Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Daytona Deco: Kress Building

Daytona Beach was the last stop on my way home from the Hope Institute in Ashland, VA.

The downtown area on the land side of the Intracoastal Waterway has been redeveloped to be more appealing to tourists. I ate lunch at a place with some natural foods, across from a park that runs along the waterway and next to the bridge over the Intracoastal.

This old Kress building preserves the Art Deco era in Florida architecture, my favorite. Note the classic deco details on the side of this fabulous historical structure. It is located a few doors away from the restaurant. There is plenty of metered parking to allow time to walk around the area and enjoy the park, shops, restaurants, natural beauty, and architecture.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Walterboro, South Carolina

A stop in Walterboro, South Carolina, was one highlight of my trip in July to the Hope Institute of National Communication Association. It was held at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. (You can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.)

I ate the lunch I'd packed at this pleasant rest stop on I-95, just south of the Georgia border. The arches are a nice rendition of the Spanish influence on south Florida architecture. I was fascinated by the clean Zen lines of these water fountain.

I stopped in Walterboro, South Carolina, a charming old town that is little more than some hotels along the highway. I found my way to the old town center and a nice restaurant. A car show was happening on the street outside. The next photos are of the vintage vehicles that have been lovingly restored. The last photo in the group is a Colby Cobra. Unfortunately, there was small sign in the plaza that prevented me from getting a good picture. Behind it was a large modernist waterfall wall that has not photographed well, either.

For car enthusiasts, the green chevy is a 1934.

The Walterboro crafts center had closed by the time I at dusk on the drive north. I made a special stop on my way back home to photograph this blue bottle tree, a modernist interpretation of an old Southern folk art. You can learn more about this uniquely southtern tradition at Bottletree.com. I would have bought this if I could have afforded it. The crafts center brings together the work of numerous South Carolina artists and artisans working in many media -- jewelry, painting, and fiber art among them. Behind the antebellum home are several slaves' cabins. This reminder of the past is never far away in the southern states. One appeared to be in service as artists' studios, and it appeared that others will be remodelled. The first cabin below was just room, with a very small stove and a bare bulb hanging from uncertain wire strung across the ceiling. I couldn't see into the second, but it probably has two rooms.Walterboro is a wonderful place to stop if you making a long trip north or south on I-95. Don't be content with the fast food joints at the on-off ramps. Take the time to drive into town and sample the sights and crafts.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

No EXPRESS AT AmEx, Just the World's Worst Service Ever

American EXPRESS -- nah. Try American as slow as the formation of the Grand Canyon and as responsive as rock.

First, the online ordering program for the rewards program wouldn't work. For hours. And hours. I tried from about noon til 4 p.m. When I finally got an order to go through, the screen for the gift address didn't come up. Then I tried to reach someone to correct the error. Big mistake. 45 minutes online, then I got transferred, and no one picked up after 75 minutes.

So I will have to trudge to the Post Office with its long lines and remail the package.

If you want to order online, stick with amazon.com or ebay. They know how its done.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Christmas Lexus: A Fable for Our Times

The Christmas Lexus ads are as widely loathed as they are effective.

Not just any Lexus,” as one of my graduate students said with just the right inflection for emphasis, “The Christmas Lexus.” We were performing a semiotic deconstruction of these illlustrations of American excess. But it doesn’t require the theory of Roland Barthes or Umberto Eco to spy and decry the haute bourgeoisie mythification of shopping for the glory of God.

As AdFreak headlines, Lexus is back with the usual Christmas downer. Adjab identifies the campaign as Ads We Hate and it tops the Yuletide peeves at The Daily Ping.

Jeremy W. Peters at the New York Times reports that the Christmas Lexus happens. The surest sign of flattery, other auto makers are airing imitations.

Those spoilsports over at Live and Learn Invest point out that the more likely response is “You did what?” than the happy smiles in the Lexus ads.

I knew a woman whose husband gave her a Mercedes Benz for their wedding anniversary. She’d left him after raising a family together but, like Janis Joplin, discovered freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. He was really glad to have her back. She was furious when he replaced her subcompact for the luxury Mercedes diesel. Ecologically responsible, she liked her peppy little car that handled like a top in traffic. How dare he trade away her car without consulting her, she fumed.

Then there’s this video of the 14-year-old girl who throws a tantrum because she received the gift of a $67,000 Lexus before, instead of during, her party. “My life is ruined,” she sobs. Or this spoiled teen who complains because her gift car is red, not blue.

Halfbakery has the perfect response – the evil gift of a fake Lexus key that sends the recipient into the snow only to discover there’s no luxury auto with a bow on top out there.

My students did a fine job of deconstructing the sign –the Christmas Lexus– into its signifier (the photo of the car) and the signified (a gift that shows you care, a lot). The sign empties of its denotative meaning, as Roland Barthes has it, and fills up with connotation – wealth and prosperity, a surfeit of money so great that a $40,000 to $70,000 car is but a bauble for celebrating the holiday. A perfect home, a perfect family, even a perfect snowy night in at least one of the ads. What could possibly result but perfect happiness?

Those of us who regard a car as a large, utilitarian purchase for which we must budget – that is to say, most of us, the petit bourgeosie hoping for admission into the upper levels of the middle class – are hooked by the emotions depicted in the ad's images. Consumer capitalism is concealed and mythified. If you want really good analyses of these, may I direct your attention to:

Me, I’m off to buy a phony Lexus key.

For something cheerier, check out this fabulously creative and entertaining award-winning animation by Aaron Erimez. It's the story of a mischievous Christmas tree ornament and its adventures when the household is asleep.