Glenn O’Brien

  • Advertising

    CHRISTMAS IS THAT TIME of year when we celebrate God becoming a man (or was it the other way around?) by spending a lot of money on ourselves, our loved ones, and our clients.

    Deciding what you want for Christmas is always a tough problem, so this year I have decided on a different approach. I am taking the approach, “What I don’t want for Christmas.” I wrote Santa a Dear John letter; I said I didn’t want anything. Should there prove to be a Santa, he will probably be grateful, and generous anyway. But I did apprise him of the things I don’t want, especially because of a wave of ads that have

  • Fort Madison Avenue.

    THE YOUNG JET ACE WALKS away from his bird, carrying his helmet. His CO comes over and congratulates him on his flying. The CO asks the young pilot if he won’t reconsider and sign up for another hitch. The young pilot says no, that he and his girl have made plans. The CO then hands the pilot a letter. It’s a letter he’s been expecting. It’s from American Airlines. He’s been accepted. “I hope they know they’re getting one of the best,” says the CO.

    Meanwhile, up around 40,000 feet a bunch of even younger top guns are hot-rodding their interceptors to music by a band that sounds a lot like ZZ Top.

  • All the better to eat you with.

    RECENTLY I HAPPENED to catch an ABC News “business brief,” an indispensable service for those whose perception of Wall Street tends to dull during prime time, and what I heard made me skip a program in my channel-changing. Gold and silver were up, the Dow Jones was way up, but, the anchorwoman noted, Consumer Confidence was down considerably. Only a few weeks before, polls had showed that most Americans believed that their president was lying to them. From there it seemed only a matter of time before they would begin to suspect their laundry detergent of lying to them.

    It would be easy to blame

  • Amaretto di Ollie

    SINCE I BEGAN TO WRITE this column I have noticed that many of the people I know have an attitude toward advertising somewhere between disdain and contempt. These liberal and apparently cultured people tend to assume that if it’s an ad it must be a lie. The rest of the people I know are now appearing in ads for Amaretto or Rose’s lime juice.

    As more and more people I know are showing up in liqueur and syrup ads and as more and more people I know manifest an exaggerated disdain for advertising as the most visible aspect of supercapital, treating it as one of the lowest forms of human communication,

  • H-h-h-heads and tails.

    JUST REMEMBER, DOG IS GOD spelled backward.

    There’s a real party animal. His name is Spuds MacKenzie. He is a dog for whom the girls go. He’s not a beautiful or handsome dog by most standards. He is of that short and composed breed from Britain that looks like a carnivorous sheep. Spuds MacKenzie is Budweiser Lite beer’s cool new role model, their answer to Pepsi’s Don Johnson and Miller’s Rodney Dangerfield. Spuds might be a dog, but he doesn’t even look at dogs anymore. He is the ultimate in upward mobility. He travels by chauffeur-driven convertible, he wears Ray Bans, he orders Bud, and he

  • PEE-WEE HERMENEUTICS

    Character is understood as a state of continual incandescence—a person being one, very intense thing.

    —Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp’”

    “Mr. Rockford, are you a connoisseur of art?”

    “I had a painted turtle when I was a kid.”

    The Rockford Files

    Camp is first of all a second childhood.

    —Philip Core, Camp: The Lie That Tells the Truth

    PEE-WEE HERMAN IS A BEACON, incandescent, illuminating. He’s a flaming star—one very, very intense thing. Pee-wee Herman casts a tall shadow for a guy named Pee-wee. He’s a movie star and a TV star. His audience is “children of all ages.” He’s the first real children’s

  • Advertising

    With the radio on to a mystery program me, and as I looked out the window and saw a sign that said USE COOPER’S PAINT and I said, “Okay, I will,” we rolled across the hoodwink night of the Louisiana plains.

    —Jack Kerouac, On the Road

    The dogs of art are howling for Andy. Who is left to like everything? Andy liked everything that was ingenious, outlandish, obvious. But he also liked the things nobody had ever bothered to like. In an age of peace and love when everybody hated the system, Andy said he didn’t believe in love and then he loved everything.

    That’s really great. That’s so great.

    —Andy

  • Advertising

    I HAVEN’T ACTUALLY SEEN any of the new ads yet except on the evening news, but their tactics are almost enough to make one give up condoms. We’ve been reading the copy line “sold for the prevention of disease only” for years now, but who were they kidding. In the past, for nine out of ten users, condoms (or rubbers, as they were known outside the trade) existed for the sole purpose of preventing premature reproduction. Times have changed.

    Until recently, condom advertisements were found almost exclusively in “men’s” magazines. They were not welcome elsewhere on grounds of taste. But soon they’ll

  • Advertising

    A LITTLE BOY ASKS, “Did we win the war, daddy?” A man says, “We must answer the question ‘What is Vietnam?’ for ourselves and for the next generation.” It seems that one way to answer that question is to “call toll free and start putting the Vietnam war in perspective” with the Time-Life Books series that he’s selling: “The Vietnam Experience.”

    We never see who’s doing the talking in this TV ad, but you don’t have to see his face to know that it’s Martin Sheen, the star of Apocalypse Now. His voice has distinctive features. He sounds tough and experienced. He sounds like he knows the answer to

  • birthday suits for different parties.

    THE MOST ARTLIKE PRINT ADVERTISEMENTS seem to be those appearing in smallish, upscale, arts-oriented magazines like Interview and Details. These publications are the totems of an advantaged minority community, one that is bonded by a shared image language. Art is the grammar and rhetoric of this language; advertising and fashion are its vernacular and dialects.

    But in advertising directed at an art-worldly mobile community, frequently all that separates the advertisement from editorial art is the barest signifier of intention. A small logo in the corner of a photo may be all that removes it from

  • flogging firewater through intoxicating images. And the critic makes himself available.

    THERE'S AN OLD STORY, which may be apocryphal, that the Guinness Company of Dublin once retained Brendan Behan, then Ireland’s most eminent living poet, to write a slogan for their famous stout. According to the story Behan accepted the assignment for a nominal fee and asked that the company send over a few cases of the product for him to sample and come back and see him in a few days. In a few days the Guinness representatives returned. Behan did not answer their knock, but the door was open and they let themselves in. The floor of the flat was covered with empty stout bottles and with Behan

  • the good, the bad, and the smelly.

    AS OUR ADVERTISING YEAR draws to a close, I have a few observations about trends in advertising over the last season.

    The City of New York may soon have one of the toughest antismoking laws in the country, banning tobacco fumes in most public places and requiring that restaurants set aside 50 percent of their seating for nonsmokers. Already, if you light up in an elevator you do so at the risk of prosecution. But it’s still possible to enter an elevator wearing dangerous levels of perfume or cologne, gagging fellow passengers with impunity. And if it weren’t bad enough that noxious scents remain

  • Advertising

    AN OLD MAN STANDS IN a glass booth, like the one used to shield Adolf Eichmann during his Nazi war-crimes trial. Behind him stands a jury in similar booths. Although the architecture of the room is distinctly neoclassical, the booths are lit by tubes of blue neon, giving the scene the mixed feelings of high tech and the Dark Ages familiar to fans of the director Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner. The old man says, “I’ve already told you, it was all going to work out somehow. There was even talk of an amendment. But no one was willing to make the sacrifices. I’m afraid you’re much too young to

  • Glenn O'Brien on Advertising

    COLUMNS|Like Art|11

    #page 11#

    Heavy-metal singer Ozzy Osbourne was sued recently by the parents of a 19-year old boy who shot himself to death,

    allegedly while listening to Osbourne's song “Suicide Solution” John McCollum was still wearing headphones when his body

    was discovered, adn the song “Suicide Solution” was the last cut on the last album side McCollum listtened to. Osbourne

    claimed that the song was about the horrors of alcoholism. The McCollum family's lawyer claimed that the song was

    intended to induce teen suicides; in dismissin the case, California Superior Court Judge John L. Cole commented that

    there was

  • Extrasensory perception.

    HEAVY-METAL SINGER OZZY OSBOURNE was sued recently by the parents of a 19-year-old boy who shot himself to death, allegedly while listening to Osbourne’s song “Suicide Solution.” John McCollum was still wearing headphones when his body was discovered, and the song “Suicide Solution” was the last cut on the last album side McCollum listened to. Osbourne claimed that the song was about the horrors of alcoholism. The McCollum family’s lawyer claimed that the song was intended to induce teen suicides; in dismissing the case, California Superior Court Judge John L. Cole commented that there was no

  • Glenn O'Brien on Advertising

    COLUMNS|Like Art|10

    #page 10#

    Star Search is the latest in the ancient line of amateur talent contests. The amateur hour is a radio and television

    tradition, from Major Bowes through Ted Macks Amateur Hour and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts down to The Gong Show.

    Many viable stars have been dis covered through amateur contests: Julius LaRosa, just to name a few

    And Star Search has already uncovered the major talent of Sam Harris, the young man with the big voice, in tuxedo and

    sneakers, who could be the next Wayne Newton.

    Amateur talent contests have remained virtually unchanged. From Arthur Godfrey to Ed McMahon is

  • Advertising

    STAR SEARCH IS THE LATEST in the ancient line of amateur talent contests. The amateur hour is a radio and television tradition, from Major Bowes through Ted Mach’s Amateur Hour and Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts down to The Gong Show. Many viable stars have been discovered through amateur contests: Julius LaRosa, just to name a few. And Star Search has already uncovered the major talent of Sam Harris, the young man with the big voice, in tuxedo and sneakers, who could be the next Wayne Newton.

    Amateur talent contests have remained virtually unchanged. From Arthur Godfrey to Ed McMahon is not

  • the tourist’s industry’s Dramamine against terrorism. Seeing the world through travel ads.

    THE ADS USED TO SAY “See America first.” They’re saying it again. Chevy Chase and his family are probably not going on a European Vacation this summer, they’re probably going to the Hamptons, along with all the other people who aren’t going to Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, and of course Turkey.

    I’m not going to Long Island just because it’s safer than the Mediterranean, I’m going because “I ❤️ NY.” I also like negative advertising. Tell me not to buy it and I’ll try it. Give me a glass of your cheapest Italian wine and a couple of Tylenols and put me behind

  • Smoke signals.

    “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: SMOKING Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy.”

    Buy some and die. It’s a hard pitch. How do you sell people what has been proved bad for them? How do you persuade people to buy something that might kill them? Do you try to fool them or to help them fool themselves? Tobacco is all the same, but every brand’s image is different. Do you create a language of counterimages and cryptic inversions of meaning?

    In London recently there were billboards everywhere with the image of scissors cut out of purple fabric. Near one corner was the

  • Surrealism with everything on it.

    SOMETIMES YOU LEAVE THE country for a few days and everything changes. I was away for one week and when I came back Burger King had not only found Herb, but it had destroyed him. The man Burger King had been looking for, touted as the only person in America who had never eaten a Whopper, had been converted. Herb was now traveling around America eating the top of the Burger King line.

    When I left the country you could get a Whopper for half price if you went into Burger King and said, “I’m not Herb,” or, if your name actually was Herb, “I’m not the Herb you’re looking for.” At this writing, when