Thursday, 10 September 2009

"Report back to me when it makes sense..." it's Rob's Random 5!

This week the Random 5 is Looking at Books, In praise of ice cream, and Fontastic Fun. It's all brought to you by the letter 'H', the number '9', and the advice 'Never go dancing on a frozen lake'. And for film fans who want to know, this week's title quote was provided by the excellent 'Burn After Reading'. Speaking of reading, that leads us nicely onto Random No.1...

1. Book Trailers: Movies have trailers. TV shows have trailers. Videogames have trailers. Caravan parks have trailers. Books do not. Well, they don't usually. But sometimes the Lion will lie down with the Lamb, the Cat will dance with the Dog, jaffa cakes will rain from the skies, and a book will be given a trailer. I don't know if you've ever seen a trailer for a book - they're incredibly rare (unless you've seen a Harry Potter film, in which case you've seen one enormous trailer for a book). But once in a blue moon one will appear on TV, or in the case of this particularly well-produced one, online...

That's a finely crafted, funny, trailer. It looks lovely and the costumes look great and the 'sea monster' (can it be a sea monster if it lives in a lake? Maybe it's just on vacation) looks impressive for a short ad. And that's the problem. It's all about the 'look'. Let me explain.

Trailers for books are so rare because trailers for books NEVER work, and that's because the medium they're using to sell that product doesn't fit the way the product is used. Trailers and advertisements sell things through a visual medium and that works great on things you can see like cars or movies or breakfast cereals, but not on books. Because the thing you buy a book for; the story - and this is going to sound rather metaphysical - doesn't really exist: it's all in the mind. And there's no way to advertise something that's all in the mind. A book is just words and you assimilate those words and process them and conjour up your own images and sounds and smells and voices for each character, and the images and voices you come up with in your head will be different to the ones someone else comes up with in their head. The 'product's' (and by product I mean book) meaning and value and thus worth differs from person to person. It's like whenever a book is turned into a movie and half the people go 'That's exactly how I imagine 'X' looking' and the other half go 'That's not how I imagined 'X' looking'. A book is such a personal experience that it's impossible to sum up a definitive experience and definitve interpretations of the characters and market it as such in a visual form without alienating part of your intended audience. The success of a book lies not in how it's characters are portrayed on a screen, but in the interpretation by the reader and you can't advertise interpretation. A movie is a visual medium so advertising it in a visual medium works. A book is a textual medium so you have to advertise in text: show quotes of what other people thought of the book, or come up with a snappy tag-line for it, or have an interesting jacket cover. And you don't need trailers for that, just a poster.
So that's why it's so weird and jarring when you see a television advert for a book - it's a friction between two very different mediums of entertainment. No advert for a book will ever match the feeling you get from reading those first words and the excitement you get at plunging deeper into the text. No advert will ever be as personal as your take on a book. So you get ads like this and this that tell you about the book but can come nowhere near to the emotional response or imagination the actual product will elicit. I have to admit, that this one, for Neil Gaiman's brilliant 'The Graveyard Book' is the closest thing to a good book trailer, thanks in part to some illustrations from the book and Neil Gaiman's excellent narration, but even as you watch this trailer doesn't it feel like a second hand experience of a first-hand medium?

2. In Praise of Ice Cream: Sometimes I lose all hope in Humanity. I look around and see the cruelty and ignorance and the suffering and the hatred that are very worst, indellible hallmarks of our species, and I just despair. But then I remember that the Human race invented ice cream, and the world seems just that little bit more habitable. Let's face it, ice cream is great. There's something comforting and fun about it. Maybe it's nostalgia for the childhood and the infinite summer. Maybe it's a reminder of a fabulous holiday in a warmer climate. Maybe it's just that it's delicious. It could be any of a thousand reasons. In fact there are very few reasons for people not to like ice cream. It comes in every flavour imaginable, from the classics (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry etc), to the imaginatively indulgent (chocolate brownie, strawberry cheesecake, rocky road), to the gourmet (salted caramel, lavendar custard, ginger and rhubarb), to the weird (I've eaten bacon and egg ice cream, [and even a sardine sorbet but we're not talking about sorbets here] and there is a place in the Lake District that makes a Baked Beans ice cream, which I wish I could have tried), so there's bound to be a flavour for everyone. Lactose intolerant? There are milk-free ice creams out there for you. Fat man? There's a low-fat option for you my good sir. Diabetic? There are sugar-free ice creams for your delectation. And how do you want to eat that ice cream? On a cone? In a bowl? In a float? In a Sundae? Maybe blended up in a milkshake? Maybe you want sprinkles or chocolate shavings on it? Or caramel sauce, or chocolate sauce, or strawberry sauce (we called it Monkey Blood when we were little)? Oh the variety! Ice cream is the great all-rounder. It's a dessert on its own, can be served with other flavours, or can be effotelssly paired with another dessert (apple pie and ice cream? hells yeah! treacle sponge and ice cream? double hells yeah!). Ice cream doesn't take itself too seriously either. It's the dessert of fairgrounds and beach holidays; of birthday parties and pick-me up treats. It's associated with sticky smiles and good times*. No one has ice cream at a funeral, although they should because then it would soften the blow of a sad day and go great with that really dry mysterious cake that always gets served. I've just decided I'm going to have ice cream at the service where my ashes will be shot up in that giant firework. Ice cream and booze. What a great time everyone will have then. Really is there nothing ice cream can't do?! Well, stay solid on a hot day, but I believe I read somewhere that Willy Wonka had been working on that...
Seriously, if you can think of a better dessert than ice cream then let me know because I haven't tried it yet. Young & old, rich & poor, fat & thin, dog-person & cat-person, ice cream's great for anyone. Go get yourself a couple of scoops now. The world will instantly look a better place.

*Well, mostly good times. There is that tired Hollywood cliche of a jilted woman sitting in her dressing gown eating the stuff right out of the tub as she weeps and watches Bridget Jones' bloody Diary. But I prefer to think of it as a tool of consolation for the lady in that event, so even then ice cream is great as it's cheering her up. I won't let you turn my favourite dessert into sad, 'break-up' medicine, Hollyweird!

3. Hope you haven't just eaten!: Sometimes ol' Ma Nature will flat out surprise you. And then she'll disgust you. But either way Nature is so much more interesting and freaky than the Attenborough-narrated killing of a gazelle (I didn't mean David Attenborough was killing a gazelle and narrating as he did it) we think it is, and at times can show us the sort of things that are confined to our imagination and cheap sci-fi. There's more to our natural world than lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) and here's a round-up of all the fun, scary, weird stuff that teachers never tell you about.

Take for example the famous 'Carolina Sewer Creature', which looks like the vanguard of a gross alien invasion force. It's actually made up of thousands and thousands of annelid worms all coiling around one another, with an individual worm's movement stimulating the whole mass to look like it's one enormous pulsating mass of wrong. It freaks people out when they see it and that's unsurprising because it looks entirely foreign to this planet.

If you thought that was bad, check this thing out. That cute critter's called an Isopod and it's a parasite. It gets into fishes mouths, eats their tongues, and then replaces the tongue with itself. That's right, it takes the place of the tongue. Aaagh! Kill it! Kill it with fire! Seriously doesn't that sound like something from a space-horror movie? And yet it's frighteningly real (well, it's only frightening if you're a fish). Why weren't we told about this Mr. Attenborough, why?! Staying on the theme of fish, how about this fella here, called a barreleye fish, who has a transparent head. A transparent head! Frea-ky.

Out of the water it's no safer. There are giant carnivorous pitcher plants in the Philippines capable of eating rats. It's only a matter of time before they discover a Triffid and then we'll all be done for.

But I've saved the best for last in this list of weird Nature. How about a parasitic fungus that infects ants and turns them into mind-controlled zombies? Oh yes my friends, it exists! The fungus spores enter the ants' brains and force them to do their bidding, making them walk along the ground until they reach a desirable location. The spores then kill them before the fungus explodes out of the ants' heads and grows, using the dead ants as a source of nutrition. Cripes! Just imagine if that fungus evolves to use that trick on humans... 'shudder'.

So what have we learned from this brief trip into weirdness? Basically Nature is terrifying and you should just stay well away from it. Or at least pack a flamethrower.

4. Little Lord Font-leroy: There are lots of good 'create your own' font websites, but FontCapture has the merits of being free and dead simple to use, allowing you to turn your own handwriting into a fine font. You can even make up symbols to represent different letters and numbers. All you need is a printer and a scanner and you're good to go, with the site giving you step by step instructions in 4 easy steps. Even for a technofool like me it only took fifteen minutes and then I was typing in my own messy script, making all my documents look like they'd been written by a drunken chimp in an earthquake. It's a great way to personalise your work and if you're fortunate to have neat handwriting then you're all the better off. Give it a go whynot.

5. Colouring-In: Apparently I have mild synesthesia, which is where the stimulation of one of the senses stimulates another as well, or maybe more than one. It's the kind of thing where you see colours when you hear music, or taste things when you hear a word. Mine is the common one - colours and letters. So basically, the letter 'A' is red, Thursdays are Indigo, and the word 'Cameroonian', which was featured in the last blog post, is brown. You might have it too, or in a different form, and not know it, and you only have to take a simple test to find out. It's not even a medical condition really, as it has no effect on your life. It's just sort of a...thing. And not even a thing you can use to win a bet or impress women. What's the point in it all!
From a young age I always pictured the days of the week in different colours when I said them or thought about them. In my head they look like this: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And the alpahabet always looks like this to me: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z. That's as far as it goes though, so really it's of no use whatsoever. I wish I had the type where you saw colours when you heard notes. Now that would be cool - like having your very own light-show at a concert. Might even make Lady Gaga bearable. Some people have the same thing except wth numbers rather than letters (which would make maths more fun). Other folk have much more profound symptoms, like smelling grass or toast when they hear a particular word. Apparently there are a ton of different ways it manifests through the five senses. So if 'M' is blue, or 6 is green, you may have synesthesia too. Weird, huh? What an odd tool the brain is.

Anyway, that about rounds it up for this week. So as the sun sets on another blog post, and the autumn nights creep in, it's time to say goodbye and leave a completely random blog post with a completely random thought: 'An apple a day is good business for the apple industry'.



Christopher said...

Nice quote dude! Love it :)

I think you should leave the source of future quotes a secret, with the promise of a prize (or just recognition) for anyone who can guess the quote!

Just cos I would have known this one... :P

Christopher said...

We think Abbi has a mild form of synesthesia too... especially where numbers are concerned :)

Oh, and the ice cream in Rome was out of this world. Seriously, soooooo good!

Abbi said...

Yeeeah! 1 is red, 2 is yellow, 6 is blue and 8 is purple!!

Rob said...

That Nutella ice cream you told me about sounded delicious! More ice creams need to be made out of bread spreads! Lemon curd, jam, Nutella, Marmite... I would try all of those! :)

And I would love, love, LOVE to have numbers synethesia. It would make accounting much more fun for me!
I was telling a friend the other day that his name looked 'purple' and he was just "What the hell?!" :)

Cassandra said...

I think if jaffa cakes rained down from the sky (without the rain as that would make them mushy) that would be amazing. Can we make this happen?