Listen: I’ve worked as a reporter or speechwriter since forever, and yes, there are receipts: I have a Bob Kerrey bumper sticker.
So yeah, it’s fair to say I’ve seen 5.93 metric tons of campaign ads.
And yes, 99 percent of them are typically unremarkable. Part of that is because political consultants bought into the “only negative ads work!” idea and ran with it all the way to crazy town.
This meant seeing piles of black-and-white ads with scary music and narrators trying to make me think Candidate A would outlaw ice cream and turn my house into a brothel for North Korean soldiers.
This year is an exception, at least on the Biden side, with Trump busy trying to outdo the infamous Demon Sheep ad. Yes, I am not making that up. There really is a Demon Sheep ad that Carly spent real cash to create and run in California, which is not exactly a cheap media market.
Hurray for positive ads in 2020
There’s some new research that positive ads work, thank God.
Biden has run a ton of them this year.
The Lincoln Project is known for scathing, hilarious ads, but they’ve also run impressive positive ones.
Many of these are long-form, which is also a nice switch. I’ve been in the gym for an hour in the morning during presidential years when every single ad was political and they were all Black-and-White Scary Music Nonsense.
Here are my favorites of 2020, with most of these set to music.
For Your Boys
Sam Elliot FTW
America the Beautiful
Did I miss your favorite ad? There have been many this year. Hit me in the comments.
Yeah, that’s not a typo. This real criminal genius thought it was a good idea to bring a Nerf toy to a gunfight.
And yes, police say he first pulled out a tire iron, then a small ax. However, what criminal in good standing thinks the natural progression goes like this?
“First, Imma snag this improvised, short-range weapon meant to loosen lug nuts. Then I’m going even shorter range with a hatchet. And now, for the grand finale, we’re doing full shock-and-awe on the po-po by whipping out this Nerf crossbow. They’ll never take me alive, Cletus–never.”
According to the KOMO story, based on police reports, the whole thing started with this man road-raging and/or stalking two teenage girls in an SUV while he was driving his pickup. Five bucks says that pickup features at least two of the following: (a) various shades of bondo, (b) Bud Light cans littering the bed, (c) a MAGA sticker, and maybe (d) one of those chrome pipes so this tough guy can roll coal.
The girls called 911 and the cops found both vehicles. Any criminal with working brain cells, at this point, would find another place to be or another illegal scheme to pursue. You know, drive off to cook some meth, rob a 7-Eleven while dressed as a trailer-park ninja (this has happened, numerous times), or tie a chain around an ATM and try to yank it out with your pickup truck.
This man didn’t stop. He drove on the wrong side of the road, rammed police cars, went through a chainlink fence. You know, all the things. Only then did he cap this string of Good Decisions by seeing armed police closing in and reaching for that Nerf crossbow.
My only journalistic question is this: What KIND of Nerf crossbow? For they are legion.
The only way to put a cherry on top of this story is to find out that last detail, and to pray to Florida Man that the specific brand of Nerf crossbow turns out to be this one.
Listen: it’s hard to slog through the first page of a novel by Snooki, a literary zero.
And beating up the first page by a literary hero, F. Scott Fitzgerald, feels rebellious, as if I’m giving sending a chunk of English teachers and profs into therapy. Even so, it doesn’t feel good. Giants of literature need to remain giant and omnipotent in our minds, not bogged down with meandering prose that doesn’t go anywhere for a full page.
So as a palate cleanser, this week we’re dissecting page one of a brilliant, relatively obscure novel.
THE AX by Donald Westlake
I’ve never actually killed anybody before, murdered another person, snuffed out another human being. In a way, oddly enough,I wish I could talk to my father about this, since he did have the experience,had what we in the corporate world call the background in that area of expertise, he having been an infantryman in the Second World War, having seen “action” in the final march across France into Germany in ’44—’45, having shot and certainly wounded and more than likely killed any number of men in dark gray wool, and having been quite calm about it all in retrospect. How do you know beforehand that you can do it? That’s the question.
Well, of course, I couldn’t ask my father that., discuss it with him, Not even if he were still alive, which he isn’t, the cigarettes and the lung cancer having caught up with him in his sixty-third year, putting him down as surely, if not as efficiently, as if he had been a distant enemy in dark gray wool.
NOTES FROM THE RED PEN OF DOOM
This is an intense thriller, with an everyman anti-hero who responds to getting laid off in an interesting way: taking out a fake job ad, then collecting those resumes and killing off the competition for his specialized trade (managing paper mills, if I remember right). It’s a short, intense, amazing book by a master of his craft.
So, I didn’t get itchy pencil on this page one, though there are some easy edits. The run-on sentences are clearly on purpose, a little conversational tic of the narrator. My personal feeling is they get just a bit annoying early on here. Pretty easy to kill a few words and make it more readable.
What’s truly great is how Westlake strikes at the heart of his anti-hero, and the novel, not just on the first page but in the very first line.
You rarely see that. Not in movies, not in books.
Westlake takes a carpenter’s hammer and smacks you in the nose with this first line and I could not love it more.
The whole novel is like that.
If you’re a fan of BREAKING BAD, this is a similar story with a different ending. It’s not a tragedy, with a hero falling, sinning and dying due to hubris. This is a story of a suburban schlub who suffers, sacrifices and does terrible things to provide for his family…and wins in the end. He gets the job. The house doesn’t go into foreclosure, his family isn’t on the street. He wins, not that Westlake is saying what his character did is right and good.
This is a great first page that doesn’t meander around, and a terrific way to put the reader into the essential question of the story, a neat twist on “What’s worth living for and what’s worth dying for?”