Friday, July 25, 2008

the poet and the adman

(This post is from the blog of the Mother of Invention Acting School in Los Angeles and San Francisco ( an acting class in San Francisco for serious, motivated students.)

In The SF Chronicle today, there was an article about this new cable TV show called "Mad Men." I don't have a TV, so this was the first I had heard of it. The reviewer was extrenely keen on the show, whose protagonist is a Madison Avenue cat in 1960 who is oblivious to the fact that the world is changing around him, but senses that something is not right between himself and his world. The reviewer relates this one incident in which our hero is hiding out in a bar at lunch time, and has an exchange with a guy sitting there reading a book of Frank O'Hara poems. The main character suspects he's been snubbed when the guy with the book tells him he doesn't think he would like it-- admen don't go in for poetry, right?

It's funny, because in the class I am always insisting that students find visceral ways to describe what they (as their characters) are pursuing in their scenes. I explain that the viscera are the intestines, the guts. And that I want people to speak as plainly as they can about what they are pirsuing. We try to avoid what I call "Oprah talk." But getting down to a visceral way of talking about their scene work can be elusive for people. This is inevitable, because getting visceral means getting real and getting crucial (the CRUX), and it has to be earned. But recently I found myself telling the students that if they wanted to get visceral, look at the language of advertising, of taglines. "Got milk?" "Think different" "You're not really clean until you're ZEST-fully clean." Or my very own "Because a killer instinct is a terrible thing to waste." The folks who come up with this kind of copy meant to send millions of people running to the store to buy whatever the product in question is know that they have no choice but to be direct, simple, visceral. Failure is the alternative. I think that in advertising there is a powerful understanding of the efficacy of language, especially plain language, but because we are all immersed in it, it can be hard to perceive. But all of this is to say that the adman and the poet, who also understands (we hope!) the visceral potential of language, are really just two sides of the same coin.

--Mother of Invention Acting School

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