The Simpsons Go Interactive

If you’re like most people my age (in your late 20s or early 30s), you grew up watching The Simpsons. The longest running cartoon in history, the Simpsons first aired in 1989 (’87 if you count the shorts from the Tracey Ullman Show). 22 years later, it’s still going strong.

And while I consider myself a big fan of the show, I can’t help but feel that on yesterday’s season finale they jumped the shark. The plot, which was fairly weak for a Simpsons season finale, revolved around a romance between ancillary characters Ned Flanders (the annoying neighbor) and Edna Krabappel (Bart’s teacher).

To give you some back story in case you live under a rock and have never seen the show, Flanders is a uber-religious conservative, whereas Edna has a rather checkered romantic past with lots of partners. You may have expected hilarity to ensue from this unlikely pairing – it didn’t.

But that brings me to my point – at the end of the show, Ned was having doubts about continuing to date such an experienced woman and was debating whether he should continue their relationship. And here The Simpsons producers did something rather unusual: they left this decision up to the fans.

By logging onto, fans of the show can vote on whether the couple should stay together.

While I like the idea of including the viewers in show decisions, from an established show like The Simpsons, it seems like a desperate ploy for attention. This is particularly true when you consider how irrelevant these characters are to the show in general. Sure, Ned’s Christian morals play a good foil to Homer’s buffoonery, and Mrs. Krabappel is a nice antagonist to Bart’s antics, but they’re simply just not very interesting characters on their own.

And while I understand the desire to leave the fans wanting more by leaving questions unanswered on the season finale (sort of like their “who shot JR?” take-off “who shot Mr. Burns?”), as a longtime Simpsons fan, I can honestly say, I don’t care. I don’t care whether Nedna stays together.

Bringing the audience into plot decisions is an innovative approach to television, but interactivity for its own sake seems like a waste to me. But then, what do I know? I’m just a guy.


Great Advice for Creatives

Writer’s Ruminations

The longer the copy, the more difficult it becomes to maintain a consistent tone throughout.

Unleashing Your Creativity

Last night I was taking my dog for a walk around the park by our house. I had my mp3 player on shuffle and was enjoying a broad range of songs, from hip hop to indie rock to oldies. As I was enjoying the weather, my player skipped to Miles Davis’s “Someday My Prince Will Come”.  This is it…

This piece got me thinking about “Splice” a recent movie I had seen. During the movie, the main characters, a pair of scientists,  were faced with a difficult problem, and couldn’t seem to find a way to overcome it.  At one point Adrian Brody (one of the main characters) decides that their choice of music is the problem and replaces a heavy metal track with jazz, a more free-flowing and loose-knit form of music.

And as I was pondering the effects of particular music styles on brain waves, I started thinking about the creative process, how it works and what makes someone creative. While I don’t pretend to be one of the countless psuedo-experts on the subject you’ll find on the Web, I know how I operate.

And what works for me is this: practice. I always liken creativity to playing an instrument. Everyone has the potential to play, and while some are naturally more gifted than others, with enough practice, virtually anyone can become proficient. I find that to unleash the greatest creativity, I simply need to tap into the creative part of my brain on a regular basis, whether it be writing, music, or a visual art (though to be honest, I’m only adept at writing).

To me, creativity is simply taking your experiences and what you know, and approaching them from a new angle. For example, Van Gogh, my favorite painter (cliche, I know), wasn’t so creative because of his subject matter. He wasn’t painting Dali-esque melting clocks, but rather it was the way he approached his artwork. His brush strokes, his treatment of colors, that’s what made him the legendary artist he was.  It was the fact that he was willing to turn the world he knew on its ear (perhaps due to his own mental illness), that allowed him to create such iconic pieces.

As a writer, to be successful, it seems you must follow this example,  seeking new and innovative ways to tell stories that are probably very similar to others that have been told before. To me, this is the essence of creativity.

With that said,  I’ve often encountered “writers” who struggle with writer’s block. I’ve never really had this problem. To me, the biggest block to my writing is finding the right way to say things, I’ve never struggled with a lack of ideas. Instead, I’ve struggled with too many ideas, wanting to say to much and getting distracted, taking my projects too far off base by following tangents.

And while these tangents may at times be distracting, even harmful to your project’s overall vision, it’s by following them, that you truly unleash your inner artist.

But that’s just my thoughts, I am by no means an expert on the matter, I just know how my own brain works.


Copywriter, emphasis on the writer

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night. And sometimes, before I’m able to stop it, my mind starts racing, thinking those 3 A.M. types of thoughts that are rarely conducive to falling back asleep. Last night was one of those nights.

When I woke initially, I was thinking about my car. It’s currently is running horribly and the check engine light keeps turning on and off. I probably need a new one, but due to recent financial obligations (damn you taxes!), it’s not really the best time for me to make a sizable new purchase.

To get my mind off of this stressful situation, I started thinking about other things. First it was the painful loss my Jayhawks suffered in the Elite Eight on Sunday – that was hardly a better topic. Moving on, I at last settled on my portfolio and work (perhaps still not the greatest topic).

If you’re a writer or creative professional, you can probably relate to my situation: I sometimes suffer from portfolio envy and fear of creative inadequacy. It’s not that I doubt my abilities as a writer (in fact, I’m borderline arrogant about them), but rather, I feel like I haven’t worked on a lot of projects that allow me to really shine.

I have lots of friends who either are or were copywriters for ad agencies. When I look through their portfolios or their Websites on some great site like Prezi or Behance, I feel like they have these really cool, visually appealing pieces that are trendy and stylish. Then I look at my own portfolio, it’s full of brochures, email campaigns, banner ads, and journalism. To be perfectly honest, it’s not nearly so flashy.

Now sometimes this thought gets me down. But last night, perhaps in some subconscious effort to stop dwelling on the negative, I looked at this situation from a new angle.  What I saw was this: while my friends had the title of copywriter, they generally weren’t writing very much copy.  They’re not writers so much as they are conceptualizers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not running anyone down. Conceptualizing is an incredibly important skill, especially for ad agencies. They need highly creative people who can come up with ideas for campaigns, then convey their visions to designers, and the client, and then eventually the consumer. But let’s be honest – there’s surprisingly little writing involved.

So what? Well, I realize that while my portfolio isn’t nearly as flashy or as attention-grabbing as some of my colleagues, it’s a different skill set I’ve demonstrated. I’m a copywriter, but one who actually writes copy.  And while I may still at times suffer from portfolio envy, it’s the knowledge that I’m a writer who actually writes, that will console me.

Sending the wrong message?

(First of all, let me apologize for the terrible quality of the photo below. Not long ago I traded in my antique mobile for a new one, one of the perks of which was supposed to be a better camera. And well, while my new phone may have lots of bells and whistles, it still takes terrible photos. Maybe it’s user error….)

Last weekend I was in Chicago and, as I was flying Southwest, I flew  out of Midway.  While I was waiting for my flight and having a sandwich in the food court, I couldn’t help but notice this advertisement:

The grainy text reads: “Chicago (Midway) to New York (Newark)”

In the bottom right corner it says “non-stop”

What I found particularly amusing about this piece is the fact that it displays an empty baggage cart (train?). To me this sends the not-so-subliminal message, we’ll get you to New York without stopping, but your bags aren’t going to be there.

And while I like the visual, I can’t help but wonder why no one else, either at the agency (possibly GDS&M from Austin, I really don’t know), or at Southwest caught this.

Tweet at Your Own Peril

In the course of my daily meanderings in cyberspace, I came across this article from MediaBistro. Apparently NBA referee Bill Spooner is suing AP reporter Jon Krawczynski over a tweet from the January 24 game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets.

The backstory:

In the second quarter,  Spooner called a sketchy foul on the Wolves’ Anthony Tolliver, which upset coach Kurt Rambis, who asked Spooner how he was going to get those points back.

Krawczynski then tweeted “Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he’d “get it back” after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That’s NBA officiating folks.”

The Fallout:

The NBA investigated the call and decided the matter was closed. Spooner, however, decided to file suit, asking for $75,000 for “defamation per se to his professional and business reputation, a declaratory judgment that the Twitter publication constitutes defamation and an injunction requiring the removal of defamatory statements from the Defendants’ Internet postings.”

My take:

As a former journalist, this is absurd to me. Journalists, especially those who write opinion pieces, have the right, nay, the duty, to say any damn thing they want (within limits established by their publication’s editorial board).  If Spooner’s lawsuit, by some freak occurrence is upheld, it will strike a major blow against journalistic freedom and integrity in this country. I know Twitter isn’t exactly the same thing as an op-ed piece, but at the same time, freedom of speech and the press is a fundamental part of this country. Taking it away because someone is offended (by an accurate observation at that) would be a travesty. I hope the judge throws this out, but I guess we’ll see