Sunday, 26 January 2014

In the Beauty of the lilies - Updike 1996

This is the story about the interaction of religion and movies in America over 4 generations.

In the first generation, god is essential – also to everyday life. When a Reverend loses his faith, he is lost in life and movies are a way to escape reality:
“In the purifying sweep of atheism human beings lost all special value, The numb misery of the horse was matched by that of the farmer.” (Updike, 1996, p.7).
“In spite of the panic gnawing at his stomach, Clarence felt in his mouth a welcoming rush of salvia.” (Updike, 1996, p.35).
“they have not just reason on their side, but simple humanity and decency as well. Jehovah and His pet Israelites, that bloody tit-for-tat of the Atonement, the whole business of condemning poor fallible men and women to eternal Hell for a few mistakes in their little life-times.” (Updike, 1996, p.61).
“Watching the “movies” took no strength, but recovering from them did – climbing out of their scintillating bath into the bleak facts of life, his life, gutted by god’s withdrawal.” (Updike, 1996, p.107).

His son tries to avoid God as much as possible and the focus is on the world today. The world we live in. And to him movies are simply entertainment.
“Always he loved this sensation, hard to describe, of delivering, and then moving on.” (Updike, 1996, p.111).
“He was good in class and his grades were good but not the best, not so good as to make him a star that way either, a future millionaire. He enjoyed being one of the bunch, swept through the halls and the day on the tides of young bodies, the others indifferent toward him but accepting.” (Updike, 1996, p.113).
“‘This, too, shall pass away.’ It’s good when you’re high, and good when you’re low.” (Updike, 1996, p.114).
“In both factory and college, there would be all those probing, thrusting, jagged-edged other people to fit himself into, somehow, to compete with. He didn’t want to have to compete, and yet this seemed the only way to be an American. Be stretched or strike.” (Updike, 1996, p.139).
“”I do,” he said, surprising himself. “But I’m only eighteen, what’s everybody’s hurry? Does everybody have to do something all the time? Isn’t it enough sometimes, if you just don’t make things any worse?”” (Updike, 1996, p.143).
“And yet Teddy liked people, even the dumb fat girls on the bottle-cap line and the ferret faced little Wilmington student stenographers. He was happiest among people, if they weren’t crowding him.” (Updike, 1996, p.153).
“The motion pictures, all made now in California or Europe, three thousand miles away in one direction or another, embraced the chaos that sensible men and women in their ordinary lives plotted to avoid.” (Updike, 1996, p.146). “Always these films were trying to get you to look over the edge, at something, at something you would rather not see – poverty, war, murder, that thing men and women did when they were alone together.” (Updike, 1996, p.147). “Life was not serious; it was an illusion, a story, distracting and disturbing but at bottom painless and merciful.” (Updike, 1996, p.148).

For the third generation the focus on the individual goes further. And God becomes someone to pray to for individual success. And to become a movie star.
 “those endowed with a splendid self, have a duty to be selfish.” (Updike, 1996, p.214).
“The world was intact, it had not been torn apart by her dream, full of yelling and fire and spilled things. The world is like stones: dreams and thoughts flow over them.” (Updike, 1996, p.228).
“Almost the first feeling she could ever remember was this joy at being herself instead of somebody else.” (Updike, 1996, p.229).
“but every morning she (her mother) was up when Essie was still untangling herself from the sticky dark sweetness of sleep and moving about downstairs making things tidy and cozy and bringing them to life.” (Updike, 1996, p.229).
 “it was the dead, unearthly grandfather she aspired to. In his unreality he held a promise of lifting her up toward the heavenly realm where movie stars flickered and glowed.” (Updike, 1996, p.271).
“A one-to-one encounter seemed so dry and meagre, after being the food for all those eyes at the center of the stadium.” (Updike, 1996, p.273).
“Painted and oiled and every hair lacquered as firm as the fibers in a hat. Essie felt armored in pretense, formless and safe behind her face, like a rich filling of a stiff chocolate.” (Updike, 1996, p.291).
“in this land of promise where yearning never stops short at a particular satisfaction but keeps moving on, into the territory beyond.” (Updike, 1996, p.333).
“In some corner of herself she was jealous of Loretta; these two toddlers, round-faced and shiny-eyed, gazed up at their idiotic mother in her cheap polka-dot sundress as though she was half the world.” (Updike, 1996, p.337).

In the fourth generation that individualism is taken to the extreme. In a world seemingly full of individualists God is the only one not just taking, but giving and hence listening. The only one providing potentially an audience. And towards the end that is taken to the extreme, as the belief in God and one’s personal and unique connection to God is being used to get a national audience on TV.
“She observed in him what she already sensed in herself, the danger of becoming a performer purely, of coming alive in proportion to the size of the audience, and being absent-minded and remote when the audience was small.” (Updike, 1996, p.353).
“She ought to retire on her money, your mother, but she can’t. That’sthe penalty of success. Nobody knows when to stop. Everybody always wants more.” (Updike, 1996, p.407).
“the pet Russian wolfhound lying out on the terrace watching with a worried look and wanting to play with the chewed yellow tennis ball between his long white paws but nobody playful, everyone too wasted and self-absorbed and carefully moussed and pinned together to go entertain a dog.” (Updike, 1996, p.411).
“He looked over the messages but Mom was right, it was all people who wanted something, nobody who had anything to give him.” (Updike, 1996, p.432).
“Oh, who can tell? When the ambition bug bites, happiness stops being the point.” (Updike, 1996, p.462).

Monday, 6 January 2014

A Big Life (in advertising) – Mary Wells Lawrence 2002

“The big agencies defended themselves; they said they made advertising scientifically, with sophisticated research. But Bill said either they were liars or they were stupid; their pitiful researchreduced advertising to, basically, one poor tired ad that was repeated over and over again.” (Lawrence, 2002, p.3).

“The advertising business, like America itself after the war, had built up the fiction of safety with its hierarchies and armylike respect for the boss.” (Lawrence, 2002, p.3).

“Advertising is not a science, it is persuasion, and persuasion is an art, it is intuition that leads to discovery, to inspiration, it is the artist who is capable of making ” (Lawrence quoting Bernbach, 2002, p.3).

“Booboos often sell better than perfection, perhaps because they humanize products and make people care about them.” (Lawrence, 2002, p.9).

“My way of running an agency was as if it was a motion-picture company with a lot of productions happening at one time. I was the director, sometimes the star.The people I hired were the cast of characters.” (Lawrence, 2002, p.46).

 “his life was filled with grace, every new project was the best one he ever had. Since then I’ve had my eye out for the romantics in business, they are full of ideas, and I am crazy about people who are happy in their work.” (Lawrence, 2002, p.90).

“there was danger in clients who came to an agency desperately in need of direction and guidance because, he said, “the same brilliance, the same guts you use to grab the brass ring and lead that client to a success will be perceived as arrogance and an irritation as soon as the client is successful.” I remember him wagging his finger at me, “You have to stay close and take your agency through a transition from leading the client to taking more and more direction from him.” He looked at me, an owl: “Mary,” he said, “don’t imagine that anyone else at the agency will know when to switch from the left foot to the right.” Then, ruefully, “I know these things. What I just told you is worth a lot of money.” (Lawrence quoting Bill Bernbach, 2002, p.96).

“The point was that it is better to have your kids brushing their teeth with a toothpaste they like than to have them refuse to brush their teeth at all with a fluoride toothpaste. (…) “Best tasting toothpaste in the world.”” (Lawrence, 2002, p.115).

 “They (comfort boys) were the less talented people who bought the agency time for the superachievers to get around to producing the right stuff. They were enablers, and everyone who has ever run an agency has enablers to fill up time until a superior talent is free.” (Lawrence, 2002, p.118).

Konstantin Stanislavsky, the giant of the group, thought that an actor must truly believe in everything that takes place on stage. Most of all, he must believe in what he himself is doing there: his emotion must be realm not pretended, in order to give you, the audience, a genuine experience. What happens on stage the happens in you.” (Lawrence, 2002, p.170).

“One of the reasons for the Mary cult at Wells Rich Greene was that I saw the agency as an intimate family I cherished, understood and forgave. There was an irreverence in the climate and there was candor because everyone knew that I cherished, understood and forgave. (Lawrence, 2002, p.191).

A corporate campaign for Fors used the workers in the factors. “Every single time we filmed a worker in his home plant the quality of the workmanship at that plant shot up. It was a wonderful thing to see happen. It was as if the whole plant had gone on stage and declared it was personally responsible for the quality coming out of the Ford motor Company. Plant managers fought to have commercials made in their plants starring their workers.” (Lawrence, 2002, p.226).

“”Are we having fun now?” he would ask me in a loud whisper, squeezed into his 727 seat, staring own at something that usually looked like a plate of dog food. “I’m tired of bringing out the best in other people,” he would tell me as if confiding a secret.” (Lawrence, 2002, p.258).

Friday, 3 January 2014

Charles Dickens – a Christmas Carol 1843

This is one of those books that you think you know about from various films. Where you know the basic story. And when you read it you are struck by the power of Dickens’ language that makes such a difference.

 “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” (Dickens, 1843, p.293).

“Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle, in which effort, not being a man of strong imagination, he failed.” (Dickens, 1843, p.294).

“think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” (Dickens, 1843, p.295).

“Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means if usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunities missed.” (Dickens, 1843, p.302).

““You fear the world too much,” she answered gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”” (Dickens, 1843, p.313).

“His wealth is of no use to him. He don’t do any good with it.” (Dickens, 1843, p.325).

“Oh cold, cold, rigid dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion! But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!” (Dickens, 1843, p.335).

“Yes! And the bedpost was his own, the bed was his own, the room was his own and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!” (Dickens, 1843, p.340).