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Is Advertising Art?

Recently, I got into an argument with a friend about whether or not we can consider advertising art. The question stemmed from the nature of movie trailers and if we can judge their artistic quality.

I argued that such “creative projects” could be considered art if it was well-planned and well-executed, withstanding certain exceptions.

He argued that when created within the cadre of consumerism, it could not be classified as art.

Perhaps the two aren’t quite so mutually exclusive.

For instance, I can still distinctly remember seeing the “Back in Black” Gap commercial for black, skinny jeans. I stared in awe as Audrey Hepburn, lifted from a smoky Parisian café, danced across my screen to AC/DC’s classic song. I was completely transfixed. The goal was to sell black, skinny jeans, and I’ll admit that even to this day, they are a key part of my wardrobe, but does that mean that the commercial wasn’t art?

My friend contested that there was nothing “artistic” about it.

I think we need to divorce ourselves from the idea of “art for art sake.” Art can be multifunctional. It can evoke an emotional response and sell us a pair of jeans or a new car.

But is that really the question? We have this idea that art is on some higher plane, thus making it unavailable to the masses. How then can this “high brow” subject be paired with something as “low brow” as advertising to the greater public? (Hey! Isn’t that the purpose of this blog?!)

I won’t go down the road of explaining consumerism and the detrimental effects of capitalism. That, I believe, is another argument entirely.

Merriam Webster defines art as “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.” Under this definition, we can classify many things as art.

The “pop” in “pop art” comes from popular; its subjects are commonplace, widely available to mass culture. We can look at the poster child for the movement (right or wrong), Andy Warhol and his Campbell Soup cans. Though he was painting his lunch, his art was also used to sell products. Hell, Warhol himself was a product.

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Many artists play with our interactions with consumerism, subverting it, but never really existing outside of it. And that’s kind of the point.

Sure, the point of film trailers is to make you want to spend the money to see the film advertised, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t also an artistic representation of the coming attraction–or even art in and of themselves.

Advertising and art, to put it simply, are not mutually exclusive. However, not all advertising is art, and not all art is advertising. But, at the end of the day, we’re always going to disagree on what qualifies as art. What we can agree on is that rather than being a chart with strict lines, advertising and art are better classified as Venn diagrams.

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The One Where I Watch ‘Friends’: Seasons 2-5

If you give your characters what the want too soon, then you’re faced with a choice: either you make it their own personal hell and take it away, or you let them have it and change your focus.

That being said, Ross Geller and Rachel Green are my own personal hell. I don’t think I’ve cared less about any couple in the history of television (with the exception of Serena Van der Woodsen and Dan Humphrey). They are manipulative, scheming, and self-serving. Every episode, I find myself screaming, “Either be together or don’t!” They don’t have any major personal issues stopping them and we’re constantly reminded why the two of them deserve each other–I mean, belong together.

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Then, wonderfully, we have Monica and Chandler, whom I adore. Sure, they fight, but who doesn’t? They’re the ones I wish the show would focus on. As the seasons have progressed, they’ve become more nuanced and three-dimensional (Phoebe as well), feeling like real people, real friends.

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‘Serial,’ ‘Making a Murderer,’ & the New True Crime “Novel”

Half a century after Truman Capote took the world by storm with In Cold Blood, we’re still just as enthralled by eyewitness accounts and summations of criminal events.

In more recent years, however, the genre has seen a facelift, spreading to everything from podcasts to docu-series. Two such stars are Serial, produced by Sarah Koenig and This American Life, and Netflix’s Making a Murderer. They are unescapable in conversation and have spawned a macabre loyalty comparable only to fictional television.

What attracts us to the true crime novel is perhaps an effort to understand things beyond what we can see.

What is it about the subject that draws us in? Is it knowing the inevitable outcome, such as in In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter? Or is it the conviction–or rather divisiveness–of innocence displayed in Serial and Making a Murderer?

Somehow, series or documentaries that promise to “recreate” the crimes for our viewings (and thus judgment) don’t pack the same punch. In striving for authenticity, they miss the mark, falling instead in the category of cheap fictionalizations, even when executed skillfully.

What attracts us to the true crime novel is perhaps an effort to understand things beyond what we can see. Sure maybe on some level, we hope that by understanding what happened, we know what to look out for, but I think that might be giving us too much credit.

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Often, we lose sight of the victims and their families, something for which both Serial and MaM have come under fire. I know that I am guilty of it myself, and I have to remember that it’s not an evening of Clue, but rather people’s lives. It is real and lasting pain that we are witnessing. We must ever be conscious of it.

For many victims, though–on both sides of the bars–this is the only way the world will know their story: through these fleeting moments of violence that have come to define their lives. It’s a sobering thought.

This in mind, it’s possible that we are searching the most extreme circumstances for some sense of true human nature. At the end of the day, when all is done, who are we?

Australian author/comedian/showboat John Safran makes his own mark on the genre with his 2013 book, God’ll Cut You Down, following the murder of a known white supremacist by a black man in Mississippi. There, readers are faced with important moral questions that never really get answered.

Maybe the fact that we ask them at all shows who we really are.

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The One Where I Watch ‘Friends’: Season 1

In spite of myself, it turns out I more than kind of like this show. By the fourth episode, I found myself singing along to the theme song, and investing in the characters.

That being said, I don’t know that I would feel the same way if I wasn’t binge-watching the show. It’s so much easier to let these friends in, when you don’t have to wait a week for the next 22 minute episode, and when they’re not being interrupted every 5-6 minutes so we can be reminded to buy toilet paper or dog food. We’re allowed to get closer to their lives and really lose ourselves for that brief amount of time.

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However, the first season left me with a few questions/grievances. Why does no one appreciate Monica? The Thanksgiving episode really got to me, especially as no one properly thanked her for doing what she could to make everyone’s day special. She’s wonderful, and I love her, but she’s also never at work, which is very rare, particularly for a chef still trying to make it in NYC. Speaking of work, how is it that everyone’s schedules match up all the time? These people are very lucky. Also, does Joey not have a side gig? He needs a regular side gig. Rachel would have (and should have) been fired long ago.

Ross is the worst.

Chandler is the worst.

But the worst of all is the perpetuation of a nearly exclusively white NYC. Sure, there’s a background character here or there, but I don’t see how shows consciously portray only young, white protagonists, especially when set in NYC. While Friends is certainly not the first or last to do so, it is…irksome.

After the first season’s emotional cliffhanger, I’m excited to see what happens next…

UNDATED PHOTO:  Actors Courteney Cox Arquette (L), Jennifer Aniston (C) and Matthew Perry are shown in a scene from the NBC series "Friends". The series received 11 Emmy nominations, including outstanding comedy series, by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences July 18, 2002 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Warner Bros. Television/Getty Images)

2016: The One Where I Watch ‘Friends’

Many find it hard to believe when I say that I’ve never seen an episode of Friends. At this point, it’s become something of an identity. You know, “the girl who’s never seen Friends.” Sure it’s referenced nearly everywhere, and there are gifs on every social media site, but these serve only to give me some vague idea of the show; just enough to get by, or know what someone means when they say they’re getting a “Rachel” haircut. But, truth be told, when it comes to buddy sitcoms, I’ve always been more of a Seinfeld girl.

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So, this year, I’m going to watch Friends and document what it’s like watching the show for the first time, 12 years after it’s ended, knowing how it’s permeated pop culture.

After having been on the outside for so long, it’ll be interesting to live with Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Rachel, Joey, and Ross.


Keep reading  The Brow to see my reactions and analysis season by season of Friends in 2016. 

These Are My Friends

I’m going to say something many an “intellectual” has been shamed for saying: I love television.

Film has been accepted as a noble pursuit—though “film intellectuals” will argue a strict line between which films are worthy—but television, increasingly available to the masses, less so. “TV critic” calls to mind images of bespeckled, beard lovers munching Doritos on couches in dimly lit rooms that have seen better days. A film critic wears a turtleneck under their sport coats.

Yet, there exists a hierarchy within television series as well. Like film, however, this is mostly linked to access. Network television? Sure, that’ll do for the casual watcher (insert eye rolls), but premium cable is real television. In other words, the more exclusive it is, the harder it is for the masses to consume it, the better the programming is, obviously. Luckily for us plebeian masses, these practices (and this way of thinking) are changing. Online streaming platforms have made TV watching a bit more egalitarian, especially with HBO’s streaming subscription service and Showtime teaming up with Hulu.

I recently moved to France and lamented having to give up certain TV-watching practices (“ugh, now I have to try?”), but was rewarded when I discovered that my Netflix account carries over from country to country. Not only that, but a whole new slew of options became available. Orphan Black, Better Call Saul, and Fargo are all “Netflix Originals” here. My friends followed me.

Friends? Yes, that is what I call them, and that is what I love most about television. While it is possible to form a kinship with film characters–I’m in the midst of writing “Tom Hagen’s Diary”–it happens more easily and more naturally with television characters. These are the people we invite into our homes each week–and more frequently, for 12 hour “hangout” sessions–and get to know. We watch them grow for 13, 22, or 26 episodes. And then in the fall or the springtime, they do it again. We live their dreams and their disappointments. We wish they could go on forever and understand when they can’t. We get to know them as we get to know few film characters. And yes, they become our friends.

So maybe trading in my “intellectual” badge is worth it, if it means I get to hang with the Knope-Wyatts, and the Waldorfs, and the Belchers, and Annalise Keating every week.

Keep Walking: Rick Grimes and the Myth of Sisyphus

Possible spoilers for those not yet caught up.


It’s safe to say that our worlds turned upside down after what we thoughtwe saw last week, and are trying hard not to see. Every week, The Walking Deadthrows fans into a frenzy. After all, it’s not for nothing that the show’s tagline is “Fight the dead. Fear the living.”

As our favorite characters and villains fight to survive from week to week, their flawed leader stands above the rest. Rick Grimes gets the job done.

It’s hard, however, not to find the similarities between Rick and another character of note: Sisyphus.

Nearly everyone is familiar with mythical character Sisyphus, who after cheating death twice is damned to the deepest part of the Underworld, where he must roll a boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down and start again.

Like Sisyphus, this time, he cannot do it alone, but rather must depend on his friends.

When we first meet Rick Grimes, he is waking up from a coma after a serious gunshot wound; essentially, we meet him after the first time he cheated death. In the myth, Sisyphus cheats Death (or Thanatos) by trapping him. The result? The dead walk the earth, unable to cross over to the Underworld.

Still, Rick does the best he can with this new “life,” taking the reins and (hopefully) leading his community to a safe place.

Which brings us to the second (concrete) time he cheats death: Terminus.

Like Sisyphus, this time, he cannot do it alone, but rather must depend on his friends. Without Carol, Rick’s death–as well as that of his closest friends–is certain.

Yet, that is not to say that Rick goes unpunished. Friends and family members are killed, yes, but it is is ultimate goal that comes tumbling back down the hill moments before being realized.

Hershel’s farm. The prison. And now Alexandria. He pushes his family to their limits to get to these so-called safe places. He pushes himself to his limits to keep these places. But inevitably, the boulder comes rushing back down the hill.

And he has no choice but to keep walking.