Showing posts with label nostalgia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nostalgia. Show all posts

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Hey Arnold! Theory of Asymmetrical Affection

Hey Arnold!, the classic Nickelodeon animated TV series about a kid growing up in the big city, gave us many gifts during its witty and often melancholy five-season run, not the least of which is what I like to call the Hey Arnold! Theory of Asymmetrical Affection.

The theory comes from “Arnold & Lila,” an episode in the show’s third season. In it, a series of Three’s Company-esque misunderstandings results in Arnold realizing he has feelings for his friend Lila, who, by the end of the episode, no longer feels the same way about him. (“I really admire you, and I treasure our friendship ever so much,” Lila says, as a way of letting Arnold down softly. “We can still be good friends, can’t we?”)

Afterward, while talking to another one of his friends about what happened, Arnold makes this astute observation:

It’s funny. When you like someone, and they don’t really like you back, it’s not so bad. But when you really like them-like them, but you find out they just like you, it hurts.

Here’s the theory in dank meme form, which I definitely didn’t make when a girl definitely didn’t turn me down for a date, because I’m definitely not a grown-ass adult who turns to late 1990s cartoons to seek comfort and wisdom when I’m feeling bummed.



It’s worth breaking down why this is true. When someone rejects you outright—not only do they not want to go out with you, but they don’t want anything to do with you—it sucks in the moment, but it’s easy to console yourself. They’re rejecting me because they don’t really know me, you can think. If they knew all the things that make me unique, if they knew my personality, my sense of humor, my quirks, then maybe it’d be different. In short, they just don’t have enough information, so they’re not rejecting me; they’re rejecting their incomplete idea of me—which, again, still kind of sucks, but you don’t take it too personally.

But when someone “partially” rejects you—that is, they like you, but they don’t like you-like you—that shit stings. You can’t hide behind the idea that they just don’t know you, because they obviously do: they like you! They see what you have to offer, and they totally appreciate it! They want you in their life—but not in that way. For whatever reason, it’s not quite enough for them to return your feelings. Why Arnold is right when he says it hurts is simple: they’re not rejecting you because they don’t know you; they’re rejecting you precisely because they do know you. (And double ouches if, in your heart of hearts, you know they’re making the right call—but that’s a different discussion for another day.)

The Hey Arnold! Theory of Asymmetrical Affection is often cited as evidence of the insidiousness of the “friend zone,” which is annoying for two reasons: the feelings Arnold is describing are a little more nuanced than the friend zone, and, more significantly, the friend zone is bullshit.

* * *

When I was in high school, the friend zone referred to the belief that if you’ve been friends with someone for too long, a romantic relationship was impossible. Nobody ever seemed to have the exact figures for how long was too long, probably because it was, again, bullshit.

It’s not that by being “just friends” for a week, or a month, or whatever other arbitrary length of time, you magically become undateable; we had several counterexamples all around us of people who were good friends first, then started dating. Instead, what’s happening is that, in that time in which you were just friends, your friend learned something about you, your personality, or your beliefs that made you unattractive to or incompatible with them—or, perhaps, something that seemed charming or intriguing at first became less so after repeated exposure to it. There’s also the harsh possibility that many find difficult to face: your friend was never attracted to you in the first place and at no point were you ever a romantically viable prospect.

Curiously, the idea was embraced by both guys and girls, with guys generally being the friend zoned and girls being the friend zoners. (The friend zone seems to be a pretty heterosexual—and, indeed, heteronormative—concept.) For guys, this provided a way to save face when he was rejected; it’s not that he was unattractive, but rather, the inviolable laws of the friend zone are what they are. For girls, this provided a gentle way to reject a guy—either because they wanted to avoid upsetting the guy by offering a real reason (“you too ugly, bro”), or occasionally because they didn’t want to think of themselves as the type of person who’d reject a guy based on, say, the fact that he too ugly, bro (“I’m not shallow; it’s just the friend zone”). It was an exercise in self-delusion, with both guys and girls having incentives to perpetuate it.

That, obviously, is less than ideal. (Are we enabling guys whose egos are so fragile that they have to comfort themselves with lies? Are we conditioning girls to avoid expressing what they really think to make guys feel better about themselves? Are we telling girls it’s better to be nice than to be honest?) In practice, though, it played out harmlessly enough: the friend zone was accepted and unchallenged, and the rejected guy could, after licking his wounds, go back to being friends with the girl. Encouragingly, guys who were purportedly friend zoned generally didn’t blame the girl (“Damn bitch friend zoned me!”) but rather themselves (“My bad, I waited too long”), which helped make guys and girls less adversaries in dating and more fellow travelers bound by the same principles.

* * *

Of course, my high school was different from other high schools. We didn’t have lockers. Nobody went to prom, even when MTV decided to record and humiliate us. Our AP calc class was as frequently about math as it was about playing Monopoly while watching the 2000 Nicolas Cage film The Family Man, apparently the only DVD our media center had. And I’m pretty sure at least a part of our campus was a repurposed Waffle House, which would explain both the smell and the despair.

This wasn't a scientific poll, but I'd say it captured our collective sentiment nicely.

So I’m not sure if I grew up with a different understanding of the friend zone, or if the definition has changed. But now, when a man complains about the friend zone, it usually takes on a much creepier vibe: I was so nice to her, and that bitch friend zoned me! She was just leading me on! Typical woman friend zoning me because I’m nice, yet she’ll probably go out with some asshole who won’t treat her right!

Obviously, some caveats: There are women who do lead men on intentionally and manipulate emotions for their own benefit (hey, free dinner!), because women are people and some people are shitty. And yes, there are women who find niceness unattractive and assholery attractive, because women are people and some people have weird issues. But I feel confident that these cases don’t represent the majority of friend zone whining.

(Also, as an aside, my pet hypothesis is that being nice isn’t so much an inherently attractive thing, but rather an intensifier if you already find someone attractive. Like, niceness won’t do much if someone doesn’t think you’re cute, but if you’re cute and it turns out you’re nice, it makes you that much cuter. It is in this way that niceness is a lot like eyeglasses, tattoos, and impeccable grammar.)

This mindset comes from the idea that if a man does enough nice things for a woman, he’s entitled to her time, her affection, or her body. In this view, a woman isn’t a person with her own desires, but rather a puzzle to be solved and a prize to be won. Or not even that—she’s a product to be purchased, which he deserves because he paid for it with his niceness. This is a point rebutted by an oft-memed quote misattributed to Sylvia Plath:




This betrays a serious lack of empathy. All of the men bemoaning how nice guys get friend zoned would disagree that, if a woman he found repulsive baked him enough cookies or gave him enough gifts, he should ignore his own desires because she earned him and that overrides his feelings. All of these men would recognize that they get to decide with whom they go out and have sex, and “because she’s really, really nice and really, really likes you!” isn’t sufficient for them to set aside their own preferences.

But they generally don’t extend that same courtesy to the women they want to bone. And I get it—you’re the main character in your own story, and she’s your perfect dream girl. Super Mario Bros. taught you that if you do the right sequence of things, you earn the right to some Tanookie Mario with Princess Toadstool, even if she has expressed no interest in you and your shoes smell like squished Goomba.

However, she’s the main character in her own story, too, and just like you want someone you think is gorgeous and lovely, so does she. And you might not be that person, no matter how nice you are. It’s okay. It happens sometimes. You just have to deal.

* * *

One of the worst things about the friend zone is that it makes some men embarrassed of their friendships with women. Being friend zoned is seen as a mark of emasculation, and since there’s supposedly no other purpose of being friends with a woman besides having sex with her, every platonic friendship with a woman is viewed as an implied rejection and thus a failure. Every act of kindness shown to a woman that doesn’t result in her ripping off her clothes isn’t just a waste but a pathetic act of self-torture (“You picked her up from the airport? FRIEND ZONE LEVEL 100! She had a bad day at work and you listened to her for a few minutes without getting any ass? FRIEND ZONE LEVEL INFINITY!”). These men will have fewer friendships with women, which means they’ll have fewer women they care about, which means they’ll be more accepting of whatever misogynistic nonsense they read on some creepy subreddit. And the cycle of toxicity will self-perpetuate.

The reverse happens, too. If women are constantly suspicious of their male friends’ motives, they may decide that male platonic friendships are more trouble than they’re worth. Who wants to deal with the hurt when someone you thought was a really great friend just wanted to have sex with you? Who wants to be accused of leading someone on or berated for being a typical woman who can’t appreciate a nice guy?

(Also, what’s the deal with people saying that if a man is sexually attracted to a female friend, it’s proof that he’s not really her friend, or that male-female friendships are impossible? If a woman is attractive, there’s a decent chance that at least some of her male heterosexual friends would be pretty stoked to sleep with her. But if she doesn’t want to sleep with them, it’s entirely possible that they’re okay with that and value and appreciate her friendship anyway. In fact, it’s kind of fucked up that “is sexually attracted to a woman” and “genuinely values a woman’s friendship” are often accepted as mutually exclusive concepts—what the hell does that say about us? In any case, as the great Mayor Diamond Joe Quimby says, it can be two things.)

* * *

During the rest of Hey Arnold!’s run, Arnold still crushed on Lila. And Lila continued to view Arnold as purely a platonic friend, much to his chagrin. But Arnold didn’t accuse Lila of leading him on or complain that Lila was a stupid bitch who friend zoned him because she couldn’t see how nice of a guy he was.

Yes, asymmetrical affection sucks for the reason Arnold articulated perfectly, but Arnold found a way to deal with it without being a self-pitying asshole. As with most things in life, we should all be like Arnold.

Or maybe Gerald. That dude has a field named after him and has some pretty rad hair. Let’s be like him, too.


Monday, October 19, 2015

A people’s history of 88 Advertising (a.k.a. the true origin of the legendary Doc Marsh)

This is Doc Marsh.


He’s a sandhill crane that somehow graduated from medical school (I know, makes me wonder what I’m doing with my life, too) and is now a physician at Marshfield Clinic, a network of hospitals and clinics in Wisconsin.

Doc Marsh is too modest to say so himself, but he’s a pretty big deal. I don’t mean to drop any names, but check out the good doctor hanging out with none other than rock star Eau Claire School Board At-Large—and in Charge—Commissioner Joe Luginbill, a.k.a. the bad boy of the City of Eau Claire Utility Appeals Board.



Yeah, the Joe Luginbill. That ain’t no Photoshop, yo.

The reason I know that Doc Marsh wouldn’t be a shameless namedropper is because, contrary to his origin story on the Marshfield Clinic website, Doc Marsh wasn’t created by Marshfield Clinic. Rather, this alumnus of the Avian School of Medicine was the product of the finest ragtag group of advertising professionals with whom I’ve had the privilege to work: 88 Advertising.

Truth be told, I hadn’t thought about Doc Marsh or 88 Advertising in years. But back to school week—with all these commercials for school supplies and dorm gear1—coupled with an unsolicited reminder from Facebook that I’m still an admin for the Doc Marsh fan page we set up has made me nostalgic for the halcyon days of senior spring semester. This nostalgia has, in turn, provided a stark reminder of my rapidly evaporating youth, the fading sense of limitless possibility, and the ephemerality of all things.

So join me as I work through this via the most effective of quarter-life crisis remedies: a needlessly exhaustive history on a topic with limited, if any, general appeal.

* * *

ADV4800, better known as Advertising Campaigns, is the capstone course in the advertising major at the University of Florida. The premise is simple: the class is divided into several teams (or “agencies”) of about eight students each, and each agency creates and pitches an advertising campaign for a real-life client with a real-life advertising challenge. The agency whose campaign most impresses the client wins.

It’s treated as Very Serious Business. Some advertising majors have described the class as basically having a full-time job; some plan their schedules so that ADV4800 is their only class during their final semester, while others supposedly quit their actual jobs in preparation for the Campaigns workload.

While that may be a bit much, there’s good reason to take the class seriously. If rumors are to be believed, past clients gave the winning agency pretty great prizes: a travel agency purportedly gave free plane tickets to Europe to one winning team several years ago; a brewery gave its winning team a year’s supply of beer. It’s entirely possible that these are apocryphal Campaigns urban legends, but even without fabulous prizes, you get a chance to impress a client and their ad agency, and maybe you can parlay that into an entry-level position fetching crullers and advancing Keynote slides after graduation—which is the greatest prize of all, right?

And make no mistake; the course is structured to be treated as Very Serious Business. To ensure everybody treats the project seriously, agencies have the ability to “fire” underperforming or unpleasant team members via unanimous vote. A fired employee would either have to complete the project from scratch by themselves (close to impossible, and almost certainly an F), find another agency to “hire” them (pretty difficult as well—who would want to risk taking on another team’s rejected riff-raff?), or drop the course and try again next semester (which means delaying graduation).2


* * *

88 Advertising was formed entirely by chance. In this case, “chance” is slang for “Sprint’s spectacularly bad coverage in Gainesville.”

When I was at UF, there were two professors you wanted for Campaigns. Both had well-deserved reputations for being smart, insightful, encouraging, and all-around amazing people. (Basically, they were the Joe Luginbills of advertising professors.) One of them—the professor in my first real advertising class and one of my favorite instructors ever—left UF. It was genuinely upsetting (seriously, he was amazing), but we understood; I suppose there are only so many jorts and flip-flops you can take before wanting a change of scenery.

Luckily, the other professor stuck around, and I snagged the last seat in his class. This would leave me all alone in Campaigns without my three friends from previous group projects, so I repeatedly refreshed the Drop/Add page on my laptop to check if more seats were available for them to join me. It seems thoughtful, until you realize I was asking three other people to rearrange their entire schedule just so that I don’t have to be alone. (Was I a selfish dick in college? I didn’t think so at the time, but in retrospect: maybe?)

Finally, I caught lightning in a bottle: three seats opened up. I texted my three friends immediately (“QUICK 3 SEATS IN CAMPAIGNS RIGHT NOW”); two of them grab seats within minutes; one, I’d learn when it was too late, never got the text. He got stuck in the other Campaigns class, unfortunately.

If he had gotten the text, though, 88 Advertising wouldn’t have existed. Some acquaintances from our previous courses had a group of five and needed exactly three more people to complete their team, and our smaller group of three just happened to be sitting right next to them. Ours was the first team formed.

It’s not exactly clear why we picked “88 Advertising” for our name, but the explanation we settled on was that 88 miles per hour was the speed required for time travel in the Back to the Future films. We set up an official (and immediately-neglected) team Twitter account and 88advertising.com, a website that had our logo and a clip of Doc Brown saying, “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” (Because we’re such innovative and creative thinkers that we don’t follow predefined paths! And, also, because when we brainstorm, we operate at 1.21 gigawatts! Thankfully, my agency didn’t make unforgivable dorkiness a fireable offense.)




We later found out that some neo-Nazis use the number 88 as a symbol; “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so “88” is “HH,” or “Heil Hitler.” This was obviously distressing, and in our second team meeting, we discussed changing the name. The consensus: well, we’re definitely not neo-Nazis, but we did already buy the domain name, so… yeah.

Also, we arbitrarily decided to become arch-rivals with another agency that called themselves Checkm8te and had a chess motif on their identity materials. As far as I can tell, it was entirely one-sided (though one of our classmates told us on Pitch Day that “the biggest competition is between you guys and Checkm8te,” so maybe we eventually willed a rivalry into existence) and for the stupidest reason: we thought of the idea to have a numerical name first, damn it.



(And also, how are you supposed to pronounce that? If it’s supposed to be like “checkmate,” shouldn’t the name be “Checkm8”? You’d pronounce Checkm8te like “checkmatete.” But I digress.)

* * *

When we discovered that our client would be Marshfield Clinic, we were kind of bummed. No offense to Wisconsin’s finest health care provider or anything, but our dreams of free tickets to Europe or limitless booze evaporated, and in its place… a free checkup, perhaps? Or a coupon for 25 percent off a pap smear or something? Alas, there would be no additional prize for winning beyond the standard $100 bonus—a C-note that, it should be noted, would have to be split eight ways. So basically, $12.50 for each of us was on the line.

But it didn’t matter. Ours was a group of competitive people, and we all wanted to win, even if the prize would be barely enough to cover a meal at Chili’s, excluding tip. That’s not unusual; Campaigns was designed to bring out the fighting spirit in even the most indifferent student. What was unusual was that we somehow adopted a team policy that we were a team powered by love.

To wit, here was a set of informal team principles that we wrote, presumably instead of, y’know, actually working:



For the record, we never delivered a presentation drunk. And man, we didn’t like Checkm8te.

It gets even cutesier. This is an actual excerpt from a draft of our team philosophy:

88 Advertising is a group of eight advertising professionals who are smart, creative, dedicated, and driven. And we pretty much love each other, too.

Dorky? Kind of. Truthful? You bet.

It’s the special kind of love that comes with being around people whom you respect and admire. We all bring something to the table, and we bring out the best in each other. We’re here for each other, and we support each other—even if we’re cringing at each others’ bad jokes, or attempting and failing to give each other high-fives, or scamming free sandals from American Eagle campus reps.

We say, with varying levels of facetiousness, that we’re the most loving team ever. But that’s not just a reflection of our sentimentalism; it’s a reflection of the work we can produce. It’s true that our work is a product of our love, but just as true is that our love is a product of our work: the more we see what we’re capable of, the more we learn about each other’s abilities, and the more time we spend with each other both professionally and personally, the more our affection for each other is affirmed.

Yikes, right?

I remember I had a hand in writing that, and as tongue-in-cheek as that excerpt sounds—especially for us, people who weren’t just “smart, creative, dedicated, and driven” but also at times a bunch of jaded smartasses—I think I was being sincere when I wrote it. It’s not just that I really liked my teammates (that American Eagle aside isn’t a weird joke; we, as a team, scored free footwear from American Eagle by surreptitiously following the campus reps around the Reitz Union North Lawn and pretending to stumble upon the giveaway—seriously, these were my peeps); I wanted to have at least some evidence before graduation that, despite the advertising field’s reputation for being a cutthroat, hypercompetitive, dog-eat-dog field, you could do good work predicated on respect, admiration, and affection for your colleagues.

And we lived up to that: we did become fast friends with each other. We ate lunch and dinner and frozen yogurt together, at first as “on the clock” meetings, but then just because. We’d go out for drinks or sushi, then, because we were adorable, note the trips as “team-building exercises” on our required weekly Agency Activity Reports. (In retrospect, it must’ve looked suspicious to our professor that we had a team meeting… at a bar in midtown… that ended at 3 AM.) We gave each other personal3 and professional advice, talked about our dreams and fears for post-collegiate life, and cheered each other on whenever one of us scored and/or aced a job interview.




* * *

Somewhere along the line, we decided we needed a Marshfield Clinic mascot. We had two criteria for deciding what animal we’d use:

  1. Is the animal native to Wisconsin?
  2. Is it easy to draw the animal wearing a lab coat?

Some furious Wikipediaing later, we decided on the sandhill crane. There was some concern over whether the sandhill crane is unique enough to Wisconsin—they’re all over the country, so these birds are native to Wisconsin in the same way a housecat is native to Florida—but then we saw how easy it was to draw a crane in a lab coat, so that pretty much sealed the deal. As a placeholder, we called our creation “Doctor Marshie” and made mental notes to come up with a better name ASAP. I assume at some point we were all just, eh, whatever, let’s just chop off two syllables and call it done.

We did some rough concept art, but then hired one of our roommates to clean up our sketches. (88 Advertising’s accounts payable records show that payment was rendered in full in the form of Pabst Blue Ribbon.) This was the first official graven image of Doc Marsh:



There exists an image of a maniacal, knife-wielding Doc Marsh that was included in the art we received. We declined to use it.

My proudest contribution was some truly heinous Doc Marsh puns on the Doc Marsh Facebook page:




Also of note: we ordered a sandhill crane stuffed animal to be a sort of Doc Marsh avatar that ultimately served no real purpose in our presentation besides lookin’ cute (which I thought was supposed to be my job, amirite ladies?) and was really more expensive than it should’ve been. And we temporarily “adopted” a sandhill crane named Chevor at the Wildwood Zoo in Marshfield, Wisconsin. We got a bio sheet and photo and everything!



I put “adopted” in scare quotes because none of us remember actually sending the zoo a check; we remember contacting them for more information, and then the adoption certificate arrived. So there’s a chance we screwed the Wildwood Zoo out of $35, which, if so: we apologize. But if it’s any consolation, we probably used the $35 for team-building exercises.

* * *



This story ends the way you think it does. 88 Advertising’s pitch was selected by Marshfield Clinic as the best creative pitch (two other agencies, which our old Twitter account tells me were called +Moxie and Lighthouse, shared the prize for best strategic pitch), and we each collected a sweet $12.50, which was indeed enough to cover a dinner at Chili’s.



That receipt was real, by the way, and happened entirely by chance.

At graduation, we all sat together, and each of us put an 88 Advertising logo on our caps. It sounds impossibly lame when I say it, but it’s true and I’m going to say it anyway: we spent our final moments as undergrads together. And we spent them chanting “88,” probably to the eyerolls of anybody within earshot who knew who we were.

Sometime between then and now, Marshfield Clinic actually made Doc Marsh a real thing—although they made him look younger and less fat, which, ugh, typical youth-obsessed, body-shaming advertising. Make no mistake; our industry is evil, and not even highly-educated, fictitious birds are safe.



Also, can we all get free Doc Marsh plushies or something? Because suddenly our $12.50 seems somehow inadequate.

* * *

The easy takeaway from my 88 Advertising experience is some clichéd notion about the importance of having coworkers you like and about whom you care deeply. That’s true enough: many people spend as much as half (or more!) of their waking life at work with their colleagues, and the people at work become an imaginary family of sorts. If you’re indifferent to your coworkers, work tends to be boring; if you hate your coworkers, work tends to be miserable; if you love your coworkers, that love can imbue the most meaningless of tasks with a sense of mission and purpose.

Ostensibly, that’s what happened here. There’s no real reason for any of us to care about a chain of medical practices in Wisconsin; even if, inexplicably, Marshfield Clinic and/or its advertising agency were so impressed by our work that they offered us jobs, it’s doubtful any of us would’ve moved to Wisconsin to take it. Yet, we cared—a lot.

Some of it was just natural competitiveness and a desire to end our time at UF on a high note, to be sure. But a lot of it was the joy that came from creating a community that could depend on each other and the mild high that comes from growing closer by having a shared vision. In retrospect, it’s remarkable how much we jelled; I don’t recall a single fight or argument or even a cross word, even during the most stressful times. (I remember the opposite, actually; when we were close to a project milestone, we’d send emails and texts asking each other what we could do to make each other’s lives easier, because we were fuckin’ adorbs.)

But that would be a lame takeaway. The truth is, for all the hype about how Campaigns recreates what things will be like in the real world, the course hasn’t resembled my lived reality of what real-world work life is like. Campaigns creates a situation in which everybody has the same goal, and your team members have every incentive to trust and be trusted, to do good work, and to be there for each other. In the real world, your coworkers are often incentivized to sabotage, backstab, and create the illusion of working hard without necessarily doing so, all to get their promotion or their raise. Hell, I’ve worked in low-stakes workplaces, and this still exists when there’s nothing of real value to be gained—people will act shittily just to get the slightly nicer cubicle or a raise that amounts to 55 cents an hour or the right to the kitty cat Post-it dispenser4.



* * *

When I think back to 88 Advertising, I think of this: By senior year, and especially by senior spring semester, I had all but completely stopped making an effort to meet new people—it’s the last few months of college, so what’s the point? It’s going to be tough enough to hang on to your friends that you’ve known since freshman year post-graduation—time, geography, and the pressures of becoming an adult in a then-bleak economy all have a way of reducing even the strongest of connections to a tenuous, occasional-text-or-Facebook-message dynamic—that relationships that gestate during the nine months of senior year will wind up stillborn by the time you start moving out of your college apartment.

Even at the apex of the 88 Advertising lovefest, I still wasn’t Pollyanna about these realities. I remember thinking more than a few times how much it sucked that, in all likelihood, these connections are going to be temporary. And, of course, for the most part, they were: of my seven 88 Advertising colleagues, I’ve talked to exactly two of them in the past three years. And while that’s disappointing to think about—when I mentally counted the years just now, I audibly said oh damn to myself—that seems about right.

Senior year was my favorite year of college, and it was in part thanks to 88 Advertising5. Having this group of people, even temporarily, to accompany me through my final months of college and act at times as a support group, cheering section, and collective confidant played a role in turning what could’ve been a terrifying and nauseating transitional time into probably the time I felt happiest and most at peace and, if not necessarily fearless about the future, then kind of scared-but-excited about it.

So that’s my real takeaway from—and the legacy of—88 Advertising: that impermanent connections have value, and just because something is temporary doesn’t mean it doesn’t have meaning. And that’s heady stuff for what is essentially just a study group for a class project, but hey: transitional times have a way of filling normally insignificant things with more meaning than they should have. These people were pretty great, and I’m glad I got to know them, even if it was just for a little bit.

Or, at least, that was my takeaway, until it turned out that Doc Marsh became a real thing. That’s a much less bittersweet legacy for 88 Advertising, so I’m happy to go with that instead.

* * *

Oh, and also, we learned that “Use Twitter!” will not be well-received as an answer to, “How can Marshfield Clinic reach out to the Amish community?”



I can’t confirm that 88 Advertising had anything to do with @MarshfieldAmish. But I can confirm that @MarshfieldAmish definitely got suspended. I regret nothing.



1I started writing this back in September. I decided to finish it after I wished one of my 88 Advertising colleagues a happy birthday and he expressed interest in reading it (and to make sure it was completed before Marty McFly Goes to the Future Day).

2I’ve always been fascinated by this aspect of Campaigns. Wouldn’t it be crazy strategy if someone joins an agency with the intention of being a mole for another agency? The mole steals all of the team’s work, then acts like an ass to get fired, then gets hired by the agency he was working for all along. It’s an amazing bit of chicanery—especially if the agency who’s supposed to hire the mole double-crosses him and declines to hire him in the end.

3I remember one of my teammates was going through a breakup, and I used my column in the campus newspaper to try to cheer her up, resulting in an article describing all the reasons why a breakup can be a good thing right there in the editorial pages. And although, yes, I totally had a crush on her, I’d like to point out my super awesome restraint in not asking her out on a date, because I figured either she’d say no OR she’d say yes and my awkward-ass self would have, probabilistically speaking, found a way to make the date go terribly, and either way, I didn’t want to risk making her feel uncomfortable having to work with either the Dude She Turned Down or the Dude With Whom She Went On A Shitty Date for an entire semester. Also, I thought she was really smart and pretty and I got a case of the cowardice. Really, either explanation works.6
 
4Just kidding—I got that kitty cat Post-it dispenser thanks to an awesome coworker, so that’s actually a bad example. But my general point stands.

5It was also thanks in huge part to my amazing senior year roommate, but this essay isn’t about him, and we don’t really get effusive about each other ever since we got dinner at a Cheesecake Factory and a well-meaning waitress thought we were a couple and started earnestly suggesting post-dinner date ideas for us. It’s my bad—I had a mustache at the time, so I can see how she could’ve gotten confused.
 
6Probably more the coward thing. Hey, she was so cool and so cute and I got a little intimidated. It happens. Don’t judge me.

Friday, June 26, 2015

It is so ordered

Photo: Ludovic Bertron via Wikipedia (CC BY)

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage—a.k.a., marriage—today in a 5-4 decision. Now is as good a time as any to re-post this picture of former Sen. Rick Santorum, autographed by sex advice columnist/LGBT activist/neologism coiner Dan Savage with his best wishes.



It’s pretty much the only autograph for which I’ve ever asked.

* * *

And a small anecdote: When I was in high school in 2006, my school district, as policy, blocked all LGBT-related websites, including those that provided resources and support for LGBT youth. (In what I’m sure was a complete coincidence, access to the websites of right-wing groups featuring anti-LGBT material—including Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, and NARTH—were completely accessible.)

My high school’s online newspaper published an article about the policy; subsequently, our online newspaper got blocked as well.

Anti-LGBT web filtering policies and we were still stuck using Internet Explorer. Dark days indeed.

I remember when we were publishing that article, we felt kind of badass and edgy and controversial. I’m grateful that, thanks in part to five members of the Supreme Court today, sticking up for LGBT students doesn’t feel badass and edgy and controversial anymore; it just feels like the right, expected, common sense thing to do.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

This guy are sick

I remember back in high school (and the first year or so of college), I apparently had a thing for pretty girls with brown hair and green eyes. I say “apparently” because this wasn’t something I announced or was even initially aware of; my friends pointed it out—repeatedly—and just rolled with it.

There was a period when every time I told some people that I met a girl I liked, the first thing anyone would ask, independently of each other, was, “Brown hair and green eyes, right?” My response—“Hey, shut up! …But yes”—didn’t help matters.

Among my circle of friends in high school, it was reasonably well known that I had a crush on a friend who had brown hair and green eyes, which was notable because she and I had close-to-literally nothing in common. (In retrospect, it was weird that we were friends to begin with, but what can I say? I was a friendly dude in the eleventh grade.) Yet nobody questioned it because, again: brown hair and green eyes. Someone attempted to mount a defense on my behalf—“It’s not necessarily because of the hair and eyes, guys; don’t forget she has a really nice ass”—and that’s when I decided to embrace the brown-hair-green-eyes thing, because having a reputation for liking girls with certain hair and eye colors seemed less creepy than having a reputation for being an ass guy.

The reason I bring this up is because I’m belatedly realizing that there’s a strong chance that this came about in part—and likely in whole—out of sublimated feelings for Aeris Gainsborough. Listen, I’m not saying that I’m proud of this.

Also, the 1997 version of me would've had his mind blown if he had known what kind of flowers Aeris the Flower Girl was actually selling. He still would've fought anyone who made "She sure can handle a staff well" jokes, though, because how dare you disrespect sweet beautiful Aeris, damn it.

Anyway. I’m excited for the Final Fantasy VII remake. But not in that way, I swear.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Aéropostale’s ridiculous product descriptions make me feel old like whoa

Shopping at any teen-oriented mall clothing retailer is usually enough to make me feel impossibly old—music that’s unfamiliar and therefore annoying, pictures of models who aren’t old enough to buy beer in Canada, and fellow shoppers who are trying to gauge whether I’m a creepy dude trolling for barely-18s or if I’m a vaguely out-of-touch uncle searching for a nephew’s birthday gift who still thinks Hollister is totes rad. (Joke’s on you, kids—the correct answer is “I am in ‘overwrought quarter-life crisis’ mode and am dealing with being closer to 30 than 20 by dressing like a 16-year-old in 2005.”)

But there’s no retail experience that makes me more acutely aware of my senescence than shopping on Aéropostale’s website. Aéropostale is definitely not for me—they’re “principally targeting 14 to 17-year-old young women and men”—and they make that clear with some amazing product descriptions for each and every one of the products they sell.

As far as I can tell, Aéropostale is headquartered in the town of Riverdale, and everybody’s biggest concerns are running “a smooth campaign for class prez” or making “that first impression count when meeting your GF’s dad.” (Incidentally, Aéropostale’s Long Sleeve Textured Woven Shirt and Multi-stripe Crew Neck Sweater, respectively, can help with each.) Indeed, the product descriptions are simultaneously ridiculous and weirdly poignant—at least for me, each of my eye rolls are accompanied by a pang of nostalgia for the days when my biggest worries were minor enough to be solved with the purchase of affordably-priced apparel.

In any case, let’s marvel at some of these product descriptions that somebody was inexplicably given actual, spendable money to write.

Description: When that girl from first period gets flirty and a sweetie from second shoots you a smile, you know the Brooklyn Calling Star Pocket Tee is workin' its magic! With its stellar print and stylish chest pocket, this shirt has all the ladies swooning. Pair it with dark-wash jeans to turn up the charm!


Admittedly, it’s been a while since my day was divided into periods, but I really don’t remember a chest pocket being a component in making a lady—let alone all the ladies—swoon.

Description: Go into the big exam knowing you're too legit to quit, and tackle those tough questions in this Brooklyn Calling Striped Colorblock Pocket Tee! The bold, high-contrast style gives you a super-smart look, so put on your flat-brimmed thinking cap, then finish the essay while you're in beast mode.


So, I’m going to go into the big exam like MC Hammer in 1991? Does that mean I’m going to fail? And what does finishing an essay while in beast mode entail—do I use the active voice instead of the passive voice or something?

Description: If your idea of a great staycation includes comfy style and tons of video games, throw on our Aero NY Skinny Sweatpants and grab that controller! These fleecy bottoms feature a super-soft construction, hand pockets and a stretchy ribbed waist; Aero appliqués and "NY 1987" embroidery add a classic signature touch.


I really like how Aéropostale found a positive way of saying, “If all you’re going to do is be a lazy fucker in front of the TV, wear sweatpants, you big life-waster.” Jake the Dog was right.

Description: Whether you're stuck in Lametown, cruising NYC, or kickin' it in LA, our Aero Banner Logo Pullover Hoodie cuts a super-trendy look for any place in the USA! It's decked out with blocky "Aero NY-87" text and features a fleecy feel and classic kangaroo pocket.


Aéropostale: clothing for teens who hate their dumb lame town and I hate you all and none of you get me and I can’t wait until I’m 18 so I can finally get the hell out of this place.

Description: Dude, it's okay to admit when cold temps make ya shiver, but you won't ever need to when you layer up with this toasty Brooklyn Calling Long Sleeve Colorblocked Thermal Tee! Waffle-knit fabric ensures warmth, so your GF will never find out how fast you succumb to chilly air; colorblocked raglan sleeves add way-cool casual style, too.


Let’s ignore the contradictory message of “It’s okay to say you’re cold, but buy this shirt so that no one knows you’re cold” and instead focus on how brazenly manipulative this product description is—it’s a stone’s throw away from just outright saying, Buy this shirt so that your girlfriend won’t know you’re a total pussy, bro!

Description: The cosmopolitan cutie concealed on this Free State City Girl Graphic T has traveled the world lookin' for love, but you'd be the only guy to catch her eye! It features the names of some awesome urban locales; pair this tee with crisp chinos and get ready to give those smiling ladies your digits.


This T-shirt is called “City Girl,” and the description says that it “features the names of some awesome urban locales.” Serious question: Does Aéropostale think Denmark is a city?

Description: When you accept first prize for the best-decorated pumpkin in the patch, make sure you're rockin' our Solid Lace Crop Tank! You'll make a memorable impression thanks to its classic solid shade, cool lace detailing, and cute keyhole-closure back.


“Best-decorated pumpkin in the patch” isn’t a euphemism, right?

Description: Toss on this Locker Stock Xmas Games Graphic T, then polish those pong skills during all the crazy festivities! It's designed with colorful plastic cups stacked to form a Christmas tree. Don't forget to take a break and toast to your fun-lovin' bros!


This is the one that made me feel completely ancient. “Xmas games” and “pong skills” are Aéropostale’s way of studiously avoiding referencing alcohol—because, again, their target demographic is young folks between the ages of 14 and 17. In other words, I’m shopping for clothes at a store that will feature a shirt with a ping-pong ball and Solo cups but has deemed it inappropriate to actually say the words “beer pong.” Even American Eagle—for which I’m also too old—has no qualms about a Christmas-themed booze reference. (On the other hand, they also have no qualms about having Santa with a candy-striped phallus, so, yeah.)



Bah. I’m too old for this shit. I’ll be at Banana Republic.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Two stories about high school Valentine’s Day fundraisers

One Valentine’s Day, our student government decided to sell cans of orange soda as a fundraiser. Students would buy a can of orange soda for their loved ones, and we’d deliver the cans to the lucky recipients with a note saying, “Someone has a CRUSH on you!”


Unfortunately, midway through the fundraiser, we discovered that some of the orange soda we bought were not cans of Crush, but rather Sunkist. (On one hand, orange soda cans look a lot alike, so it’s understandable; on the other hand, when a fundraiser is predicated entirely on a pun, it probably makes sense to double-check the brand.)

This led to a hasty re-writing of notes saying, “You’ve been SunKISSED!”—which, as a student government whose sole accomplishment was the purchase of completely unnecessary picnic tables, was probably our most brilliant moment ever.

Also, I seem to recall discussions that selling orange soda in a majority-minority school as a fundraiser could be construed as somewhat racist. This led to someone adamantly insisting that the stereotype was grape soda, not orange, and therefore the fundraiser could go forward; someone else pointed out that the confusion likely stemmed from Kenan & Kel. Truly, we were the leaders of tomorrow.



* * *

For another Valentine’s Day, the drama club sold roses to raise money for a trip to New York. In the days leading up to February 14, students would pre-order a rose and sign their name and their recipient’s name in a log book. On Valentine’s Day, somebody from the drama club wrote all the names in little “To/From” cards, and somebody else delivered the roses during lunch.

The first sign of trouble was in the case of a girl named Katie Smith1. Katie had a crush on a boy but was too nervous to tell him. So, when she filled out her entry in the log book, she said she wanted her rose to be anonymous; the drama club kid taking the orders told her to put her name down as “Anonymous,” which she did. The drama club kid then wrote “(Katie Smith)” next to it, presumably for record-keeping purposes.

Unfortunately, the log book keeper didn’t communicate this to the card writer, who then proceeded to write “From: Anonymous (Katie Smith)” on the card. At lunch, Katie was horrified as she watched the boy get the rose and ask, “Who’s Katie Smith?” Horror quickly turned into humiliated heartbreak when one of his friends pointed at her and he glumly said, “Oh, the fat one?” Oooof, that kid was a dick.

But that wasn’t even the biggest problem with the fundraiser. The pre-order system was designed specifically so that the drama club could place a discount bulk order with a flower vendor with the exact number of roses they needed. It’s a smart idea—unless the kid placing the bulk order miscounts how many roses were needed by a couple hundred.

And so, with an already razor-thin profit margin, several members of the drama club were forced to go to the store on Valentine’s Day to buy comparable-quality roses to satisfy the remaining orders at full retail.

I wasn’t in the drama club, but the reason I know all this is because I reported on the fundraiser—which was among the most successful fundraisers in our school’s history in terms of units sold—for our high school’s online newspaper. And this is the headline I chose for the story, because I was an asshole:



“Drama club V-Day fundraiser raises over $6.” And yes, when it was all said and done, their net profit was indeed $6.47.

That story, incidentally, caused the online newspaper to be temporarily banned, supposedly for painting the school in a negative light. But to be fair, we were already on thin ice for our breaking news coverage of the time some kid defecated into a urinal2.


1Not her real last name. Actually, I don’t even remember her last name, but I don’t think it was Smith.

2This was completely true. We seriously got three teachers on the record to confirm the story. God, my high school was messed up.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Six oh six five two

Suddenly, it becomes abundantly clear why I never received a comic activity book.

Garden State at 10: Junioritis and home


On the first day of one of my sophomore year classes, our professor had us do a getting-to-know-each-other activity in which we all wrote down a dozen fun facts about ourselves on a piece of paper. Once we were all done, we'd introduce ourselves to each other, and, for every fact that somebody had written down that applied to you as well, you were supposed to put your initials next to the item.

I remember my fun fact that got the most initials: "I still love the movie Garden State," with the underline. More than half of the people with whom I spoke initialed it, and many of them actually repeated it back: "I still love it too," verbalizing the underline themselves. I'm not sure when the backlash against Garden State happened, but whenever it did, it happened hard enough that I felt compelled to couch my love for the movie with a defensive, self-aware still.

This past July was the ten-year anniversary of the movie (and this past week was the ten-year anniversary of me watching it), and many folks on the Internet have taken the opportunity to write thinkpieces on the movie -- either to smack it around further, or to offer some defense of it with an implied "It's not as bad as you remember!"

I don't have any unique, gamechanging defense of Garden State; rather, I'll just say that the hate for the movie is kind of absurd. It's not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination ("New Slang" did not change my or anyone else's life1, for instance), but there just isn't anything in the movie that should inspire anything worse than mild to moderate annoyance if it isn't your thing, let alone the accusations of cinematic malpractice frequently leveled at it.


Garden State, it's worth pointing out, got a very strong 86 percent at Rotten Tomatoes and a decent 67 points at Metacritic. Critics can be wrong, of course, but those numbers do suggest that the hostility towards Garden State isn't because it was a Terrible Movie That Everybody Agrees Was Terrible2.

In any case, the movie still means a lot to me, and I consider it among my favorite movies of all time. My DVD of the movie -- given to me, incidentally, by my AP comparative government teacher who bought it on my enthusiastic recommendation and subsequently hated it4 -- has been played more often than any other DVD I own, in part because Garden State has been one of my go-to AV comfort foods for a decade now. Here's why I think that is.

Junioritis

I saw Garden State at the start of my junior year of high school5, which is pretty much the best time for this sort of movie to have maximum impact. Consider this: Junior year is the oldest you'll be at high school without feeling like you're too old for high school.

In senior year, of course, high school feels irrelevant. You usually have the lightest course load -- a few AP classes here and there, or maybe a PE requirement you've been putting off, or study halls that transofrm into impromptu trips to the beach and/or Chili's. Or you've dual-enrolled at a local college and the physical high school itself is irrelevant. By October, you've probably applied to most of your favored colleges, and by January, most everybody knows where they're going after high school. It becomes very clear that your academic career will not end if you half-ass a SparkNotes-inspired Jane Eyre essay.

More importantly, the non-academic parts of your high school life start to feel irrelevant, too. Things that once seemed so important -- your friends' weekly movie night, emotional fallout from a failed relationship, trying to ask out someone you've been crushing on for months -- suddenly feel meaningless. As friends announce their plans to move to different cities, a sense of "We're probably never going to see each other again" hangs in the air; "We'll keep in touch on MySpace6" seems less an empty but well-intentioned promise and more an affirmation of just how far apart you guys will be.

Junior year is the opposite situation. College is still far enough away that high school still feels very real, but not so far away that you don't feel pangs of urgency -- oh shit, high school is halfway over! This is my last chance to leave this place with a bunch of amazing friendships, cool stories, and memories that'll last forever! It's this urgency that makes junior year so potentially transformational. It's the only year where high school feels both urgent and important because there's just enough time left that accomplishing goals seems both feasible and worthwhile but not enough time that you can afford to put it off.

And junior year is hopeful. There's hope that you really will be best friends forever with someone, instead of grimly thinking that all your high school friends are doomed to become "acquaintances with whom you occasionally get coffee and perfunctorily rehash old stories." There's hope that the parties or beach days or late-night coffee chats or road trips will still seem cool and significant and "what life is all about" two or three years from now. There's hope that a crush can be the one you love forever -- and not just your final pre-collegiate sex buddy a week before you each move into your dorms.

So if senioritis, broadly defined, is the apathy induced by the feeling that a particular stage of life (like high school) is no longer relevant because it will soon be over and nothing meaningful or important can be done in the time left, I think junioritis is the spurt of urgent activity caused by a realization that a particular stage of life is almost over coupled with the hope that there is still enough time left to do something meaningful and important.

Which brings me back to Garden State. The movie's main argument -- that allowing yourself to feel and experience life even if it hurts is better than numbing yourself to everything -- isn't exactly groundbreaking stuff, but for a junior who was very aware that high school was halfway over, it was a call to action: to build and deepen friendships and relationships, to trust my friends and share parts of my soul I had previously kept to myself, and to try to have completely original moments in human history.


In other words, typical high school angsty stuff. But I don't mean to sound dismissive; I'm grateful that Garden State was there to kick my ass into taking more emotional risks, and to assure me that whenever those risks resulted in some heartache, what I felt was better than not feeling anything at all.

Home and the "Garden State moment"

The other big takeaway from Garden State was one that only clicked once I came back home from college during my freshman year Thanksgiving break. In the movie, Zach Braff talks about "home":


You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? All of a sudden, even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone. ... You'll see one day when you move out. It just sort of happens one day, and it's gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It's like you feel homesick for a place that doesn't even exist.

I wrote about this in my college newspaper as a part of a series of columns offering advice to freshmen. In the column, I defined the "Garden State moment" as "the moment where you feel that something with which you grew up that seemed so significant, comforting or protective just isn't all that relevant to your current life anymore," and offered as an example the moment when you come back home from college, visit an old friend, and discover that one or both of you have moved on.

What I didn't realize is that your twenties are a minefield of Garden State moments. Your twenties, after all, are these years that are filled with transition: new jobs, new cities, new people, new priorities. Your twenties are tough on every kind of relationship -- it's hard enough when you're making a conscious, concerted effort to maintain friendships; it's damn near impossible to rely solely on increasingly faded shared memories to keep them alive.

For all of Garden State's flaws, it does a remarkable job of capturing the feeling of lacking grounding and emotional homelessness. To be sure, there are more serious problems (e.g., actual homelessness), but for those wandering through their twenties, it can be soothing to the soul. I like this line from the now-defunct Premiere magazine's review: "Not since The Graduate has a movie nailed the beautiful terror of standing on the brink of adulthood with such satisfying precision."

I think Garden State is, in essence, a movie about not having your shit together, and the dislike -- if not necessarily the revulsion -- directed towards the movie is understandable if you have little patience for that. It's a movie that's awkward and heartfelt and messy and earnest, which can be tedious, but as far as losing your sense of home and finding a new one goes, "awkward and heartfelt and messy and earnest" is some kind of perfect.





1Except James Mercer's, I guess.

2Personally, I think it's some combination of: (1) how cool it is to hate Zach Braff now; (2) the navel-gazing films of often-poor quality that Garden State influenced; (3) a desire to put distance between one and a younger, presumably more embarrassing version of oneself that happened to like Garden State to prove unconsciously that one has matured; and (4) the desire for pop-culturally aware folks to show that they dislike the right things by being particularly vociferous about things that they normally wouldn't feel that strongly about, the way that people pretend to get all flustered and angry about Comic Sans3 even though nobody can articulate a real reason why they're that bothered by it. That, or they just really didn't like the movie. Whatevs, that's cool, too.

3Truthfully, I don't even like Comic Sans, but there's a smugness that permeates the Comic Sans hate, and smugness predicated on groupthink is kind of obnoxious. And the oft-stated reason for hating the font -- it's used in inappropriate settings -- doesn't really seem to justify the outsized scorn for it. WARNING: QUARANTINE ZONE - DEADLY AIRBORNE DISEASE! It looks weird, true, but do you really care? In conclusion, that's why all my emails and faxes at my previous job were in Comic Sans, and that's possibly why it is now my "previous" job.

4Well before the backlash, to his credit.

5I saw Garden State with who was, in theory, one of my close friends in high school. In practice, our friendship was kind of a disaster -- filled with angst and hurt feelings and so many awkward lunches in which none of our mutual friends were aware of how much we sometimes hated each other. But! She did become my go-to person with whom I could see off-the-beaten-path movies, a job that few of my other friends wanted, so I'm thankful for that. I remember taking her to see Brokeback Mountain, telling her it was a cowboy movie but omitting the fact that it was a movie about gay cowboys, and it was a moment of unbridled joy watching her shock at the first sex scene. I also took her to see Serenity; we went to a Sunday mid-afternoon show because I figured it'd be less crowded, but no -- we open the theater door, and we're immediately greeted with a packed theater and the scent of nachos and intense body odor. Yelling "For fuck's sake, Browncoats, I'm with a girl here!" was running through my mind. (She, like my AP government teacher, didn't really like Garden State, either.) 

6Yes, MySpace. This is a thing several people actually wrote in my yearbook. I'm old.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Olmec? More like Oldmec, am I right?

Do you want to feel old? Just think -- those $50 savings bonds from Ring Pop that the Silver Snakes and Blue Barracudas got when they couldn't get past the Steps of Knowledge probably reached maturity a long time ago.

Do you want to feel even older? There are people who can legally drink who will never have any idea what I'm talking about.