Thursday, January 22, 2009

Book Procurement Review: ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA

I was doing research for my forthcoming film, BLACK HOLE ADVENTURE, which I've already begun to shoot in earnest (a trailer for it will be posted on this site shortly), and I was scouring books, old and new, for information that would make my film scientifically accurate. Then I remembered someone who might be able to help, might provide a unique window into the answers to the questions I'd been asking.

Remember him? He had a report due on space. Then he found himself swimming in a veritable font of information. Almost too much. So much, that if you'll recall, he actually received a B+ on that famous report on space. It was too long, too professional, too above and beyond the call of duty, that his teachers couldn't even handle it. I, however, had need for all the help I could get. So, while a couple of friends were visiting, I popped in the old VHS I keep all of my Encyclopedia Britannica commercials on, and gave it a whirl.



I had forgotten about the meta-commentaries provided by the omniscient voice. It's interesting, almost as if the producers had such a lack of faith in The Encyclopedia Britannica Kid's (to be subsequently referred to as 'The Kid') abilities to carry the commercial on his own, that they created this meta-narrative to showcase their own insecurities. It was common practice in the 1980's, as my forthcoming review of the MR. AND MS. PACMAN STORYBOOK ALBUM shall illustrate.

In any event, the producers of the commercial created 'The Kid.' Child voice actor Donavan Freberg breathed life into him, gave him flesh. Yet then they insert this omniscient voice to deride The Kid, to tear him down, to dismiss him. Not completely, but overtly enough. They have the voice insert bored, condescending responses ("Uh-huhhh...," "Um...yes," "Uh...good," "Hmm," "Mm-hmm") as if the voice simply can't wait for The Kid to stop talking so that he can take over. I'll tell you what was happening: the producers were afraid. They were afraid viewers would disrespect The Kid. Tear him down themselves. So they acted preemptively. If we tear The Kid down first, we'll take all the fun out of it for them. In fact, they might even start sympathizing with The Kid, and then we'll sell more encyclopedias. It's basic psychology, and it's clever psychology. Let's say that it worked on me. Alright, so let's have that 800 number. And there it is:

And, shit the bed! Just for previewing Britannica, they'll send me, for free, a three-volume desk reference set of $14.40 value.

It's been a number of years since this commercial aired. I'm excited right now, but I'm probably just setting myself up for disappointment. It's late, too. It's almost three A.M...maybe I should try tomorrow...no! A helpful, visiting friend-of-a-friend from Buffalo makes up my mind for me, ends the paralysis that grips the room. He takes his phone, dials the number, and it begins to ring. Everyone in the room awaits the pick-up with baited breath. It feels as if the phone rings ten or twelve times.

Suddenly, a female voice:
"Hello?" She fails to immediately identify herself.
"Hello, I'm calling about the Encyclopedia Britannica, about the free three-volume set, of $14.40 value being offered right now."
"One moment, please."

Our minds would be racing if they hadn't just been blown. Have we wandered into some Twilight Zone time loop? Is it possible to go back? Is it truly possible to go home again? Can we find ourselves in a world where one can eat Dunkaroos and wash them down with Coke II and Ecto Cooler and then brush our teeth with toothpaste that comes out of the tube in the shape of a multi-colored star? Does time have no dominion over the promises made by 80's television? Can we indeed get our free books of $14.40 value?

The passing of time seems interminable. The phone's on speaker, and we can all hear clinking and clacking, office noises. It's real. This is really happening.

"I'm sorry, we don't carry that product, sir."

The inevitable disappointment. The patchwork dreamworld shattered by a dose of reality.

"No, I'm telling you, I'm looking at the TV right now- looking at this phone number-"
"I'm sorry-"
"No, there's this kid. I'm watching it right now! He's got a mullet, this red shirt, black pants–"
"
We carry no such product, sir."
"Well, what products do you carry?!"
"Golf Digest magazine, sir."

This continued only a little longer. After a brief discussion involving the merits of golf, the beleaguered operator woman decided to let him go, probably figuring we were a couple of smarmy kids having a laugh at her expense. She couldn't have been more wrong. Now I find myself on the other end of the ouroboros. I've been spat out by the beast and swallowed once more. Now I'm the kid who has a report due on space. Only there's no due date, and I no longer can claim to be a 'kid.' It's all a big mess with the wreckage piled atop itself into infinity. And somehow I get the feeling the answers were all floating out there on the frigid, hazy January night we tried to meld past and present...

Remember me? ...I'm the kid that had a report due on space...

-Sean Gill

2 comments:

Jillaine said...

That call was amazing, but even more amazing might be your review of it. We should send it to Jason.

Mr. Carlson said...

You sir, just blew my mind.