Sunday, April 26, 2015

Texas Book Expository

I’m asked to do book reviews sometimes; I get these notices in my role as a freelance writer. Mostly I don’t do them, but one intrigued me. It was pitched to me as a new political thriller -- “to be a bestseller.” How’s that for confidence?
I’ve mislaid the title, but the plot sets Texas against the rest of us again, this time as the Lone Star State attempts to become even more lone by seceding from the union. In the ensuing conflict, the scariest part for the author is not the constitutional crisis, but comes when the federal government suspends the Second Amendment, threatening Texans’ right to shoot people. Right there you have the book’s viewpoint.
Of course I’m just a name on a list of writers, so the people who send these things don’t know my political leanings one way or the other. I haven’t read it, but this is what a review of a “Texas secedes” book oughta be.
“In _title_, popular opinion in Texas finally boils over and the legislature votes to secede from the union. For reasons not apparent to the rest of the country, the federal government tries to prevent this. In the ensuing conflict, the hero  becomes involved in the political cross-currents generated when the state’s National Guard commander, the devastatingly beautiful heroine, orders the occupation of the state capitol. To the horror  of everyone in the state, the federal government suspends the   Second Amendment, and shooting people threatens to become difficult and sometimes even illegal. It’s a deeply frustrating time; the state has already voted to secede and no one can think of another symbolic act to demonstrate the people’s displeasure. The legislature finally settles on closing the borders and ports to all traffic, and the population, trapped, inbreeds, and an interesting new generation of Texans arises.”
Alright, I made up the part about the National Guard commander.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


For the first time, I’ve seen on line the faces of some people whose voices I’ve been listening to for years. They’re radio announcers -- “DJs” on the local classical music station.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s amusing how different the mental picture I’ve formed can be from reality. 

One man I pictured mentally as an academic with a softly rounded face, it turns out, wears a beard and looks like one of those early National Geographic explorers. My impression of another as a somewhat older, business-suited gentleman is reasonably close physically but misses the part about being a scuba instructor and skydiver. I had previously seen a picture of another one and so might be able to pick him out of a crowd, but even there the hair was grayer and the beard thinner than the impression I retained in my mind.

It's made me wonder how that works in reverse. My writing is my voice, and so my identity. To the consternation of the site owners, I don’t publish a picture on my LinkedIn profile page. (Some people think, or profess to think, you may not be a real person if you don’t post a photo. I’m not sure what they suspect: multinational corporation? alien?)

I’ve tried to put some words in the spot where a photo usually appears, to explain why  there's no picture, but I haven’t managed to do it. If I could, there would be a box with the words, “I don’t think my mug shot will win me any business.” 

I might offer that idea, unsolicited, to some other people as well. Look at real estate agents. Even the most untrustworthy-looking puts his or her face in the ad, rather than showing the houses being offered. And you have to suspect that some of those pictures go back to high school yearbooks. How many would do it if, like me, they had only a current picture to show?

In any case, visitors to my profile page (there have been 11 in the three years) will still have to conjecture, if physiognomy is important to them. Those less interested in externals and more occupied with personality traits can have a field day with questions of their own.     

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Twitter, Again

Against all my instincts, I’ve joined Twitter. In my defense let me say I only did it because I was forced into it. I was applying for work with a copywriting firm whose application form demanded a Twitter address. I had none, and the dam’ form wasn’t going anywhere without one, no matter how hard I hit the “Submit” button.

It’s still a total mystery to me, and I think I’ll keep it that way. At least I’ll try. I found on opening my new “timeline” that I already was “following” six people or things including a restaurant in Philadelphia (I live in Southern California) and had seven “followers,” one of whom I actually knew and knew wouldn’t be interested in following me on Twitter.

It's like having your mother-in-law decide who your friends are going to be.

As for the idea behind the whole thing:  I gave my critique in a post on this blog on August 24 last year. My point was, and is, if it’s supposed to be communication, why limit yourself so tightly? I’m for brevity, and sure, it needs to be enforced on some people, but is that reason for all of us to abandon everything in our vocabulary over one syllable? Some ideas deserve better. Or are such ideas not expected to make it to Twitter?

I admit I was writing in that earlier post without ever having read any “tweets.” Bad journalism. Well, since actually reading some, I’ve had an epiphany: I knew I’d seen something similar -- that cadence was familiar --  but I couldn’t remember where. Then the light went on: fortune cookies. I’ve seen Twitter compared to haiku, but it’s more fortune cookie. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The New Marketing - 3

Marketing techniques are changing rapidly. According to the Thought Leaders in the field, it’s no longer sufficient to read a story; the audience should now be “immersed” in it. We’re told that individuals now want to be part of  the story.

One possible reaction to this would be the old admonition, “Get a life.” You’ll never be more immersed in anything than the reality you’re living. You can try to change that -- there are chemical compounds that can give you the illusion for some period of time -- but even that’s happening within the larger framework of real life, and unless you’re careless you’ll wake up in it sooner or later.

Immersing oneself in someone else’s experience seems like a an odd proposition, even a scary one, although certain professions might make good use of the technique: guidance counselors and psychics come to mind. But what is the process supposed to be like? Do you retain your own opinions and moral code, or are you expected to take on the views offered in the story?

Reading something, you can retain your power of skepticism. (Ever had the experience of laughing out loud at a bit of writing patently slanted toward someone’s agenda?) At least you’re in your own world, surrounded by familiar things. But immersed in the story, you give that up. Do you now take on the sponsor’s views? This isn’t the old “willing suspension of disbelief.” That would end when you walked out of the movie theater. Marketers today want to get at you at a deeper level. Think Mein Kampf, an early success in which a lot of people immersed themselves, with remarkable results.

Somewhere back in the 1950s or 60s there was a flurry of excitement in the marketing world about “subliminal advertising.” Companies were supposedly going to be able to influence consumers by flashing messages to them as  they looked at movie and television screens. The message to get up and buy the product would  appear and disappear too quickly to register consciously, but would lodge in the brain, presumably in the part that controls buying, anesthetizing the caveatus emptoris nerve. The marketing industry was immersed in that for a while, but it, too, turned out to be a fraud.