Superbowl 1984

Mac

On this day in 1984 they held an annual football game in the USA called Superbowl XVIII.  Barry Manilow sang the national anthem.  Los Angeles Raiders defeated the Washington Redskins by 38 points to 9.  The next day nobody was talking about the game.  Nobody was talking about Barry Manilow.  Nobody was talking about the half time show, a salute to the superstars of the silver screen.

Everyone was talking about an ad that played during the game.  An ad that ran on that day only and never again.  An ad that became the stuff of legend.

Chiat/Day ad agency commissioned Ridley Scott to direct the slot.  He took inspiration from George Orwell’s novel 1984.  He depicted a controlled society in the future, similar to the dystopian vision of Orwell’s book.  Then a blonde girl in a white shirt and orange shorts throws a hammer through a very large screen.  We are then told that Apple is about to change the world.  And to be fair they did.  They launched the Apple Mackintosh, the first mouse driven GUI computer, the things we all use now.

Apple 1984 Superbowl Ad

Some said the “Big Brother” in the ad represented IBM.  Others suggested it represented Bill Gates.  Everyone wanted to know what exactly Apple was about to launch.  The ad was made before a working prototype was available so the product does not feature in the ad.  The important thing is that the ad, like all good ads followed the mousetrap analogy.  If you want the trap to work you have to leave room for the mouse.  A good ad has a certain amount of the unknown about it, the observer has to walk into the ad and try to figure out what is going on.

In this case the analogy is doubly profound because it launched a computer with a mouse.

Still considered the greatest every Superbowl ad the Apple Mac launch 1984 ad generated millions of dollars in publicity and was aired for free thousands of times in news and reviews shows.  It then went on to win multiple awards at the Cannes Lions, generating further publicity for Apple.

It took me 4 years post launch before I got my hands on an Apple Mac.  It was still fresh and new then.

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The thing about martyrs

Kevin_Barry

Kevin Barry in his Belvedere Rugby Shirt

Born today in 1902 Kevin Barry was the most perfect of martyrs.  A smart lad, educated by the Jesuits in Belvedere College Dublin.  He played on a championship winning junior rugby cup winning team and also represented the school on the senior cup team.

He went on to study medicine in University College Dublin.  Aged only 18 he was involved in a shootout with British Soldiers and was the only member of his squad caught.  He refused to give up his comrades under torture.  He was tried, found guilty and hanged by the British like a common criminal.

For Sinn Féin (the IRA) the events could not have been orchestrated more favourably.  The British immediately found themselves on the losing side in a world-wide PR campaign.  In Ireland tempers were already high.  The hanging of Barry occurred in the same week when Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, died on hunger strike.

The British had plenty of ammunition to fight a counter PR campaign but they failed miserably.  For instance the soldiers attacked by Barry’s squad were about the same age as Barry himself.  Barry was armed with dum-dum bullets, banned by Geneva convention.

Described as a “sensitive poet-intellectual” MacSwiney was presented to the world as a pacifist playwright intellectual forced by the brutal British to take up arms in defence of his rights.  Killed by a callous and cold-hearted monarchy.  Barry was presented as little more than a child, a young gentleman of great potential, beaten, tortured and hanged by violent beasts.  Who could not shed a tear?

Money flowed in from abroad for the cause.  The IRA guerilla campaign went into all out war and within a year the British Government found their position in Ireland untenable.  They went to the negotiating table.

The thing about martyrs is never to create them.  The British were slow to learn this lesson.  The execution of the 1916 leaders should have opened their eyes to the power of martyrs.  But the British were still creating martyrs in 1981 when 10 Provisional IRA prisoners died on hunger strike in the Maze prison in the Britain of Margaret Thatcher.  The leader of that strike, Bobby Sands, was elected to the Westminster parliament while on hunger strike.  The British Government suffered a dreadful loss of face and had to pass legislation to prevent nomination of prisoners for election to prevent a repeat incident.

The hunger strike is a very ancient tradition in Ireland and goes all the way back to pre-Christian Ireland and Celtic Hospitality laws.  It was compulsory for a host to feed a guest under his roof.  As a protest against injustice a subject might starve himself outside the hall of his lord.  Such an action usually led to resolution of a dispute because the lord could not bear the shame of a man starving himself on his doorstep.

The IRA began active use of the hunger strike in May 1917 to protest their status as political rather than criminal prisoners.  Under international pressure the hunger strikers were released.  Thomas Ashe was subsequently re-arrested and went back on hunger strike in Sept 1917.  The British Government initially ordered the forced feeding of fasting prisoners.  When Ashe choked to death during force feeding in 1917 his funeral became a major IRA recruitment drive.  The hunger strike as a modern weapon of non-violent resistance was born.

The world paid due attention and in India Mohandas Gandhi saw its potential.  As a form of non-violent protest it complied with the philosophy of satyagraha.  In 1929 Jatin Das died after 63 days on hunger strike.  On the same strike Bhagat Singh set a hunger strike record of 116 days and ended the strike when demanded concessions were granted.

Prison authorities have become more scientific about the force feeding of hunger striking prisoners.  As a result of direct stomach feeding via a Ryles tube Irom Sharmila was able to remain healthy despite 16 years refusal to ingest either food or water through her mouth.

One final thing about martyrs, they need to be special.  A good martyr every ten years or so serves as a beacon of defiance, bravery, resistance to oppression.  It serves as a rallying cry, a call to recruitment , an incentive for contributions to the cause.  In the middle east today Islamic groups create a handful of martyrs every month.  Too many martyrs for any individual martyr to stand out from the crowd.  Martyrdom is no longer special, it just become the norm and eventually it becomes meaningless.  A pointless death.  A waste of life.

 

Kevin Barry: Anonymous

In Mountjoy jail one Monday morning
High upon the gallows tree
Kevin Barry gave his young life
For the cause of liberty
But a lad of eighteen summers
Yet no one can deny
As he walked to death that morning
He proudly held his head on high

Just before he faced the hangman
In his dreary prison cell
British soldiers tortured Barry
Just because he would not tell
The names of his brave companions
And other things they wished to know
“Turn informer or we’ll kill you”
Kevin Barry answered, “no”

Calmly standing to attention
While he bade his last farewell
To his broken hearted mother
Whose grief no one can tell
For the cause he proudly cherished
This sad parting had to be
Then to death walked softly smiling
That old Ireland might be free

Another martyr for old Ireland
Another murder for the crown
Whose brutal laws may kill the Irish
But can’t keep their spirit down
Lads like Barry are no cowards
From the foe they will not fly
Lads like Barry will free Ireland
For her cause they’ll live and die

Jindyworobak Club

Drover

Sharing his birthday with Edgar Allan Poe is Australian poet Reginald Charles (Rex) Ingamells.  Originally he followed the trail of poets like Banjo Patterson and wrote the songs of the bush as experienced by the whites.  In the 1930’s he founded the Jindyworobak movement.  Although exclusively white artists, they made the first forays into recognition of indigenous Australian art and culture.

The absence of native Australian Aboriginal artists from the group has undermined its validity.  Some might say the current status of Aboriginal art owes much to the groundwork done by the Jindy club.  Who knows?

Shifting Camp: by Rex Ingamells

Glint of gumtrees in the dawn,
so million coloured: bush wind-borne
magpie-music, rising, falling;
and voices of the stockmen calling.

Bellowing of cattle: stamping,
impatient of the place of camping:
bark of dogs, and the crack-crack-crack
of stockwhips as we take the track.

Neighing of night-rested mounts…
This is a day that really counts:
a day to ride with a hundred head,
and a roll of canvas – that’s my bed.

Feliz cumpleaños Jorge Guillén

1145jorge-guillen-buena

One of the spanish poets of the “Generation of ’27” Guillén lived to the ripe old age of 91.

A prolific poet and a respected academic, nominated four times for the Nobel Literature prize.  On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War he was imprisoned in Pamplona for political reasons.  He was released and continued to teach in Seville until 1938.

Then he emigrated to the United States.  There is speculation that Nationalist Catholic Spain was an unhealthy environment for an academic married to a Jewish wife.  It certainly proved to be a very unhealthy climate for his fellow Generation 27 poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

So to a poem about death looming in the distance. A grey wall across our future obscuring what lies beyond.

-o0o-

Muerte a lo lejos: by Jorge Guillén

Je soutenais l’éclat de la mort toute pure.

VALÉRY

 

Alguna vez me angustia una certeza,

Y ante mí se estremece mi futuro.

Acechándolo está de pronto un muro

del arrabal final en que tropieza

 

La luz del campo. ¿Mas habrá tristeza

si la desnuda el sol? No, no hay apuro

todavía. Lo urgente es el maduro

fruto. La mano ya lo descorteza.

 

…Y un día entre los días el más triste

será. Tenderse deberá la mano

sin afán. Y acatando el inminente

 

Poder diré sin lágrimas: embiste,

justa fatalidad. El muro cano

va a imponerme su ley, no su accidente.

 

Crushed by pressure.

first-step

There are times in our lives when we are crushed into immobility by pressure.  It may be the pressure of too much stimulation, like a soldier caught in crossfire who freezes instead of leaping for cover.  It may be pressure of time and work, like the office worker who faces such a towering pile of work and impossible deadlines that they can’t focus on a single task.  It may be an artist or writer facing self doubt about their personal validity leading to a mental block.

Military special forces deal with situation number 1 by putting recruits through stress again and again until stress becomes their new norm.  Special forces are special because when everybody else is running blindly for cover, or freezing on the spot, they can make rational decisions.  They assess the situation, make a decision and act.

Experienced office employees know you can only focus on one task at one time.  Don’t believe people who say they can multi-task.  Focus on the here and now.  Pick the most important thing.  This may not be the most “urgent”.  Do one thing well.  Complete it.  Then do the next most important thing.

Many people become stressed by the things they cannot change.  It is like a person standing in a room with a burst pipe worrying about global climate change.  You can’t solve global climate change today.  But maybe you can fix a pipe or call a plumber.  Keep it small, keep it simple.

For the writer or artist with the mental block there are a million pieces of advice.  For me what works is the discipline of writing something.  Anything.  This blog.  Lay some words on a page.  They may be rubbish.  They may turn out to be good.  They may just clear your mind.  The simple action of placing words on a page or paint on a canvas, with no motive, can be enough to move you forward.

Robert M Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance described an A student with a mental block.  She had to write an essay about her home town and got stuck.  So he told her to walk to the main street, stand outside the library, count bricks from the ground on the corner and stop at e.g brick number 20.  Then write about that brick.  Once she started to write about the brick she could not stop, and the story of the whole town unfolded.

In Time Management Training they describe their approach to daunting tasks as “Eating an Elephant”.  It’s hard to eat an elephant in one meal.  Much easier if you chop it up into lots and lots of meals.  Then just eat the elephant one meal at a time.  Before you know it you will run out of elephant.

A Grain of Sand:  by Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

 

#MeToo nothing new

Pan and Syrinx, by Peter Paul Rubens

Pan and Syrinx, by Peter Paul Rubens

A priapic director, dressing gown flapping open, chasing a pretty actress round his hotel room.  A seedy image but hardly a new one.  As old as myth and fable.

A fable that gave us two of the most scary objects ever made by man.

Syrinx was a chaste nymph who was pursued by the God Pan, the goat legged wild spirit who represents the wilderness and fertility.  In a bid to avoid him Syrinx appealed to the water nymphs to hide her, and they turned her into hollow reeds.  As he passed Pan sighed and the hollow reeds resonated.  So he cut them and created the pan pipes.  So next time you are accosted by a brightly clad troupe of Peruvian troubadours in Subway, Underground or Metro you can blame it on the Ancient Greek Harvey Weinstein.   Pan pipes – a particular form of torture!

But for the ultimate torture comes another word derived from Syrinx herself.  The hollow reed was the model for the hollow needle, from which we get the word Syringe.  Next time you are at the doctor or dentist and this object of medieval torture emerges you know who to blame.

Panpipes.jpg

 

Happy Birthday Ronnie Van Zant

CVConvair

Convair CV-240

Ronnie is the oldest of the Van Zant brothers.  His two younger brothers are Johnny and Donnie (I kid you not).  OK when it came to naming the kids their parents showed a limited palate.  However this family is Southern Rock Gold.  Ronnie and Johnny were founder members of Lynyrd Skynyrd while Donnie co-founded .38 Special.  The two younger brothers also formed the band Van Zant after the death of Ronnie.

Like Chuck Berry, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens he gained rock legend status by his death in an air crash.  Steve and Cassie Gaines, other band members also died in the crash which led to 6 fatalities of 26 passengers and crew.  Ronnie would have been 70 had he lived today, and was only 29 when he died in 1977.

As a lyricist Ronnie qualifies in my book as a poet.