On Thanksgiving Eve: The TV Ad Conundrum

This might come off as more of a gripe than anything else, but I believe it needs to be said, so advertisers out there, listen up. Making television commercials louder than the program’s volume level is not a good strategy. Yes, my attention is temporarily drawn to said commercial, sure, but only long enough for me to hit mute. So, while Mr. or Ms. Advertiser thinks that we’re going to be paying so much more attention to their ad because the volume is louder, what ends up happening is that we (yes, I’m including you all in this too) mute the commercial or semi-frantically hit the volume down button ten thousand times–blocking out its attempts to ensnare us with its attempts at persuasion. Advertisers not only fail their primary task (to get me to watch their advertisement), but they tick off their audience at the same time. Again, not a good strategy.

If you’re interested, here’s a video about why commercials sound like that:

Judging by Your Markings

I can be a rather skeptical reader — but sometimes more toward readers than authors.

The Shoemaker's Holiday by Thomas Dekker (1599)

The Shoemaker's Holiday by Thomas Dekker (1599)

Yup, the readers. You’re probably wondering how this works considering reading leaves no mark on a book, but sometimes these efforts are, sadly, not so invisible after all. Oh, you know who I’m talking about: those godless creatures who mark up library books! [crackle of thunder here]

I remember the first time I bought a heavily used book for a graduate class. I had taken so long to pick up the play, Thomas Dekker’s 1599 The Shoemaker’s Holiday, that all that was left was a battered copy with more lines highlighted than not. I had the hardest time with that book. I’m usually pretty good (or at least I used to be) at remembering where to find particular passages, but my reputation was seriously damaged with this episode. I could hardly recall where anything was located because I was thrown off by visual markers that, to me, meant nothing and only convoluted how I understood the play. I had no mental pictures of those pages.

It was then that I first began judging these invisible readers by how they mark up a book. After the first few pages, if a reader has highlighted what I think is fairly commonsensical, they get thumbs down, and I proceed through the rest of the book skipping any portions highlighted with that same pen. Or, if a person highlights what I would probably notice and shows herself to be fairly consistent about catching the good stuff, then I’ll come to pay more attention to the brightly yellowed portions of the book.

In recent years, I’ve been making heavy use of online booksellers to get a hold of what I need. When possible, I always buy new books, but if they are excessively expensive I’ll go for a used book and pay good attention to the descriptions booksellers give of their inventory. The only problem is many online booksellers have taken to writing almost no description of the book they’re selling. Instead they offer this kind of uselessness:

Useless comment by online bookseller

And then there are more comical instances like this:

Perhaps considerable markings?

Perhaps considerable?! I don’t know what that means — nor how my purchase benefits world literacy when I’m already quite literate, if I do say so myself — but it makes me think how cool it would be if booksellers could explain whether the markings are smart, uninformed, or some other variety. Not that I’d believe them, though. But it would be amusing.

I already own a copy of the book this last comment is on. I’m no stranger to highlighting, but I only do so when a book is particularly important to my work and when I expect to own that book for a long time to come. I’ve happily highlighted this copy because I expect it’ll remain mine, but it definitely makes me think about the lifecycle of highlighting. The next time I read this book, I’ll be more informed than the first time or the second or the third time through, so I won’t need nearly as many passages highlighted. Funny, isn’t it, how highlighting and leaving notes becomes a record of your intellectual status at the time of your reading?

These days I always highlight for a particular purpose. And it’s possible that neither I nor anyone else will ever match that exact purpose again. With time being a luxury I don’t have these days, I read for particular types of information rather than to piece together the trajectory of a book. It makes me think I’ll be (actually, I probably already am) one of those people who when asked to lend a book quickly shuffles through the pages first to see if there are any stupid comments that might ruin my credibility. Because I, too, will be judged. Alas.

marginalia_book_writing_lecture by hyperscholar (Flickr)

marginalia_book_writing_lecture by hyperscholar (Flickr)

Harlot Blog for Facebook

While I developed this application (with the help of a certain Smashing Magazine article) a few weeks ago, I completely forgot to tell you all about it. This application is for Facebook users to follow and comment on Harlot‘s blog from within Facebook itself. You don’t need to be a fan of Harlot‘s Facebook page (but, of course, we’d love that too: become a fan), so hop on board and keep up to date with what we’ve got going on in this here neck of the woods. Click the link, approve the permission, and this juicy little app is all yours:


CANDYGRAM at your door!

If you’re in the Columbus area and looking to exercise your literary rhetorical mind, check out CANDYGRAM. The first issue kicks off with a release party Saturday, November 14th at Skylab and includes work from Harlot‘s own reviewer, Dave Gibbs. [Insert apology for the flagrant bragging of the Harlot Consortium. But seriously, they’re pure awesomeness.]

For more info (you know, addresses etc) the press release is listed below. Enjoy this tasty treat!


For Immediate Release:

Skylab Gallery is proud to present new work from Columbus based
visual, performance and sound artist Dan Olsen!

Opening on Saturday November 14th and running through the 30th, the
new show is entitled “New Age Dang Brains / Slow Hall Slow Oats /
Bummer Healing” and includes 30+ drawings, videos, sounds and
installation. Olsen’s work is complex, psychedelic and seems to come
directly from his melding stream of consciousness. This show deals
with “shallowness, purposelessness, meaninglessness and spiritual
depletion” and will run the gamut of Olsen’s work. The opening
includes a live performance.

Olsen has exhibited work at Chop Chop Gallery in Columbus, the Toledo
Art Museum, Artscape Festival in Baltimore, ROY G BIV Gallery in
Columbus, Skylab and the Shelf in Columbus, and Van Gallery in
Columbus. His short film, “Homeslice”, was selected in the 2007 San
Francisco Short Film Festival, 2007 Wexner Short Film Showcase, and
published in the Journal of Short Film VOL. 12.

For more information and a beautiful sampling of some of Olsen’s work,
visit his website – www.danzodanzo.com.

The same evening, November 14th –
CenacleHousePublications, Skylab and the Shelf Gallery are also proud
to present the official release of CANDYGRAM! The new literary and
fine art journal showcases over 30 Columbus based writers and artists,
including Eva Ball, John Malta, Micheal O’Shaughnessy
James Payne, John Also Bennett, Mike Wright, and John Stommel. The
night will feature musical performances from Cursillistas
(California), Buckets of Bile (Brooklyn), and a few surprise local
acts in between. Artwork will be on display from those featured in the
journal, as well as a special literary installation. Come out and
support a new forum of writing and art unparalleled in Columbus!

Lantern Article about CANDYGRAM –

For more information about CANDYGRAM, email Shannon Byers at

Both Events to begin at 7 PM, running through 1 AM.
There is a $5 Suggested donation for the CANDYGRAM release.

Skylab Gallery and the Shelf are located at

57 East Gay Street in Downtown Columbus, OH.

Visit www.myspace.com/skylabgallery for more information, or become
our fan on Facebook!

Visual Rhetoric Crush-of-the-Month

The website FlowingData has quite a bit in common with Harlot. Translating complex data of all varieties (money spent, reps at the gym, time you waste) into compelling graphic form, “Data visualization lets non-experts make sense of it all.”  At Harlot, our goal is to reveal all the various and subtle ways rhetoric penetrates our everyday through a language and location that invites everyone to explore and understand persuasion.  FlowingData, meet Harlot; Harlot, meet FlowingData.

The graphic that’s posted at the very bottom has captured my attention for a number of reasons, mostly related to Derrick Jensen (no direct relation–only in the larger Danish sense), who is perhaps my favorite author (and certainly the most sane person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting).  As a radical environmentalist, Jensen is constantly searching for new ways to communicate just how severe the situation is we are currently, collectively facing.  That’s at the macro level.  At the micro level, he’s challenged with taking statistical data that most logically reveals how the earth is being murdered and transforming it rhetorically into something that sticks.

Some data for you:


Facts, though, have a tendency to roll right off of us.  We’re more inclined to be persuaded by stories that connect with us personally, in ways that we can readily link to everyday experience.  Here’s a stellar example of the rhetorical task he encounters when trying to persuade people that our way of life, our sense of self, and relation to what allows us to live is not just unsustainable, it’s immoral and insane.*    And stupid.

“Within our current system, the life span of any particular artifact as waste is usually far longer than its life span as a useful tool.  Let’s say I go to a food court at a mall and eat a meal with a disposable fork.  Let’s say I use the fork for five minutes before one of those tines breaks (as always seems to happen) and I throw it out.  The fork goes in the garbage and is buried in the landfill.  Let’s say this particular type of plastic takes five thousand years to break down … For every minute I used the fork it spends a thousand years as waste: a ratio of one to 526 million, a number so large it’s hardly meaningful to human minds.  On a scale that’s easier to fathom, if we compressed a fork’s five thousand year existence to one year, the fork would have spent only six one-hundreths of a second as an object useful to me.”

Although he presents it rather modestly, Jensen’s shift from a ratio to a story-of-sorts is a crucial rhetorical move–one that all environmentalists and activists of all walks should take note of.  We need to keep pressing for the most effective forms for communicating the gravitas of the situation (but without falling prey to the idea that that’s all that needs to be done).

I think the artists of GOOD and Fogelson-Lubliner that collaborated to produce the brilliant illustration below have a solid grasp of what it takes to translate facts in a way that sticks.  I strongly suggest that you click the image to view it in its full glory . . .


And when you’re done there, don’t forget to check out the archive of amazing at FlowingData.


* I use the term “insane” quite literally, in its strictest definition(s): senseless; an unsoundness of mind that affects one’s capacity for proper responsibility; one whose way of life and/or mental state is such that they are unable to make a sustained commitment to their own health and the relationships that constitute it.  Perhaps “madness” is more accurate, though, since there is a particular violence to our collective insanity.