Monday, September 22, 2008

Dr. Robert Sapolsky: Stressed? Try being a medieval peasant

Wednesday night at 8 pm on PBS, check out National Geographic's "Stress: Portrait of a Killer". It's a pretty killer special itself, about Dr. Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford professor I interviewed earlier this month for LinkedIn. Read more here, and check out the video of our interview below.

All documentary footage courtesy Stanford/National Geographic.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Seinfeld Microsoft Shill Recalls Fellini, YouTube

The reviews on Seinfeld shilling for Microsoft came out long before the ad itself (below), and the verdict was unanimous: not good. The obvious facts were pointed out: Seinfeld notoriously used an Apple on his sitcom, he was featured in an Apple "Think Different" spot, he was relevant in the late '90s, and like Windows, is somewhat past his prime. And he's already shilled for American Express in the past, authoring the ads himself.

Now the ad is out, and some say that, like the sitcom, it seems to be about nothing. Perhaps that's true — Jerry offering Bill Gates a churro and asking if he wears his clothes in the shower does seem like so much whimsy, but it doesn't have the ring of everyday truth that the show had. This is not about re-gifters or man-hands or close-talkers, it's about two mega-rich celebrities meeting in a discount shoe mart. This signals high-concept.

From there, it gets muddled. Seinfeld helps Gates find the right fit for a shoe called "The Conquistador", proclaiming, "You're a 10." A Latino family asks through the window, "Is that The Conquistador?" At check-out, Bill's Clown Club membership id features the mugshot from his 1977 arrest for running a stoplight.

The spots aims for metaphor and semaphore, painting a surreal context for a grand joke: two millionaires walk into a bar. Except the bar is a shoe store, and there's no punchline, just a series of escalating one-liners that aren't especially funny, almost as if Seinfeld is the court jester of the Clown Club, trying desperately to get a laugh out of the king. But Gates is likably stolid, while Seinfeld is annoying, like a bad impression of Seinfeld's trademark humor.

Finally, Seinfeld asks the million-dollar question: "I'm just wondering, are they ever going to come out with something that will make our computers moist and chewy, so we can just eat 'em while we're working?" Gates signals yes with a discrete booty shake.

One can only think of Fellini or David Lynch, where no resolutions are offered, no conclusions are drawn, and only a vague emotion or feeling has been composed over the duration of a piece. This, combined with a production value and comedic timing that recalls a YouTube sketch troupe, makes for a disorienting experience. The high concept is respectable, but the execution is lamentable. It parodies a canon of situational comedy advertising, but it doesn't communicate an effective message or meaningful moment.

How about this: two millionaires walk into an Apple Store. One picks up an iPod and says, "What is the deal with these iPods?" and the other says, "What am I, Bill Gates?" And then security ushers them out.