Monday, October 21, 2013


Have you noticed how ours is increasingly a culture of superlatives? Nothing is simply "good" anymore--it's marvelous"/"amazing"/"stupendous"/"incredible." And even in punctuation, the old standby sentence-ending "period" is going the way of the dinosaur, being replaced by the exclamation point, often in multiples. TV pitchmen no longer speak, they shout, apparently in the hopes that you won't realize that they are saying absolutely nothing. And speaking as rapidly as possible in a frenzied "Run! Save yourself!" tone is designed to create immediate reaction, not thought.

Movie trailers, especially for action films, take the opposite tack: narrators are chosen for their ability to convey ultimate masculinity and authority and each word is uttered as though it were coming from a burning bush.

They somehow feel that screaming at a machine-gun pace will sweep you up in the excitement and make you overlook the fact that they are in fact saying very little of substance. Billy Mays, the recently deceased TV pitchman, drove me absolutely to distraction. I found him unbearably annoying. Yet he became a multi-millionaire, which says something of the influence my opinions have upon the general public.

The trouble with superlatives...well, one of the many troubles with that like a medicine devised to counter the strains of a virus, the virus mutates in response to the medicine to the point where what was once good enough to do the job is no longer effective. So a stronger medication is used, which in turn loses its effectiveness, necessitating a still stronger....well, you get the picture. Words to describe the condition of being adequate or pleasant or good lose their potency, to be replaced with stronger adjectives. The intensity of the delivery of the message is also ramped up.

For many years, any minor change made in a product was touted as "New & Improved" no matter if it was merely a change in the typeface used on the box the product came in. "New & Improved" covered a multitude of purposes, often masking the fact that the "New & Improved" product was now in fact smaller and more expensive than the old one. It always amused me, even as a kid, that as soon as the New & Improved version came out, the advertisers implied that the older version was worthless, even though they'd spent years touting how wonderful it was.

A hamburger is no longer a hamburger. It is a Super-Deluxe Scrum-Diddyiscious Monstro Burger Supreme, "piled high" (sandwiches are now always "piled high" with the freshest possible delectable ingredients hand chosen by gourmet chefs). Lordy, even cat food is described in terms one would expect to find on the menu of a five-star restaurant.

When is the last time you saw an ad for a good movie? No, movies are always the most spectacular extravaganzas ever put on film. You know this because, even though the film or TV show hasn't even aired yet, you are assured that "everyone" is talking about it. Well, excuse me, but I'm part of "everyone", and I'm not talking about it, and I don't know of anyone who is.

Promotion is fine, but there's got to be a line drawn somewhere. Can't we go back to calling a spade a spade rather than a Spectaculo X-980 Super-Colossal Jumbo Earthmover?


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (


Kage Alan said...

Did you by chance ever watch the film Alien? The trailer for it was quite intriguing because there were no spoken words. It was a series of images set to eerie music and that spoke volumes.

As for advertising, I posted something a week ago about 'real fruit flavor.' It's not real. It doesn't taste like real fruit. And I do often wonder what guidelines the FDA has that allow a company to state "new and improved." We should look into that... I'm genuinely curious.

Dorien/Roger said...

Yep, I watched "Alien"...the trailer being an example of "anti-hype" in that it didn't need the usual trappings to get our attention.

And I did read your posting on "real fruit flavor" may have subconsciously sparked the idea for "Hype." Thanks.