Archive for December, 2005

Holiday Jeer from the ALLDERBLOB

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

We at the Allderblob follow the advertising “news” with some interest. After all, since our conception in March of this year, it has been our contention that the advertisement of automobiles should be prohibited. We are not holding our breath for this to happen however.

Ban Car Advertising! We make this call on the grounds that while the job of all advertising is to lie, to create a perception of necessity in the would-be consumer, the lie of the automobile advertisement is never justifiable. The automobile is simply too destructive, too evil, too negative a force to be promoted. Advertisements for alcohol, for tobacco, and for firearms, are strictly regulated. Yet compared to the automobile, these products do little harm. Automobile advertising should be banned outright.

While we never anticipated immediate victory in our quest, and while in fact we have little to crow about, as the year draws to a close we feel it is worth describe the world that is unfolding, and to make resolutions for the year to come.

First, a refresher on our methods:

1. The “Lob:” The basic unit of the blob, or weblob. The lob is a challenge issued in the form of a high-flung attack from unexpected quarters. It stands in contrast to the “log,” or weblog, which merely records events. While it is true that the Allderblob can always be expected to attack car advertising in all its forms, what is hoped is that the lob is on target. We dare our targets to take a swing. So far, they have always declined. Pity.

2. The “Gospel of the Car Ad:” this category of lob examines the many claims of the automobile advertisement. You know them: “Cars help you score;” “You need a car if you have children;” “Cars give you freedom;” “Everyone loves cars” etcetera. Every point of the “Gospel of the Car Ad” can be answered with a simple negation: No, Wrong, Not true, Sorry, wrong again. Surprised? Let us explain.

3. “A Question of Urban Design:” in this category we draw upon our expert: a graduate of the Master of Urban Design program at the University of Toronto. The car, of course, has been the driver of all urban design questions from at least the turn of the last century to the present. Every terrible decision made in the public realm, Hannah Arendt and Jane Jacobs notwithstanding, has been made to propitiate the automobile industry. Every victory for good sense and beauty has been won by its opponents. The struggle at every turn is to fight against the tendency of the automobile and its facilitation to infiltrate and take over every point of space and time the world over. With this simple, not to say simplistic filter, we examine trends and movements wherever we see them, especially as they are reflected in the form of automobile advertising.

4. “Unlikely Versions of Reality:” Like the snake says, “Don’t tread on me.” Fact is, the ALLDERBLOB offers no more or less than its own version, whatever the “category” in which it writes. Which bites.

5. “What a Pong!” (exclamation point optional): Here we take inspiration from Shakespeare, who placed the minstrel in opposition to the “reality” of the drama (as the drama lies in opposition to the “real” reality), to offer a parody. Parody, from the Greek, paro-, “outside,” and deos, “to sing:” to sing from outside. And Pong, from the English, pong, or “stink” and poem/song: Thus we stand outside and sing, recite, and to be precise, stink. The pong of the ALLDERBLOB is the stink of the automobile advertisement. And no, we don’t really want to come inside.

6. “Ads of Desperation” (as if there could be any other kind): The motive behind advertising is to sell crap that no one needs. The advertiser merely fills that need. Car ads in particular are always desperate, because not only does no one need a car (a fact that goes mostly unreported), the car is actually destroying the planet. This fact, everyone knows. Thus the car advertisement is always treading a fine line: its very existence is a miracle of the muddle-headed political system: a system that pays lipservice to the evils of “automobile dependency” but fails to connect the dots between that dependency and the advertising industry that promotes it.

Second, a look at our dubious claims for 2005:

1) Against EYE magazine (formerly eye), the Toronto free weekly entertainment guide, we claim victory: not that they quit advertising cars, but at least they stopped putting the vicious things on the opposite page from their two-fisted “environment” writer, Gord Perks. And they finally enabled the use of capital letters in their name.

2) Against General Motors and the other members of the “Big 2.5:” The slide into bankruptcy has begun. Their “red flag” events of the summer of 2005 will soon be followed by the “white flag” events of 2006 (see “Predictions,” below). For the hundreds of thousands of workers who have prostituted themselves to work for these monster corporations, we feel for your loss. Now get a job that doesn’t destroy the environment. And no, we don’t mean “work for Toyota.” They’re going down next (ditto).

3) Against big oil, we claim victory: events in the Gulf of Mexico, while not directly a result of Allderblobbery, can nonetheless be linked to observations made in these pages.

4) Against good taste and decency: we offer the pong, that poem/song that “really stinks.” We feel we have a hit on our hands every time we hold one. Or something that rhymes with “hit,” anyway.

In 2006, we promise to persevere in our striking out against the forces of evil (in the form of the automobile advertisement). We will not stop until we bring the billboards down (literally, if need be). Like our hero, Don Quixote, we hope and believe the winds are changing. With our hero Ignatius J. Reilly, we hope at any rate that the wind will pass.

1) Goodbye GM. What as-yet unseen monster will arise in your stead, we can only imagine: Toyota, for example. We suspect they too will fall in the wake of the Allderblob (and/or peak oil). Will this happen in 2006? That may depend on things out of our control, but we will fight the good fight.

2) More and better Pongs for everyone, and for every purpose. We are taking guitar lessons on a weekly basis. Most likely, you will smell our wrath even before you hear it. Partridge Family, sit down.

3) No more cyclist deaths. Here, we are not joking around. The Allderblob is committed to a world where cyclists are valued as demigods of sustainable transportaition, their way paved with bikelanes, their every move watched with trepidation and caution from the the driver’s seats of the world. We are sick unto aching for the loss of four cyclists in our fair city so far this year (with five days to go we touch wood as we say this), and the many others who were killed or injured by motor traffic the world over. We will fight at every turn for respect for cyclists, for pedestrians, for lovers, and for every other kind of human-powered activity. We are saddened by the latest death of a Toronto cyclist on December 20 2005, as reported here: “Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists” and here: “Crazy biker chick.”

Happy goddamned 2006, everyone.

Gospel of the car ad: “Going Shopping? Get a Car”

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

Okay, the eye-popping reality first: nobody needs a car to go shopping.

Oh, people may say they need cars. They may think they need cars.

People who run the zoning department think people need cars. People who run the stores seem to think people need cars. Toronto Councillor A-damn Giambrone, the “cyclist’s friend,” (he chairs the city’s cycling committee) is working to ensure there’s ever more parking along Bloor Street, above the subway line (thanks to Martino’s Bikelane diary for the tip).

But the fact is, in the case of “main street” stores the parking space out front is taken, nine times out of ten, by the owner of the store.

At the mall, folks may be willing to run over grannies in walkers to get the place by the entrance, but when that place isn’t available they willingly walk, sometimes for miles, from the car to the store (and to the next store, and the next). And then they walk, sometimes for miles, sometimes carting a back-seat-full of truck, back again to the parking spot. Where the hell did they park, anyway?

No, no one uses their car to shop, strictly speaking.

Strictly speaking, the only thing people do with cars is park them.

Now, if you want to talk about a street with great transit; somewhere like Toronto’s Spadina Ave or the Danforth, it’s the wise shopper who eschews the problem of driving, parking, paying for driving and parking, walking the round trip from parking space to store and back; it’s the wise shopper who jumps out of the streetcar in front of the restaurant they’re meeting a friend for lunch, walks a block to the housewares store where they buy the table napkins, crosses the street to the liquor store for the nice bottle of wine, hops back on the streetcar for a ride down the road where they can get art supplies, and then (let’s say) back on the streetcar (two miles from that first restaurant) for the ride home, purchases neatly tucked under the seat. Nice time for a snooze.

You can’t do that in a Volvo. You’d crash.

In your Subaru (after trudging back to it) you’re cursing because you misread the sign and you’ve got a $30 parking ticket or worse, your damn car’s been towed.

In your red Cherokee pickup you’ve lost your sideview mirror somehow, (it’s dangling from the wires that control the tilt and yaw), and the car in front’s parked so closely you have to wait for the person to come back in order to get out. You wait 43 minutes exactly. You have to put more money in the meter.

In your Mercedes, when you hike all the way back up the road carrying the crap you’ve bought, your sweat-soaked back sticks to the leather seats and you get a chill that lasts two weeks to the day.

Hey but folks who don’t own cars don’t need to be told about sweat.

Folks who ride bikes, for example, have vented underarms in their windbreakers. They strap the purchases on the back rack, and ride from one ring-post to the other, to get their shopping done. Do they sweat? Yeah, but then they stop at a great restaurant and have a big, delicious meal. People who ride bikes everywhere can spend their gym fees eating out instead, and their sweat smells of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.

At the grocery store they fill up a shopping cart with $124.32 worth of groceries, enough for almost the whole month if they stretch it right, and for an additional $3.50 the store delivers it. It’s on the front porch when they get home.

Who uses a car for shopping? Losers.

While it’s generally acknowledged among cycling advocates, pedestrian advocates, and transit mavens that a car is extraneous to a satisfying consumer existence, what’s less well-known is that car-dependent types generally eschew the car for shopping as well.

It’s time to remind store owners and managers of the facts.

Next time you go shopping, tell someone you took the subway. Let them see your bike helmet. Ask them to call a cab for you. Tell them you don’t need a parking chit: what have they got for you instead?

And when you hear about the proposed bike lane on Bloor/Danforth, the Tooker Memorial Bike Lane, don’t worry about the parking.

People know where they can park their cars, after all.

Syriana, na-na-na-na

Tuesday, December 13th, 2005

This movie’s packing them in at the Varsity theatre in Toronto. Sold-out shows on the weekend told the ALLDERBLOB that folks really want to hear about crooked oil companies, backroom CIA dealings, and the stuff that fuels Islamic fanaticicm. Add George Clooney in a beard (oy, veh!) and Matt Damon in a shirt and tie, and Hollywood’s done it again! Hooray!

Is it worth mentioning the parking lot under the Manulife centre was full, or that 20 minutes of mind-numbing car ads preceded this expose of the depradations of the oil industry? Oh, sure, the movie website has a link to the website “Oil Change: a campaign to reduce our dependence on oil,” but talk is cheap. Oil change is cheap. Oil, as you know, is cheap. What is the real value, after all, of 12 full-time labourers working for a year (the energy equivalent of a barrel of oil)? Gosh, is $60 enough, or should it really be $120? Maybe it should be $1200? Listen, if I give 12 men a hundred dollars each, shouldn’t that mean they will work full time for me for a year?

It gives nothing away to point out how the “crisis” of Syriana, which is that a small middle eastern emirate’s efforts to join the enlightened liberal democracies of the west is snuffed out by conniving aging hipster doofuses in D.C. and Texas, not to mention Beijing, is not the real crisis. The crisis in this movie is in fact that it doesn’t matter if the little kingdom can set itself up in an alliance with Iran to shorten its pipeline of oil to the west, and shore up its profits. It doesn’t matter if the gun we see in act one does or does not go off in act three. It misses the point to talk about how the oppression of the working class drives folks into the hands of fanatics (oh, Hollywood, if only it were so simple: what used to be the commie threat is now replaced by the threat of jihad).

The crisis of crisis, to use Tony Fry’s term, is that our actions are too late:

The truth of the crisis is a ‘crisis of crisis’ in so far as crisis is concealed by the image of crisis. It is presented as being objectified in the world rather than in and of us – fundamentally, causally, we are the crisis!

See, this is the real story of Syriana: unless and until we correct the central addiction of western liberal democracy, that central addiction that we, just as surely as an Afgani opium cartel or a Colombian cocaine smuggler, are importing to those who should know better: the addiction to the automobile; we have met the enemy and he is us.

But most folks in the theatre, cheering as Clooney revs the global warming engine of his Range Rover to speed over the dunes to intercept the would-be king on his way to meet his destiny, missed this meaning. They left hoping for a better world, one in which oil from small Middle East emirates can reach us quicker, where naive derivatives traders get back together with their wives after all, and where the youthful oilpatch workers from Pakistan aren’t driven into the arms of fanatics. A world where mothers get to come live in the worker’s housing, and fathers get new shoes. Or something.

You could tell people were thinking this, because of the way they jingled their car keys on the way out of the theatre.

Zoom zoom? Nah. More like Creep creep.

Here’s an “employee plan” worth emulating: GM, Ford, Chrysler, Are you listening?

Monday, December 5th, 2005

In Other News Dept:

The business pages of the New York Times reports [free registration required]that Mazda in Japan is paying its employees a bonus if they walk to work.

In the story, it says “Mazda employees who live more than two kilometers (1.24 miles) from the office and walk more than four kilometers (2.48 miles) in round trips at least 15 days a month” will be eligible for a cash bonus (of 1,500 yen (US$12) a month). Notable is the specific mention that workers who take the train have to get off at least the two km away in order to be eligible.

We wonder how many workers take the train to the plant in Oshawa or Windsor? We wonder if there even is a train to the plant. Hey, take the train to work at GM, Ford or Chrysler, you’re guaranteed a two km walk! Hey, where’s my 12 bucks?

Last summer, the “Big Three” car companies [henceforth known as “the big 2.5” –ed.] had a “big sale” offering “employee discounts” to the buying public. They did great guns clearing out the overstock of gas-guzzling SUVs just in time for the record oil and gas prices that followed in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (we wrote about it here). Of course the ad campaign was a scam [is there any other kind? –ed.], and of course it duped a huge crowd into new and greater forms of debt. Most of the news that got reported in the Daily Car Advertiser (a.k.a. the daily paper) was about how cool a sale this was, how neat it was to be on a par with the employees, and gosh, just how long can this great sale go on anyway? (a notable exception was the story in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Nov. 8 2005: “U.S. consumer debt level falls for first time in 10 months; Sputtering car sales seen as biggest factor” –[ooh, guess heads rolled at the news dept after that one –ed.]).

But now it’s GM that’s sputtering (with Ford and Chrysler not far behind in the race to bankruptcy), and they’ve taken out ads in the paper disguised as charts: “HERE ARE THE TEN IMPORTANT THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT OUR GREAT COMPANY,” or some such bumf (for this kind of ad they invented the term “my eyes glaze over”). How long until the rest of the troika [what’s Russian for “2.5” anyway? –ed.] copies the theme: “CHRYSLER: A GREAT, IMPORTANT COMPANY, AND HERE’S WHY:” or “WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FORD AND THE NAZIS: (with footnotes)”?

We at the ALLDERBLOB have another suggestion for the gang of 2.5: take the Mazda theme, and one-up them: pay not only your employees to walk to work, but the general public too.

Now, there’s a campaign that would make the ALLDERBLOB tremble: Car companies paying customers to leave the car at home.