March 2014

Line in the Sand: Idiocy heard (and seen) around the world

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Barry Kaufman

When historians of the future look back on 21st century America, they’re not going to know what the hell to make of us. Here you have a culture that weathered a severe economic crisis, watching banks fail and jobs dry up, all while carrying around $600 phones used primarily for Candy Crush. You have a culture that finally started making strides to clean up the environment, but also started brewing all its coffee in Keurig machines that absolutely clog landfills with little plastic k-cups. You have a culture that rallied against government intrusion, all while posting every scrap of personal information they had on Facebook. This culture—no, let’s take ownership of this thing—WE landed an intelligent robot on Mars, and in the same breath we made Honey Boo Boo a star.

In short, we’re a culture of contradictions right now. Is it any wonder that Casino’s Law became literally the only thing worth talking about after the Super Bowl?

For those of you out there with better things to do than cheese out over viral videos, Casino’s Law was an ad for Savannah attorney Jamie Casino that lived somewhere on the line between sincerely awful and ironically amazing. It then lit that line on fire and smashed its headstone with a flaming cross-emblazoned sledgehammer. These are all things that very literally happened in this ad, which promoted legal representation in ways that are as unclear as they are awesome.

Naturally, this quirky local commercial went global, and soon the entire Internet was awestruck with the fiery blunt object of justice that was Casino’s Law. To be clear: this ad has nearly nothing to do with the legal practice. It has everything to do with blowing stuff up and making people go “Duuuuuuuuuude did you see that?”

Some people, and let’s say their names rhyme with Schmourtney, tried to parse this wonderful Kenny Powers fever dream for meaning. And if you go down that road, you’re not going to find any meaning. You’ll probably just come away with the notion that we as a culture have really been moving backward.

But we’re not. It’s just a facet of our culture of contradiction. We expect our attorneys educated, well-mannered and slightly untrustworthy, yet highly unlikely to smash things with hammers. But we expect our entertainment big, loud, and dumb. Casino just crossed those wires, creating one of the few moments of genuine entertainment in a game that we can all agree blew pretty hard. But if you’re not looking at it from inside our contradictory culture’s ironic detachment, yeah, it probably didn’t make any sense.

Take the Richard Sherman interview as another example. I know Schmourtney will. After training his entire life, sacrificing nearly everything in the pursuit of one day going to the Super Bowl, Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman finally did what he’d been dreaming of since he was eight: he swatted a ball out of the air and won the big game.

It’s a silly thing to dream about, but it was has dream. And Sherman dreamed it with every rain-drenched practice, with every gut-wrenching, torturous workout. From boyhood, he dreamt of that one day when the ball he swatted would be the deciding factor in sending his team to the Super Bowl. And just like that, it came true.

With the goal that quite literally dominated his every waking moment now finally at fruition, someone had the bright idea to stick a microphone in his face. What he unloaded on that microphone could generously be described as complete gibberish. People, for whatever reason, were confused that this giant monster of a human being whose job it is to smash into other giant monsters at high velocity wasn’t all that eloquent in that moment.

Again we see our culture of contradiction. We want our football players to be snarling terrifying mutant beasts on the field, but expect them to orate like Cicero when Erin Andrews tells them to. Sherman’s just a guy, no different from the rest of us. (And as point of order, he’s actually smarter than most of us. Seriously; dig up any other interview the guy has done).

So what is it we’re expecting? That a lawyer is going to be three minutes of Super Bowl air time and send us on a riveting tour through the vagaries of criminal defense law? That a football player will cap off four quarters of blood sport by channeling Colin Firth in The King’s Speech? Of course not.

Because we’re a culture of contradiction, and that’s not changing anytime soon.

Courtney Hampson
Let me first get my manners about me and welcome Barry to “A Line in the Sand.” He is one of the few people I know (sans my mom and sister) who can match my obnoxious wit, sass, and stellar writing ability. Second, it is important to point out that he is a self-admitted “Belieber” and prefers French fries to tater tots. And that, my friends, is why I am going to wipe the floor with him.

Okay, enough of the niceties.

We arrived at our topic this month after Barry innocently posted a copy of the Jamie Casino commercial seen ’round the world, to his Facebook page. I pounced and weeks of debate ensued.

You see, I am of the belief that a college graduate (not to mention a law school graduate) should have to take public speaking at some point during his or her matriculation and thus should learn how to:
• create a clear thesis statement;
• use an appropriate organizational pattern;
• use supporting materials, both verbal and nonverbal, which are recent, relevant, reliable, and representative;
• use a delivery which is free from distracting verbal and nonverbal cues; and
• use stylistic elements to enhance audience interest.

Just in case you missed it, Savannah attorney Jamie Casino bought local ad time on Super Bowl Sunday to promote his… well, I’m not really sure what he was trying to promote. I sat mouth agape wondering what the heck I was watching. The two minute mini-movie didn’t feel like a commercial, because there was no clear product, no catchy jingle, and zero call to action. So, I have to question the success of this commercial. Barry will argue that the fact that everyone, including TIME magazine, if you can believe it (or in Barry’s case Belieb it), is talking about the commercial makes it a success. I argue that if your audience doesn’t know what your message was, then you failed. Famously.

My interpretation, after multiple views was this. Casino used to defend the bad guys. Then his brother was murdered. Now he defends the good guys in honor of his brother. I understand that another school of thought is that the commercial is a direct jab at the Savannah Chief of Police. Now I am even more confused.

Let’s look at the purpose of a commercial in its purest sense: The goal is to persuade the audience in 30 seconds or less. It shouldn’t be on the viewer to figure out what the heck the message is. Had Jamie been in my classroom, I might have suggested he tell a poignant story about his brother and how deep the loss has cut him (wow that sounds like a central idea). Casino instead decides that there is no better way to get his message across than wielding a burning sledgehammer, which I would argue is a distracting non-verbal cue.

I hate to go all public speaking instructor on you in our first duel, Barry, but don’t you know you need to hook us, connect with your audience and reveal a central idea? Of course you do; you’re a writer. What if your column this month had no point? Have Mike Hostilo commercials taught you nothing? Everyone and his brother knows the Hostilo commercial: “Now do yourself a favor and listen to me; call 748-6453…” That man uses repetition and rhythm like he is carrying around a public speaking toolbox.

Have I beat the horse dead? Bottom line, Mr. Casino is a fine example of poor communication and the last attorney I will call if I need legal representation. Would you want to walk into a courtroom with him? What if he brought the sledgehammer? Or, flames? You’d be doomed.

Now, I recognize the irony. I am arguing the ridiculousness of heaping attention on the communication illiterate, and yet here I am giving one such culprit 600 words of attention. We are setting an example that idiocy is okay, when we should, in fact, be lauding those who communicate effectively and succinctly—especially in this day and age when so much communication is channeled via our thumbs.

Case in point, every time someone says that they loved Richard Sherman’s post-game interview a.k.a. intelligible rant, a little piece of me dies inside. To quote my friend and PR whiz Melany Mullens, “His publicist and his momma are not happy right now.” You’re a professional football player, and I imagine it is your dream to make the game-ending play. Now, don’t tell me you haven’t practiced what that speech would sound like a hundred times in the shower. Plus, you’re a communications major. From Stanford. So, I know you had dozens of credit hours that included oral presentation. Didn’t they teach you that after big wins come big interviews?

Idiocy is the new human race. And we’re okay with that?

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article