Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Product Placement

An editorial by Britt Bergman, co-founder of Very Little Known Facts.

As I’m sure most of you know, I consider myself quite the Renaissance Man of the Year when it comes to careers. Here is a mere fraction of the items I could add to my résumé, should I so desire:

  • neon sign fabricator
  • nanny
  • spool mover
  • demolition crewmember
  • caretaker to a man with brain damage
  • country club snack bar attendant
  • product reviewer
  • hauler of canned goods
  • international fax technician
  • alternative health web site customer service representative
  • ceiling fan installer for an alternative health web site
  • wedding deejay
  • guy in bear costume
  • web designer
  • blogger (paid and unpaid)
  • search engine optimizer
In my current position as copywriter for a purveyor of professional quality sports equipment and sports-related paraphernalia, I have encountered new challenges. People often ask me, “Seriously, how much is there to write about custom ice hockey pucks?” Well, my friend, let me tell you—you can pretty much write as much as you want about custom ice hockey pucks.

Take the page on ice hockey tactics on our website. This page was the number one Google search result for ice hockey tactics, thank you very much, a position that we at Very Little Known Facts are quite familiar with. Here is a selection from the text as it existed before I came onboard:

Hockey tactics that work around defense everything in common with all other military defense strategies also developed over the last 2,500 years as well. The best defense it is said, is an excellent offense, and in any case, defense is less desirable. Even when we defend, we should have our goal on the opponents net. Misdirection the reason for a certain kind of defensive play, but for example, a defenseman who crosses over while going backwards will gain a certain amount of advantage, until the forward catches on to that he will switch directions as soon as he sees the leg position.

Truer words were never written.

But now I have a new bona fide to add to me curriculum vitae: product photographer. Specifically, photographer of chocolate hockey pucks.

I have heard tell that photographing food is especially challenging. Hey, guess what? They weren’t kidding. No sir.

When I first got the assignment I thought, No problem. Get out the old digital camera and take some pictures of chocolate hockey pucks. How hard could it be, right?

For starters, I work out of the home, and there are two dogs here who were very interested in the whole chocolate hockey puck business. So right there I had to shut myself off in my bedroom.

Then I ran into the lighting problem. I tried a few with the flash, but I quickly discovered that chocolate is an extremely glossy and reflective surface. I rigged up a light bulb next to the puck, but then we got into all kinds of melting action. Real cool.

I got a flash of inspiration at one point and tried to scan the chocolate hockey puck using the computer scanner I gave my dad for his birthday, which he returned to me because it was “too complicated.” My old-fashioned dad who can’t handle technology, I thought. Until I tried to scan a chocolate hockey puck. Apparently the people who designed the software interface for this scanner had some fairly high-end consumers in mind. I fired that puppy up and stared at the bewildering array of nonsensical options before finally getting something going. I guess the default setting was “molecular level scan” because ten minutes later it was up to 10%, and the file size was something like 150 megs.

Another hour of fighting with the scanner and it was back to the digital camera and the chocolate hockey puck posed suggestively on an old sheet draped across my bed.

How much should I say? Should I tell you about jury-rigging my tripod to lean at just the right infinitesimally slight angle as the puck? Should I recount the dozens of trips to the PC to plug in the camera, download the pictures, identify any number of problems, unplug the camera, remount it on the tripod, and start over? Should I mention the abortive Photoshop efforts that made the 100% gourmet chocolate look like it was covered with a thin layer of fuzz, or possibly mold?

Need I say I was reduced to tears?

By the end I sent the best of the lot off to my boss with a long note explaining that although I knew several professional photographers, obviously I was not cut out to join their ranks. My boss was quite happy with the results, though, pointing out that my photo of a chocolate hockey puck propped up on my old bed sheet actually looked much better than the previous shot done by an ad agency.

I just hope he doesn’t ask me to photograph his daughter’s wedding.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Original Odd Couples!

Everybody remembers The Odd Couple starring heartthrob Walter Matthau and finicky Tony Randall as a wackily mismatched pair of ne'er-do-wells whose dysfunctional relationship led to madcap adventures in housekeeping high jinks. But long before the television series, long before the movie that it spawned or even the Broadway musical, history itself paired some of the most unlikely duos together in fateful circumstances--and hilarity ensued!

Antony and Cleopatra

He was a hard-charging, rough-riding military man. She was the sophisticated Queen of the Nile. Their romance would inspire such masterpieces as a Shakespeare play, an Elizabeth Taylor movie, and even a Latin pop sensation. But did you know that Marc Antony was Roman and Cleopatra was actually Greek? Star-crossed love indeed.

Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great

What a pair these two made. She was a notorious prude, preferring the company of her horse to any of the suitors vying to share her throne and her bed. He was quite the rake--the racy lingerie chain Frederick's of Hollywood was named after him. But somehow they managed to juggle two empires and two royal families to keep their one perfect love alive.

Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine Baker

He was emperor of France. She was a poor singer, the original Les Miserable. But fate brought them together for one night of passion that changed the course of history. Indeed.

Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant

A tee-totalling Quaker from Illinois and a whiskey-swilling general from somewhere else. What could these two blow-hards accomplish while fighting all the time? Just saving the Union, freeing the slaves and winning the Civil War. That's all.

Siskel and Ebert

One was fat, one was skinny. One had hair, the other one did not. One is dead and the other one is still alive. And no one could tell them apart! These two were the original odd couple if ever there was one.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Beware April Fool's Day!

Every year, erstwhilely reliable and trustworthy media outlets succumb to the childish impulse to publish "fake" stories for April Fool's Day. Just as George Orwell's infamous War of the Worlds radio play triggered race riots in New Jersey, so too do these purportedly "harmless" joke stories run the risk of doing damage that is only too real: not only to the safety of the American public, but also to their sacred trust in the Fourth Estate. (The first three estates being Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.)

Here at Very Little Known Facts, we have taken the liberty of pre-emptively exposing three of the most egregious farces on the internet this April Fool's Day. Hopefully these false, fake, and dangerously misleading stories won't fool anyone now that we have debunked them.

Chocolate Jesus runs a wildly inappropriate piece today--on Palm Sunday, no less--fabricating a story about a New York art gallery that supposed "pulled" a controversial statue of naked Jesus on the cross with exposed genatalia. And here's the joke--we are supposed to believe that the entire statue was made of chocolate.

First of all, the photo they run is obviously photoshopped. What is holding the chocolate Jesus up? I don't see a chocolate cross. In fact, Chocolate Jesus doesn't seem to be crucified at all. He looks more like he's about to deliver one of those freeze-frame Matrix karate kicks.

Then there's the absurd historical inaccuracies. Where is Jesus's beard? Where is his loincloth? And why is Jesus not made of white chocolate? Is this some kind of Black Power statement? Really,, we expected more from such a stalwart of journalistic integrity.

2. Baghdad Burger King

Today's L.A. Times features a story about how the greatest worry of American troops stationed in Iraq is what to buy with all their combat pay. This is exactly the kind of yellow journalistic, flag-waving patriotic boilerplate I have come to expect from such a conservative rag as the Times.

But I must take exception to the fake photo of U.S. troops chowing down on fast food in the war zone. Do they really expect us to believe that the United States military is so culturally insensitive as to open a Burger King franchise in a nation where the cow is worshiped as a god? That, my friend, is taking the idea of the Ugly American too far.

Not funny, L.A. Times. Not funny.

3. The Flaming Lips on Broadway

A standard April Fool's Day standby is to take two groups of people who have nothing to do with each other and to pair them up in a ridiculous situation.

For example, an implausible yarn involving alt-psych-indie rockers The Flaming Lips and Aaron Sorkin, creator of television's The West Wing, teaming up to create a Broadway musical based on the album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

Seriously, guys, I don't think this one is fooling anybody.