters come in, you think of an interesting subplot. Suddenly the stew is much richer, but it also takes more bowls to fill it up.” George R.R. Martin.

If you’ve written from the basis of a great character then you are, to a certain extent, at the mercy of what that character will do. I remember reading an interview about the early writing of Alan Partridge. One of the writers came up with a gag he thought would be funny, to which Patrick Marber responded with a terse ‘Alan wouldn’t do that’. We all know what Alan would or wouldn’t do, but the same goes for all your characters, and if it doesn’t you either don’t know them well enough or you haven’t written them well enough. And the same goes for what George says: you may have the A and Z of a story, but the other 24 letters will only reveal themselves as you explore: you cannot know the colour of every wall, the accent of every voice or the weather of every day when you start, but those changes will affect everything.

But in the end nothing comes closer to playing God than writing. So if that floats your monkey, go to it.

You know I love you even when you don’t try, I know that our love will never die. Hey darling when you look into my eye, please tell me you’ll never have to say the weekend

Epic kids’ spelling mistakes (thanks, J).

44 medieval beasts that cannot even handle it right now (thanks, T).

How records are made (thanks, B).

Guitar solo that mimics crying Japanese man (thanks, J):

1997  Rave party for kids (thanks, J):

If Gondry shagged Cunningham and the resulting offspring was an episode of Playschool (thanks, J):

Pipe guy is great at live techno (thanks, J):

Lessons from five award-winning screenwriters (thanks, J).

Pop songs as sonnets (thanks, B).

And excerpts from the 101 best screenplays of all time (thanks, J).

The last three things shot by Fellini were ads.

Scary playgrounds (thanks, J).

Great Bill Hader interview (includes his 200 favourite films).

Some great stuff behind the scenes of BJM:

Money donated vs deaths caused:

hyU8ohq

 

The Expendables?

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A creative department, yesterday.

Interesting article in the Harvard Business Review (thanks, J).

It says that the executives who do the most damage when they leave are the internally-facing ones, such as the heads of HR, Finance and Production. Those who are externally-facing, such as Account Directors and ECDs, are easier to replace without doing significant damage to the running of the agency.

This is because the former group knows the firm-specific structures that can keep an agency operating in an effective way. But does it also suggest that the days where an account would follow a CD or suit out of the door are long gone? With corporate takeovers and international realignments it must be harder for any one person to hold the key to an agency account these days and perhaps that, as much as anything else, has reduced the importance of the CD or account man.

I recall those days (all 500 or so of them) where JWT London ‘managed’ without an ECD. It seemed crazy at the time, but the truth was they kept on trucking (and presumably saved themselves several hundred grand in wages in the process). It used to be true that an agency could not exist without creative work, but anyone who’s worked in a big shop in the last ten years must have noticed that clients now spend plenty of cash on brand audits and the like, pushing planning up the totem pole to further reduce the importance of creativity to the bottom line. Many big clients also seem able to last a ridiculously long time without actually producing any actual ads.

When I was at university I did a month’s work experience at a now-defunct agency off Soho Square. At some point one of the most senior account directors explained to me that the creative department was the only one without which an agency could not function, and must therefore be serviced and protected for the good of the company.

Perhaps that’s no longer quite so true.

What makes a woman talk shite?

Here’s an ad that is such a colossal puddle of fucked-up nonsense that it made me stop in my tracks:

(That’s obviously the Japanese Chinese version. Here’s the English VO.)

What makes a woman beautiful? Happiness and energy.

Come on? Who among you guessed those two traits? Happiness, maybe, but energy? Energy is what makes a woman beautiful? They couldn’t think of an abstract noun that trumped energy? How drunk were they?

Happiness is the most attractive form of beauty; the one that comes from deep within.

But how does that then relate to Lancôme Rénegerie? I appreciate that it ‘visibly tightens all facial zones’, but will the happiness you get from that benefit really overcome the misery you feel inside when you realise you’ve just succumbed to the tissue-thin wankerama of a multinational cosmetics company?

This is what makes people remember you.

…said the Oscar-winning actress who starred in the second-biggest film of all time and married someone called Ned Rocknroll.

I know that taking the piss out of cosmetics ads is too much like shooting a whale in a teacup, but this one seems particularly odd/lazy/bollocksy.

Backing singers/starting an agency

Last week I watched the documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom:

It’s about all the great backing singers who supported the biggest acts of the last fifty years. Some were famous for taking on that role, while others were unknown despite being the real (but uncredited) singers on lots of big hits.

It was interesting for lots of reasons but for me the point that stood out concerned the balance between having a lot of talent and remaining in the background. There was a constant tussle for some of them about why they weren’t fronting the bands they were singing in. They were often better singers, but they had to stay at the back while someone with less ability got all the glory. Several tried to break out as a solo artist, but none seemed to make much of a success of it. (Obviously there’s more to being a star than just a good singing voice, and that’s what many of them discovered.)

That got me thinking about the mentality it takes to start your own agency. What mindset is required to give up the steady pay cheque and perhaps remortgage your home for a chance at running your own place?

When I was part of the team that started Lunar BBDO in 2005 we still had our salaries coming in from AMV, so the situation was never under the same risk as a real start up, but what I got was the invigoration and excitement of having the buck stop (to some degree) with me. Being somewhat in charge, deciding what accounts to take on, who to hire, what work to present etc. was really enjoyable, and if you haven’t experienced that I recommend moving things in that direction until you do.

But I never had the inclination to create a proper start up. I get the impression that those people are driven by something else, at the core of which must be the feeling that you can do it better that the rest. In many ways it’s the next logical step after proving yourself in some kind of high level position, but many people can simply keep going within their current agency or network. To feel like you need to step outside those strictures must take a different perspective entirely.

From the outside, the benefits appear to be: not having a boss; the possibility of making the kind of money you just can’t make as an employee; the chance to learn from a fascinating life experience; the opportunity to see if your suspicions about how the agency set up can be improved are correct; possible fame; freedom (of one kind); and a bigger sense of satisfaction in the successes that have been won with more risk and effort.

The downsides appear to be: lack of security; all-consuming hours (at the start, at least); and the ball-ache of running a company (regulations etc.).

So the good bits seem to outweigh the bad, but if that’s the case then why don’t more people do it? I suppose one significant stumbling block is having to find a bunch of people with whom you’d be happy to step off a cliff, and that’s not always easy.

Have you started an agency? Have I missed out the real reason you decided to go it alone? How has it worked out? Do you regret it? And if you haven’t done it, would you like to? What’s stopping you?

Hey Joe, I got the news tonight well, should I laugh or should I cry or should I stay and fight? It’s the weekend.

Bogie and Bacall show Edward R. Murrow round their home.

Russian wedding photos (thanks, J).

And some depressing home offices (thanks again, J).

Mesmeric stupidity (thanks, T).

Great site (thanks, T).

Outtakes from Abbey Road cover shoot (thanks, J).

Doc on the Despecialised Edition of Star Wars:

Scorsese’s 39 foreign language films to see before you die:

That looks like a dick (thanks, D).

25th anniversary of Do The Right Thing (thanks, A):

Charles and Ray Eames debut their lounge chair:

Hey Now Hank Kingsley’s Larry Sanders stories.

How music formats changed over the last 30 years (thanks, M).

Some very good writing in this very funny Botham pisstake (thanks, M).

Ten films that can teach you everything you need to know about cinematography.

Magician ‘sells’ cop weed (although I think this is set up; thanks, J):

Herzog on creativity

Here’s an excellent article on Werner Herzog and his approach to creativity.

Some highlights:

The bad films have taught me most about filmmaking. Seek out the negative definition. Sit in front of a film and ask yourself, “Given the chance, is this how I would do it?” It’s a never-ending educational experience, a way of discovering in which direction you need to take your own work and ideas.

I find that quite interesting because I often wonder about the effect ‘good’ or ‘bad’ influences can have on your work. Should you only experience excellence so that the best ingredients are going into your cake, or, as Werner suggests, is there something beneficial about watching crap because it helps you work out what mistakes to avoid? In addition, the very best work can leave one intimidated and disheartened, while watching/reading rubbish can make you think ‘I can do better than that’ or ‘If shit like that can get made I should really finish my book as it’s much better’.

Prepare yourself: there is never a day without a sucker punch. At the same time, be pragmatic and learn how to develop an understanding of when to abandon an idea. Follow your dreams no matter what, but reconsider if they can’t be realized in certain situations. A project can become a cul-de-sac and your life might slip through your fingers in pursuit of something that can never be realized. Know when to walk away.

To what extent should you follow your dreams? At what point does a compromise become the straw that breaks the camel’s back, where your ‘dream’ has become something else? So if you want a number one single is it OK that it happens by dressing up as a cabbage and singing the Tweenies theme song? Is a number two single OK? What if your dream changes along the way? Is that compromise or a realistic reappraisal of the situation?

What makes me rich is that I am welcomed almost everywhere. I can show up with my films and am offered hospitality, something you could never achieve with money alone… For years I have struggled harder than you can imagine for true liberty, and today am privileged in the way the boss of a huge corporation never will be.

So what is the definition of success? I look at the recent example of Jose Mourinho calling Arsene Wenger a ‘specialist in failure’: by one definition Mourinho is right because he defines success as the winning of trophies. But someone else might say that the building of an entire club and culture, moving into a massive new stadium in financial health and playing attractive football might be another definition of success. Equally, one might say that joining a rich excellent club and spending many millions making it even better, then winning tournaments against much poorer clubs would not come under many people’s definitions of success; whereas taking a poor, unfancied club to a trophy against a very rich one (Wigan v Man City in last year’s FA Cup, for example) might be a proper definition of success. Set your own goalposts.

The problem isn’t coming up with ideas, it is how to contain the invasion. My ideas are like uninvited guests. They don’t knock on the door; they climb in through the windows like burglars who show up in the middle of the night and make a racket in the kitchen as they raid the fridge. I don’t sit and ponder which one I should deal with first. The one to be wrestled to the floor before all others is the one coming at me with the most vehemence. I have, over the years, developed methods to deal with the invaders as quickly and efficiently as possible, though the burglars never stop coming. You invite a handful of friends for dinner, but the door bursts open and a hundred people are pushing in. You might manage to get rid of them, but from around the corner another fifty appear almost immediately… Finishing a film is like having a great weight lifted from my shoulders. It’s relief, not necessarily happiness. But you relish dealing with these “burglars.” I am glad to be rid of them after making a film or writing a book. The ideas are uninvited guests, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t welcome.

The first point, about the onslaught of ideas, is a great one. Someone once said to me, ‘A lot of trains come into the station. You don’t have to get on all of them’. But how do you decide which ones are worthy of your attention? And what happens if you get it wrong? I love Werner’s analogy of wrestling them all to the ground so they become manageable, but that can be a different and difficult process every time. The other point, that the end of this process is a relief rather than a cause for celebration, was echoed by Alphoso Cuaron when I asked him what it was like to finish making Gravity. To me this backs up the idea that it’s not the end of the rainbow that’s the cause for happiness, it’s the beginning. Then again, anything can be a cause for happiness if you choose to look at it in the right way.

When I write, I sit in front of the computer and pound the keys. I start at the beginning and write fast, leaving out anything that isn’t necessary, aiming at all times for the hard core of the narrative. I can’t write without that urgency. Something is wrong if it takes more than five days to finish a screenplay. A story created this way will always be full of life.

That reminds me of a quote I heard about writing: if your first draft isn’t shit you’re not writing fast enough.

It would never occur to me… I work steadily and methodically, with great focus. There is never anything frantic about how I do my job; I’m no workaholic. A holiday is a necessity for someone whose work is an unchanged daily routine, but for me everything is constantly fresh and always new. I love what I do, and my life feels like one long vacation.

Confucius: ‘Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’.