14 October 2013

Sausage Factories Take No Holidays

Someecards.comWho inflicted more devastation upon whom: Smallpox... or tobacco?

  • Perhaps the most telling, albeit unacknowledged, aspect of this vicious-but-all-too-accurate criticism of TED talks is that the examples in general — and the illustration, which may not be Mr Frank's selection, but that of the "magazine" — almost entirely concern advertising and marketing. That's what passes for a "creative class" in TED talks...
  • ... just as "variability of positive return over a specified period" is what passes for "risk" in contemporary finance, especially concerning the entertainment industry.
  • Together, these lead to discounting of — or, more commonly, failure to recognize — conflicts of interest in favor of immediate and predictable monetization of every aspect of every potential platform. Consider, for example, commercial publishers who acquire, or worse yet impliedly endorse, vanity presses for those authors seeking information on self-publishing.
  • Wrapping the three preceding internet link sausages together into an indigestion-inducing currywurst, here's an example of what happens when as-taught-concerning-widgets-to-MBA marketing paradigms take over the entire marketing campaign: The San Francisco Opera's radio advertising campaigns over the last several months. When driving to the office, or to appointments, or to libraries for research, I typically listen to one of the local radio stations because it has frequent and helpful traffic updates. Unfortunately, it's AM radio (FM is unreliable with this many hills), so I'm also inundated with commercials, a surprisingly high proportion of which are for the opera. Let me list just a few cringe-worthy examples in the last three months:

    • In a very faux-cultured voice, an announcement for Mozart's (represented here phonetically, appears more than once in the commercial) Cosee fan Too Tay. I think he meant Cosí fan Tutti.
    • Descriptions of Boito's Mephistopheles as being "a tale as old as the Garden of Eden", among other non sequiturs (such as characterizing the tale as one of a search for "perfect contentment") indicating that whoever wrote the ad script had read neither the libretto Boito used nor Göthe's Faust, the source work Boito used. That's not a defensible interpretation of Faust; indeed, it is nearly an inversion of Göthe's tension between "contentment" and "search for knowledge." My Italian is very stumbling, and I suppose it's just barely possible that the libretto is considerably off course, but I rather doubt it's that far removed.
    • Another instance of dubious (if this time somewhat more defensible) pronunction with ads for a new operatic production called Dolores Clayburn, which I've heard the author of the novel pronounce as Dolores Clayborn. And doing ads for a Stephen King-based work in a faux-cultured voice is itself more than a bit incongruous.
    • Perhaps the San Francisco Opera just can't handle German source material; descriptions of Wagner's Der Fliegende Holländer as a production, not to mention its themes and plots, had me thoroughly confused until I heard the name of the piece toward the end of the radio spot.

    There's a common thread in these rather elementary errors: Unconcern for accurately representing the product(ion) being advertised. This is a distressingly common problem in the arts, because marketing gurus — without any justification, let alone replicable data — believe they know better than do those familiar with the works, like authors, what those works are. The proximate cause of this belief is that they're focused only on making the next sale, without any real consideration of repeat sales.

    Based on what I've heard thus far from the San Francisco Opera, I'm skeptical of future productions, if only because that kind of carelessness in marketing implies carelessness in other aspects of a production (such as staging) that directly impact the performances. Worse, it makes me distrust their descriptions of works that I am not familiar with to the point that I wouldn't consider attending a performance of a work that I haven't seen before. That's really not what they want, or need, or what opera needs in a broader sense: There are only so many times that one can see Figaro... which is just a convenient example and not an endorsement of that piece.