March 21st, 2006


An observation about commercials

I spent the weekend at my parents' house, visiting and taking a break
from the city (and also staying well clear of the renovations being
conducted on the house in which I live, but that's another story). My
parents have recently gotten a new TV -- one of those widescreen flat
ones, all shiny and impressive -- and, as part of the TV package,
they've gotten a one-year subscription to HD (High Definition)
television, and the digital video recorder thingy that is the Canadian
equivalent of Tivo. Being clever people, they are of course aware that
it is all a clever plot to get them hooked, so that they'll start paying
for the subscription once the free trial runs out.

Now, apparently the high-definition feeds come straight from the US
channels, rather than through Canadian networks (I would think the CRTC would have an
issue with that, but anyway). So they get the American commercials
(usually, the Canadian networks broadcast Canadian commercials over top,
so we don't see the US ones). I was watching some police dramas with my
dad, and... wow. The difference between the kinds of things being
advertised is striking. Most striking is the incredible number of drug
ads on the American networks[*].

I had no idea they were so ubiquitous. There were at least two of them
in every commercial break. Most of them were either for treatments for
"ED" (erectile dysfunction), or were advertising a drug that was better
than other drugs because it had "no sexual side effects". And the
warning voice reciting all the potential problems...

I don't think I'd ever really grokked just how much of a big buisness
the pharmaceutical industry really is. I mean, I knew it --
but I'd never absorbed the idea until now. Wow.

[*] Canadian law prevents prescription drugs from being
advertised on Canadian TV and radio.
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I am far, far, far behind on my book blogging. Apologies if these reviews are shorter than usual as a result!

7. Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World (Nicholas Ostler)
I really enjoyed this book. It's everything that Bill Bryson book I panned last year should have been. I'm not a linguist, so I don't have the background to evaluate all of the claims, but it's thoroughly footnoted and explained, and I'm inclined to trust Ostler as a result. It's a fascinating account of how and why some languages have become widely spoken, while others have declined. It is occasionlly a little dense for a non-specialist, but although it assumes for the most part that you'll know linguistic terms, it does offer examples to help the non-linguist, and I was usually able to follow the main thrust of the argument, even if the details occasionally escaped me. Recommended. ****

8. V for Vendetta (Alan Moore and David Lloyd)
It was important to me to read this before I saw the movie, and I’m glad I did, although I probably would have enjoyed the movie more if I hadn't. The book is unquestionably better. Reading it, it seemed such a natural fit for a movie that I was sure the movie would be great (alas, they fiddled with it more than they needed to… but the movie review must wait for another time). There are occasional hiccups in the storytelling, but for the most part it's very good indeed. There's a reason this is a classic. *****

9. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray)
fairplaythings picked this one up for me in a pub in England -- it's a Bookcrossing travelling book. It's also a "Classic of English Literature" so of course I had to read it (no, I'd never read it before). It's really quite good, although rather verbose (particularly towards the end). I had more sympathy toward Becky Sharp than I was probably meant to, and found the author's condemnation of her (again, particularly toward the end) quite unfair. After spending so much time mocking the pretensions of the upper class, he ultimately seemed to decide that a person of "low birth" was inherently inclined to be "low". It was a disappointing reversal of what had begun as a class-based critique. In general, the book was a light, enjoyable read. ***

10. Put the Book Back on the Shelf: a Belle and Sebastian Anthology (multiple authors)
This is a … strange … book. It's a strange idea for a book: a series of short comics based on Belle and Sebastian songs. Like all anthologies, some are better-executed than others. This anthology suffers from the additional problem of being such an odd concept: songs do not, generally, lend themselves to comic-book adaptations. Each "story" is approached differently -- some are full stories based on the song's lyrics, others are stories with only a thematic relationship (if that) to their origin song, and yet others are music-video-like assemblages of images that may or may not be relevant to the song at hand. Unfortunately, there are more examples of stories that don't quite work than there are entirely successful adaptations. ***

11. Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman)
I love Neil Gaiman with a deep and abiding love. This book was great -- I swallowed it within two days, and was sad when it was over. Alternately funny and fascinating, it's a great story. Highly recommended. *****

12. Bachelor Girl: 100 Years of Breaking the Rules -- A Social History of Living Single (Betsy Israel)
This is a book with a very narrow focus -- it's about single women over the course of the 20th century (more or less), but it's really only about American single women... actually, it's really only about white single women living in New York. Fortunately, the author acknowledges this up front, which makes me much more willing to accept the limitation than I otherwise would be. It's a fun book, as social histories go -- relatively light in tone, and not at all dense. It was certainly an enjoyable read. But I didn't come away feeling that I'd learned a whole lot -- although there were certainly facts I hadn't known before, my sense of the overall history was not much changed or enhanced. This is not a "deep" book, but it is a pleasant one. ***

13. The Snow (Adam Roberts)
This book starts out as a perfectly good end-of-the-world narrative, and then it takes a sharp left turn. Just as I'm getting used to the new type of book/story, it takes another left turn. I'm sure that's not a very helpful description, but it's the best way I can capture what annoyed me about this book. It's not even a case of a twist ending, although there's some of that, too -- it's a series of twists, and it's frustrating to get through the first section of the book, only to have the style of the book change. I was also rather irritated by the protagonist-for-most-of-the-book -- her passivity became increasingly grating. There's also a little too much contemporary detail in some of the later sections -- too much insistence that this is really "the day after tomorrow". I also started to find some of the politics distracting -- I mean, I'm not terribly happy with some of the current U.S. administration's policies, either, but there was a bit too much effort devoted to demonstrating some kind of inherent awfulness of the US. It's a shame, because there is a good story here -- it just isn't the one Roberts ended up telling. **

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