Thursday, April 12, 2007

Foot in Mouth

Pre-emptive notice: Before anyone goes off and comments that I should just turn off my radio or tv and get a da&#ed life, I already know that, but I'm still very sensitive to those things I do hear. (Also, my devilish aspect, which I'm very much in daily touch with, delights in skewering people about language.) But there are many times when I just want to crawl under a rock with thick wads of cotton stuck in my ears. Recently I posted about hearing a local car dealer's ad that makes my kids and me crazy and always results in snorting laughter. But, on the more serious side, it truly worries me that people's ability to logically analyze, pre-screen and edit what they say has diminished to such a lamentable degree. Americans' brains' evolution seems to have reversed. Our brains are rapidly shrinking back into mere stems.*

Today's post is about some law ads. You'd think language and its impact would be carefully considered by law firms. It is, after all, largely a combination of linguistic acuity and verbal gymnastics that earn firms their substantial bread and butter. Anyway, a big local firm is spending wads of settlement money on sucky television advertisements. (I suspect, IMHO but I'm not making a direct accusation, that they are of the "ambulance chaser" variety.) I won't reveal their specific title, but it's a double-up of a single surname, similar to "Italiano & Italiano."

The attorney after whom the firm is named is a laconic, completely unemotional guy who, in my opinion, is probably a complete introvert in real life. Introversion is fine--I express that gene to a pathological degree and won't fault him for that at all. But despite his best attempts in front of the camera, Italiano #1 just can't even pretend to inspire any feeling in an audience other than a shred of embarrassed pity. You can tell he hates being recorded. He'd rather have his nose behind his books, and I'll bet his time spent there would probably be more productive than his time spent making ads. He's not cut out for this work; he's just a real fellow who's an alarmingly unconvincing actor. It seems a cruel joke on both the audience and on him that he is required to appear in ads just because it's cheaper than it would be to hire a professional. It's just mean all around.


Close-up, Mr. DeMille!

Head of firm, sitting solo in the usual setting (bookshelves behind him to impart an aura of scholarly veracity) says in a deadpan, robotic voice,
I know from experience that when something bad happens to you if you or a loved one is hurt in an accident it can just [very slight hesitation as if fishing for the right words] cut the legs out from under you. We at I. & I. understand how you feel . . .
Ooohhh, kaaayyy. Might his copywriters have thought a moment before using those particular words? Might Mr. I. himself have considered their meaning and possible connotation? Because, I dunno, it seems to me that there's just something about the word choice that's infelicitous given the context. Even if they had used a similar figure such as, "it can pull the rug right out from under you," it would still have been wrong, wrong, wrong and ended up with someone being gravely injured. It's so not witty as well as (unintentionally?) ironic. Might as well say, "it can shoot the friggin' kneecaps right off of you."

As usual, I'm overreacting. I find this guy stunningly inadequate as an advertiser. In the firm's preceding ad, he unsuccessfully tried to pull the target audience's heartstrings by recounting the story of his own accident. Tiny violins! It was an affecting ad--I mean "affect" in the sense of this spokesperson pretending or assuming a pose that wasn't working. And its effect on us was the opposite of what they wanted: it made us laugh because despite his claims, it was devoid of feeling. The following excerpts are not verbatim quotes, but they're close enough to accurately represent the language and emotional gist. Mr. Cardboard says in monotone with no punctuation,
I was in a motorcycle accident You know it's a sport And maybe you're gonna get hurt Both I and my lovely wife were thrown from the vehicle of course the first thing I did was ask my lovely wife are you okay she said she was but we were very fortunate it could have been much worse so I tell people that I know what it's like to have a moment that can change your life it's my mission to fight for those people
Mr. I., I'm so glad nothing bad happened to you and your lovely wife. I mean, heck, wasn't it even scary? Don't you still shiver every time you think about it? No?

Here's to his lovely wife for listening to the way he speaks year after monotonous year. Lovely she must be to tolerate that. Or maybe a previous, unmentioned motorcycle accident resulted in unintentional dueling lobotomies and they both thought they came out okay and that's why they get along just fine.

Then there's the third ad, even older, in which Mr. I. explains,
Bad things happen in my lifetime I lost two of my brothers and that was a very difficult experience to go through [photo of the "happy" family with brothers pops up, but you can't tell the people in the photo are related to this guy] Nothing can prepare you for that kind of devastation but it helps you bond with the people you're trying to help when you understand their pain it makes you passionate about fighting to get them justice
I feel for ya I really do and I'm so convinced you're passionate every injured party should hire your firm

NO! There's the Bob's Dodge ad again! He just wants to get me alone! Oh, shut up, sputnik! You're in an orbiting rant again. Just turn off the tv.

*For proof, all you have to do is look at who the people of the country supposedly elected as The Decider, a guy who cannot even successfully eat a pretzel.

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At 4/13/2007 1:05 PM, Blogger Nance said...

What can I say, other than "I feel your pain"? As a teacher of English, a writer, and a careful speaker, it is horrifying on a daily basis to be exposed to this sort of mass slaughter of the language. I have also taken to phoning local businesses who have egregious errors on their signage: i.e. "deoderant", when all that needs to be done is to look at ONE CONTAINER FROM THEIR SHELVES to see the correct spelling. It happens so often that I don't even have to identify myself anymore. They hear my voice and automatically say, "What did we spell wrong THIS time?" Sadly, 8 out of 10 times, it is "deodorant."

At 4/16/2007 1:42 PM, Blogger sputnik said...

Nance! Don't get me started. How about "cantalope"?


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