Taking Off and Adding Up
The Editor’s idea of housekeeping is frankly too uptight from where I have been watching, and certainly too uptight for me to be around when he comes back from his Mediterranean tour. I aim to be gone before that. So right now I’m going to have another outing on this cardboard and duct-tape set-up of his. But out of the goodness of my heart I’ll include the non-‘fake news’ story about early birdmen which came in by dead-tree mail from some friend of his, signing ‘Llewellyn’.
To my surprise there were eleven entries for that contest of mine, for the best answer to the question ‘Is George Osborne an obnoxious git?’ Four were disqualified for going past the length set at four double-sided A4 sheets. Two more were discarded as blatantly trying to give a negative answer. I discarded all the rest as they had clearly been produced by one or other of the computer programmes now used by leading newspapers to write editorials or their ‘analyses’ of currently fashionable news stories (i.e. cut-and-paste compilations in adolescent’s English). As there were therefore no valid replies I drank the prize myself.
p.s. There are some things I do approve of here, like the photo of the sumo-wrestling Maud who used to be an intern here, on the inside of the loo door, plus the well chosen books on the shelf in there: ‘Goodbye to all that’ (Robert Graves) (a rather taciturn fellow face to face by the way) and ‘English philosophy since 1900’ (Geoffrey Warnock) of which most pages had been torn out for some reason.
Fake News: this is not something that was only invented in 2016. Take the matter of the first flight The first manned – oh, apologies to all p.c. persons with clenched posterior muscles; starting again: ‘the first personned flight in a heavier than air vehicle was made by the Wright brothers in 1903’. This is flatly untrue. There is admittedly some doubt about the effort of Clément Ader who in 1890 covered some 50 airborne metres while clutching the frame of his batlike machine. He did survive, but without evidence provided by video-recording (yet to be invented at that date) there may be suspicion that he managed to endow his device with some kind of powerful spring so as to behave like a sort of large mechanical kangaroo, instead of achieving true flight. But you only need wait until 1896 and then you have the unarguable case of Samuel Langley who accomplished several flights over a distance of 1,400 metres. The efforts of the Wright brothers in 1903 were not seen by outside observers and anyway sound as if they may have been in mechanical kangaroo mode. You have to wait till 1905 before they first stayed up more than one minute. (Some of the mediaeval lunatics who jumped off high places strapped to arrays of parchment, feathers and unjustified optimism did at least stay up longer than the Wrights had till 1905, travelling 600 yards in one case.) However all this is completely beside the point. The first true personned untethered flight was made in 1783 by Pilâtre de Rozier who stayed up 25 minutes and travelled 12 kilometres. At this point we see smirks of triumph from the Wright fan club, “Aha, but you see, this is a contest for machines heavier than air.” However this meets expressions of disdain from Pilâtre’s friends and family; “Dear Americans, you have perhaps not noticed that balloons such as he used are in the fact extremely heavy objects. A reunion of our French national rugby team, which could essuyer le terrain with any ‘football’ team you might bring forward to challenge us, would have some difficulty in raising one of those objects more than a metre or so above the glorious soil of France.” Triumpant glee on the Wright-hand side, “Tsk, these European guys just don’t get it, do they?” (Speaking as if to a very small child.) “Listen, buddies, when you put the gas in or hot air or whatever, it all adds up to negative weight – like, the whole gizmo is lighter than air.” Air is expelled loudly from French noses. A long pause as they look from one to the other with raised eyebrows and barely perceptible smiles, then one speaks, quite softly. “We in France have often seen, in 1917 and 1941 for instance, that attaining to understanding of important matters can sometimes proceed more slowly in America – without doubt because of the great influence of your lawyers, ever ready to guard against any proposal or action which might not be to the benefit of America and those, or at the least some of those, who live there. But please consider for a moment. Every aeroplane that has ever been built is heavier than air when it stands still. A modern airliner can weigh 200 tonnes. However, when it is desired to make the plane fly, the interaction between the structure of the aircraft and aerodynamic forces when it undertakes rapid forward motion, has the fortunate result of imparting what is called in your language ‘lift’, and when this enters upon the equation the result is that the entire apparatus – the whole gizmo, as you put it – becomes lighter than air, exactly as with the balloons. If this was not so, the aeroplane would not stay above the earth, as a little unbiassed thought will help you to agree. We rest confident that the one who achieved the historic advance is rightly recognised as our brave and well-loved pioneer Pilâtre.” (It is reported that President Trump is to order new restrictions on French journalists from next Thursday.)
Nb the world’s first aerial bombing raid was carried out by the Austrians with Venice as the target, using the latest balloon technology available, in 1849
Why the hell I should suggest to ad agencies ways they could try not to waste money is beyond me. No, it isn’t. I remember – the money they pay net in placing adverts is a lot less than the money they get for ‘designing’ them and ‘creating’ (!) them in the first place, and that money comes from the companies which want them ‘designed’ and ‘created’, who get that money from the poor benighted customers who buy whatever it is, trying hard not to be aware (if they ever are) that part of the dosh they’re handing over is going to be spent on persuading them, the customers, to buy the stuff they’re intending to buy anyway. Somebody does very nicely out of it. And just to put the artificially intelligent cherry on this monstrous trifle of idiocy, there is abundant evidence now that hundreds of billions of the clicks that persuade companies to keep paying for adverts have never had any contact whatever (at the transmitting end, anyway) with a human mind, as opposed to a clickbot. Let me stress that I am as near to neutral as you can get in this Home for the Commercially Insane. Why then should I have any interest in disrupting the whole grotesque circus? Sheer jealousy – you see my serene honesty? I resent the fact that some cats are getting very fat by taking advantage of human credulity when if things had panned out a bit differently I could be coining it myself (plus, of course, rage at the abysmal standards of imagination, aesthetics, and rational thought with which the ads infuriate the modern human). SO
Helpful suggestions to ad agencies making less moolah than they consider desirable: (1) check out your algorithms; one of them may have caught a virus or two, or three; or they may have been prepared on an oversimple set of assumptions about human behaviour and its observable correlates; (2) assumptions which may hold good for you may be a waste of time when applied to 75% of the punting proletariat; try hard to let this notion cross your mind; (3) whenever on the job (devising ads, I mean) try to use a dialect of English approximately similar to standard usage, no matter how cutesy or now the slogans may sound round the creative table; remember that as inhabitants of the adsphere you live in a mental world severely alien from that of ordinary users; being inside it you may not find it easy to realise this. But would you learn to bargain in a Chinese market by watching performances of Peking Opera?