Mark Lamster is the architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News and a professor in the architecture school at the University of Texas at Arlington. In 2017, he was a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. A native of New York City, he now lives with his family in Dallas.
I know, Michael Jackson has done some terrible things. Tax evasion. Absconding with the Beatles catalog. Child molestation. We Are the World. But this—is design even the word for it?—this interior renovation of a stretch Rolls Royce (what kind of nitwit stretches a Rolls Royce?) may be his worst crime. Note how the floor mats don’t even fit. Egads. A Russian mobster from Brighton Beach wouldn’t even get in the thing. “Ees beet tyoo much, nyet?” You can have it, however, for somewhere in the vicinity of $140K. Also, I’m pretty sure Jacques-Louis David would not be happy about this.
The design elves over at Pepsico have been very busy of late, as noted here last week regarding the (awful) new logo for the corporate flagship and the (much hated) new packaging for Tropicana. Pepsi has also renovated its Gatorade brand. Apparently, the word Gatorade is simply too long for the soft drink’s target demographic, so the name has been shortened to a rather gnomic “G,” a change signaled by a similarly opaque advertising campaign. (Looking for a bottle in the local bodega the other day, I almost couldn’t find it.) Presumably, the change is a response to the growing popularity of competitors Vitamin Water and Powerade, though how losing 7 letters is an effective response is kind of beyond me. Marketing!
I remember the first time I had Gatorade. It came in a stiff metal can with a thick seam running along the side and a pull-tab top. I was a kid at summer camp—it must have been around 1980. We were given the drink during inter-camp competitions, days when we’d play sports for hour after hour in the hot sun. Of course, we loved the sweet stuff, which had a metallic taste from its container, and gulped it down. No surprise, I still like it, nevermind the signature nuclear-green color. The TV spots of 2007 banking on the drink’s own history and narrated by Keith Jackson were very smart, and capitalized on that nostalgia (the Lovin’ Spoonful soundtrack didn’t hurt). I guess those days are gone. With a capital G.
The baseball world is up-in-arms over the revelations that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroid use a few years ago. My suggestion: move along, folks. For what it’s worth, I’ve always been amused by those outraged over the crimes perpetrated against baseball’s record book. This was the subject of a piece I wrote for the LA Times last summer on the history of the Baseball Encyclopedia. The move to strike or otherwise qualify certain marks from that book is, as far as I’m concerned, ridiculous. David Neft, the guiding genius behind the Encyclopedia, agrees. The record book indicates what happened, not what we would have liked to happen. Adding annotations to records is a bad idea. But if you insist, let me suggest my own system:
* = Steroids
! = Amphetamines
$ = Gambling
|| = Cocaine
~ = Alcohol
≤ = Before integration
# = Before expansion
. = Dead ball era
∞ = Wore glasses
† = Religious fanatic
¢ = Lousy tipper
ƒ = Womanizer
¥ = Asian fetish
œ = Funny accent
√ = Ass kisser
∆ = Trianglophobic
X = Total jerk
Tropicana has been getting a lot of flack over its redesigned juice cartons. Steve Heller called the rebranding “a mistake.” Jason Kottke simply dubbed it “sucky.” Let me respectfully disagree. I was never a great fan of Tropicana’s previous packaging system, with its now familiar orange punctured by a straw. Clever, yes, but the trompe l’oeil dewdrops were a bit much—pointlessly deceptive as the cartons so often ended up with actual condensation. I’ve seen the new packaging repeatedly derided as “generic,” which sells it short. It’s a clean, modernist design that looks like it would fit right in on the shelf of a high-end grocer in London or Amsterdam. I suspect consumers will quickly adjust to its color-coded system for differentiating between juice types (some pulp, no pulp, etc.) And it’s not without a degree of wit either; the half-sphere cap—it’s an orange half!—is a nice touch.
Most complaints in sixty seconds, a new world record. You’ve read the transcript. Now watch the video. (Or don’t. It’s really not that flattering.) But stay tuned. Our people are in discussion with their people. Records are made to be broken, and plans are in place for yours truly, the Evel Knievel of Whine and Wheedle, to break my own mark at some time in the near future—with all new complaints, of course. Would you expect any less?
First off, congratulations. I’m sure Michelle and the girls are very proud, as are the rest of us American citizens, and I suspect all citizens of this fine planet. That said, I do feel compelled to write as it has now been more than 24 hours since your inauguration and it is still not raining sugar plums. It was my understanding that it would begin to rain sugar plums immediately upon your taking the Oath of Office. Also, I was under the impression that all of my dirty dishes would be cleaned, my laundry would be folded, and that the unruly pile of bills I keep by my front door would be neatly organized (and paid). Someone mentioned something about how I’d also begin to defecate roses, but that seems entirely unnecessary, and also a bit uncomfortable. (I have some gastroenterological issues, though this is probably not the best place to discuss them.) Anyway, I’m sure the economy and Iraq and Afghanistan and a million other things have you occupied, and believe me, I’m sympathetic to your demanding schedule, but I was still wondering if either you or someone on your staff might let me know when I could expect the sugar plums.
Behold the cover for “Master of Shadows,” which releases this coming October. You’ll excuse me if I suggest it works beautifully; credit and major thanks go to designer Emily Mahon. The self-portrait, from 1623, was done at the request of King Charles I, of England—a Rubens fan. The artist was initially reluctant to paint it; he generally avoided self-portraits, and thought it immodest to send his own portrait to a king. There was no refusing Charles, however, and it’s a good thing. The picture is now a part of the royal collection at Windsor.
In this brutal economy, the Yankees have enlisted Prudential Douglas Elliman to help them move high-end seats at their new stadium. Yes, a ticket to the ballpark is now considered a real-estate purchase. More on this and some kitschy design features at the new stadium at YFSF.
Billy Crystal is one of those guests talk show producers adore, and if you were watching Letterman last night you know why. For a full segment—about seven minutes—he delivered a routine on rodent infestation at his Malibu home that required essentially no participation from the host. Just give him a quick set up, and get out of the way. It’s easy for the show, and a treat for the audience; the comic monologue is where Crystal is at his best. (I’m not a great fan of his nostalgia-driven films.) A Crystal routine is a catalog of New York Jewish comedy in action, full of the asides, the internal references, and the self-mortification that trace back to Vaudeville days, if not before. Watching him last night brought to mind an absolute master of this idiom: Woody Allen. It’s easy to forget what a brilliant comedian Woody was back when he was still doing standup, even though his films, including the dramas, are laced with gags and one-liners. He was not a “joke” comedian, however; he was a storyteller, a far more challenging—and to my mind, satisfying—kind of performance. Woody seemed a “natural” raconteur, but the apparent effortlessness of his act belied the great deal of work spent refining his material. Take, for example, his classic “Hunting Moose” routine. The early version above is relatively awkward: he minces around almost nervously, doesn’t nail his applause lines, and the kicker is kind of flat—there’s an almost palpable relief that he gets through it. Compare that to this later, far more assured delivery. The audience is clearly more engaged in the second version, their excitement building throughout. He has made a variety of subtle improvements, and the biggest comes at the end. The closing reference has been changed from the “New York City Golf Club”—which does not even exist—to the notoriously exclusive and easier to parse “New York Athletic Club.” Finally, there is the kicker: “And the joke is on them because they don’t allow Jews” (wordy, a little disturbing) becomes “And the joke is on them because it’s restricted” (short, funny, perfect). Practice and refine. That’s how a good bit—or a good anything—becomes something special.