The Final Push: Advertising Puns Don’t Please Me

Motherhood Maternity

I appreciate a good pun. For example, here’s one of my favorites, “Speed kills! Don’t meth around!” Although even there I have to admit that when talking about something like methamphetamine, maybe a clever pun isn’t the most effective approach. But I think that’s especially true when it comes to advertising puns generally. Sometimes it works. FCUK is a pun because it works in that Ann Coulter way — it allows juveniles to titter while claiming that squares are the ones with a dirty mind. This goes along with its relatively hip image and I think it works well.[1]

But mostly when I see an advertising pun, it makes me sad. I have a high opinion of people who work in advertising. They are smart, often funny people. And I think it is beneath them. It reminds me of an episode of This American Life, Tough Room. There was a story about the weekly pitch session at The Onion. The show was in 2008 and a lot of the jokes were thrown out because they were “so 2007.” In other words, the staff at The Onion was always pushing forward. Even if something was clever, it didn’t work if it was stale. (And note: The Onion continues to be as good as it ever was — probably because of this commitment.)

On Sunday, I was walking through the local mall. I had just been at Whole Foods, which I hate to shop at, but I was looking for (and found) one of the few remaining six-packs of Lagunitas Brown Shugga’.[2] As I made my way out, I saw that one oddly placed shop, which has gone through many businesses, was now Motherhood Maternity. I thought it was good because it is a location that people kind of have to search out, and I suspect that pregnant women will do just that. But as I walked past, I saw this:

The Final Push

Really?! The final push? You know, I probably wouldn’t mind so much, but I have a feeling that whomever it was that came up with this was giggling at the time. I get it. It’s silly. It’s even a bit fun. And given that it is an end of the year sale, the sign won’t be up for long. But why is it necessary? Certainly, no reasonable person would think such an ad would be a good idea for a clearance sale for condoms. (Note: “Final Push” is the current banner at their website.)

Maybe it’s just that I’m a guy. I have long said that if men had to give birth, homo sapiens would have gone extinct long ago. And I truly believe that. Despite all the violence and braying of men, it’s women who are built of tougher stuff. But when I see a sign like “The Final Push,” I imagine great pain. If the rotting teeth and destroyed kidneys of meth addiction make puns about it a little questionable, so does the extreme sacrifice that women give to the preservation of our species.

But there is something more. Puns like “The Final Push” just seem lazy. I can think of my own, “You won’t need an epidural when you see our prices!” Or, “Squeeze every penny out of your maternity-wear budget!” Or, “You might have been screwed before, but you won’t be at Motherhood Maternity!” They’re all awful. Maybe advertising companies could take a clue from The Onion: these ads are so some time that isn’t now.

[1] According to the company, the acronym was not meant to be coarse. It was first used in fax transmissions between its UK and Hong Kong operations: FCUK to FCHK. But obviously, someone finally figured out that it might appeal to a certain clothing customer demographic.

[2] Exciting news! Arrogant Bastard is now available in 12-ounce six-packs. It’s expensive though: $17. I would have bought it but soon I won’t be able to get Brown Shugga’, so I passed. But next time. Yes, my lifestyle is getting expensive, but Arrogant Bastard is the best beer I’ve ever tasted. Don’t hate me because I have good taste.

Nimr al-Nimr and How Ridiculous It Is We’re With Saudi Arabia Against Iran

Nimr al-NimrI wasn’t surprised to learn that Ben Carson was justifying the recent political execution of Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others in Saudi Arabia. According to him, this is all about our nuclear deal with Iran, which in his twisted brain makes it more likely that Saudi Arabia will get a nuclear weapon. This is what we expect from the tribalistic Republican Party. Saudi Arabia is an official ally, so of course whatever they do is great. Iran is an official enemy, so whatever they do is horrible. Carly Fiorina justified dismissing Iranian outrage because, “This is a regime that tortures citizens routinely, that thinks nothing of executions, that still holds four Americans in jail.” Yeah, those four Americans in jail really does make the Saudi Arabian executions just fine.

As Lee Fang and Zaid Jilani documented in The Intercept, After Executing Regime Critic, Saudi Arabia Fires Up American PR Machine. The only thing more predictable than the US government supporting anything done by official allies is that the “free” US press will push the official government line. Imagine how this story would have been covered if the countries had been reversed. There would not only be blanket outrage, there would be calls for war. Instead, we get Ben Carson saying that Saudi Arabia had to execute all these people because of our nuclear deal with Iran.

The main issue at hand is Nimr al-Nimr. He was a political activist in Saudi Arabia. He was a Shia Sheikh in a Sunni autocracy. He was put to death for “foreign meddling” and for “disobeying” the Saudi government. His actual crime was supporting mass political protests against the Saudi regime back in 2011. The court didn’t have to put him to death, but I’m sure that there was extreme political pressure on it to do so. Everywhere you go you hear people like Fahad Nazer say things like, “The primary message appears to be aimed at Saudi Arabia’s own militants, regardless of their sect…” Nazer used to be a political analyst for Washington Saudi Embassy — a fact not mentioned when he was quoted.

Of course the whole thing just shows what a farce the whole idea of terrorism is. Fang and Jilani quoted Sarah Lea Whitson of Human Rights Watch, “Saudi Arabia’s terrorism law includes as acts of terrorism merely criticizing the government, merely criticizing the monarchy.” That’s really what the definition of terrorism is: doing anything that the government doesn’t like. I still stand by the honest definition of terrorism as acts designed to terrorize a population, but this definition used in Saudi Arabia is generally the one used by American media.

The US government has not condemned what Saudi Arabia has done, but only “expressed… concerns. At the same time, everywhere in the US it is ISIS all the time. We must close down the internet because of ISIS. We can’t allow refugees in the country because of ISIS. Screw the Constitution, we’re afraid of ISIS! Yet it has largely been Saudi money that built up ISIS. And Iran has been fighting ISIS since the beginning. But Saudi Arabia is our “friend.” And Iran is our enemy — as far as I can tell because we are still angry about the embassy attack in 1979.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia continues to be a backward country. But they’ve got oil, so we just love them. If they got nuclear weapons, we wouldn’t blink an eye; our only concern would be that it would cause Iran to get nuclear weapons. Pretty much Saudi Arabia can do anything it wants because we’ve defined it as a Good Guy™. It is a horrible country. It commonly commits crimes against humanity. Still, we give them billions of dollars in aid and justify their crimes like the execution of Nimr al-Nimr.

Morning Music: Tommy Johnson

Tommy JohnsonAnother of the great icons of Mississippi delta blues is Tommy Johnson. I have a story that relates to him. I was sitting at a barber’s place. The guy that owned it was really into old blues and Robert Johnson was playing on his sound system. So I told my sister the standard story about how Robert Johnson supposedly met the Devil and exchanged his soul for his amazing guitar abilities. The barber interrupted me to say that it wasn’t Robert Johnson, but rather Tommy Johnson.

Now, I actually knew that the story was associated with Tommy Johnson as well. This was well after O Brother, Where Art Thou? But the truth is it wasn’t Tommy, Robert, or Santa Claus Johnson. It’s a legend. It didn’t happen to anyone. What’s more, the story has been applied far more to Robert Johnson than to Tommy — probably because Robert Johnson is so much better known. (It’s also true that Robert Johnson wrote Crossroad Blues and other things about the Devil.) I hate when people correct me over things that are meaningless and wrong.

But what is true is that one source of the story was started by Tommy Johnson’s brother, year’s after the guitarist’s death. Apparently, Johnson liked to tell the story to give himself a “dangerous” reputation — probably a common thing for itinerant musicians. But even that may have been based upon earlier legends. You can see the way these things get messed up given that they had the same last names. But Tommy Johnson is very different from Robert. For one thing, Tommy was a generation before Robert. Tommy Johnson was playing professionally when Robert was in diapers. None of this is to put down Robert Johnson, who was the greater guitarist and the one who I prefer.

But Tommy Johnson was hugely influential. In his way, he was as important as Charlie Patton, but as a vocalist more than a guitarist. His guitar playing is excellent, but it is secondary to his vocals, which are capable of incredible emotional range. Most of his recordings are just him and his guitar — which is enough. But I’m going to feature a 1928 recording of a wonderfully complex number, “Maggie Campbell Blues.” In addition to him on guitar and vocals, someone else seems to be playing a mandolin. I don’t think it is necessary to the song.

The song is based upon a traditional stanza, “It looks like Maggie, but she walks too slow.” But Tommy Johnson claimed that the song referred to him being at a bar and seeing his wife coming for him. That makes it sound like she’s mad, but the song itself is, if anything, about love.

Anniversary Post: Discovery of Eris

Eris and DysnomiaOn this day in 2005, Eris was discovered. It is the largest dwarf planet known to exist in our solar system. But who knows; with objects so small, so far away, it is hard to say that we won’t find something larger. As it was, it took just under 75 years to discover a dwarf planet larger than Pluto. Of course, “larger” is a vague word. Pluto is very slightly more voluminous than Eris; but it is more than 25% more massive than Pluto.

Now I don’t want to start a fight. If you want to call Pluto a planet, fine. And everyone I talk to who wants to do so is fine with calling Eris a planet too. But let’s be clear. If we hadn’t all been raised with Pluto being called a planet, no one would be running around saying that Eris ought to be called a planet. I mean, it only has a quarter the mass of our Moon. It has a volume of one-third. It would rightly be called some misbehaving moon. And it may well be just that: a moon that got dislodged from some planet. It certainly does have an amazingly strange orbit that is more befitting a comet than a planet.

Will we visit Eris? Frankly, I don’t much care. I think we are going to find that it is a lot like Pluto. But calculations have been made. If we launch in 2032 or 2044, it would take a bit less than 25 years to reach the dwarf planet. It would be roughly 90 AU (distance from Earth to Sun) at that point. I’m not sure if there are any plans to do it, but I’ll be dead by then anyway.