Synergise to Hell!

“This feels weird” was my first thought when I clicked on Veritasium’s video on electric vehicles. At first, I thought it was only weird because Derek had applied his lessons about clickbaity thumbnails as detailed in his latest video on viral videos and the YouTube algorithm, but that was at best only part of my spider-senses going off. The first shot of the video hit me pretty hard. Derek walking through a lobby filled with new and shiny BMW cars. Apparently, he was invited to Munich by BMW.

What’s my point with this piece? I don’t know. This is more of an experiment in branching my writing out to different topics. Please leave all the feedback you have. And if you’d rather read something different, please check out the last Eurovision-Review, my first poem on this blog or my serial fiction about trees.

“This feels weird” was my first thought when I clicked on Veritasium’s video on electric vehicles. At first, I thought it was only weird because Derek had applied his lessons about clickbaity thumbnails as detailed in his latest video on viral videos and the YouTube algorithm, but that was at best only part of my spider-senses going off. The first shot of the video hit me pretty hard. Derek walking through a lobby filled with new and shiny BMW cars. Apparently, he was invited to Munich by BMW. I mean that’s fair after all, many YouTubers I enjoy get invited sometimes by companies to film their videos there. The best example of this, that comes to my mind, is Tom Scott.

Still, this felt different, but why? I don’t think sponsored content is prima facie bad, and I think there are great examples of how sponsors can bring their advertisement slots to good use, convince viewers or listeners of their product and sometimes as with the brilliant Cards Against Humanity sponsorships on the Accidental Tech Podcast (ATP), in which they made nitpicky John Siracusa review a variety of toaster ovens. This, however, is at the extreme end of toasters sponsorships working well and enriching the content of content creators. In its way, it is a best-case scenario for both the creator as for the sponsor. Normal unintrusive sponsorships maybe play off of some traits or interests the content creator has, but don’t necessarily infringe on the creators content too much. Audible sponsorships come to mind where the creator just gives a few sales arguments, maybe a book tip and the sponsor, in turn, leaves the rest of the content alone.

John Siracusa’s Toaster Reviews

The two central Veritasium videos are different in two key points: Firstly, the sponsorship isn’t contained to a bounded ad read but comes up multiple times within the video. Secondly, the content of both videos is strictly dependent on the sponsor itself. Both videos wouldn’t make sense without the sponsor setting the video up.

For the BMW sponsored video, the sponsorship seems to make sense. BMW wants to foster an image of technological advancements and hopes to sell cars in a video that is fundamentally about cars. To be more specific: electric cars.

The relation of Starbucks to the content of Liquid Nitrogen seems even more forced. No one would associate their morning coffee with science & technology videos.

This is why the Liquid Nitrogen video needs the help of a made-up challenge. Starbuck has to challenge Derek to make liquid nitrogen because there is no other way to motivate a mention of Starbucks in a roughly ten-minute science video. Showing off the tech Starbucks actually uses to make their Nitro Cold Brew didn’t even make it into the video, and even showing off the admittedly cool pattern of bubbles only made it into the video as an afterthought, even more so than Derek trying Nitro Cold Brew for “the first time” at the start of the video.

It isn’t wrong, all the elements for a good sponsored video are present and still, it feels wrong. It feels wrong because it’s forced. It is awkward to look someone in the eye who’s trying to sell you coffee in a science video without having genuine synergies with the sponsor.

Let’s look at it from a different perspective, the one of the audience. We as viewers have a gut reaction whether something feels genuine or not. That gut reaction might not be true. After all, some people can act better than Derek Muller, but that gut reaction inevitably tinges if we are more willing to get interested in a marketed product.

Sure we have to decide on how we want to be convinced to buy products. Marketing and advertisement is an old industry and I can definitely see moral gradations between someone honestly saying: “Hey I work for Starbucks. And I think you would enjoy Nitro Cold Brew” and more clandestine or covert advertisement like product placement or even non-declared sponsorships. No one wants to read fake or paid reviews for a restaurant without knowing that those reviews aren’t genuine, but as an audience, we still understand there’s a genuine need for creators especially independent creators to make money.

YouTube’s monetisation scheme doesn’t necessarily provide enough revenue to keep a channel going. YouTube’s monetisation at least to an extent keeps content and advertisement separate. Of course, there’s “advertiser-friendly content” and content advertisers don’t want to put advertisements against, but the advertiser has no direct control or influence on the content. This relationship of content and advertisement is definitely the most transparent and least misleading to the audience, but that’s not what advertisement is for.

Hence the ideas of product placement and sponsored content. Blurring the line between pure content and pure advertisement is a winner for those who seek to earn money, but it has its disadvantages for the audience. Suddenly, judgements about products within the content might not be untinged by considerations for the advertiser. Is this cold brew really enjoyable or is the enjoyment faked to appease the advertisement gods?

Certainly, there’s a path for creators to enjoy the benefits of sponsored content without losing their perceived authenticity. This path is contingent on a careful selection of advertisers. The advertisements need to be somewhat related to the actual content, but also not too related to the content. If the advertisements are too far off from the content the target audience is probably missed, if the advertisement is too close too the content potential confusion arises. This is I think the crux with a Starbucks sponsorship in a Veritasium video.

Since I started writing this piece, CGP Grey announced in a video that his YouTube content would stop to be sponsored and that he would concentrate on crowdfunding through Patreon.

On the Importance of Touching a Tree 2

She was caught up on this warm island in a bleak and dreary world. Had she ever felt that way? Well maybe, but not in a long time. They didn’t move. beneath them the boards of the garden path set into the grey and dark grey gravel that was her parent’s excuse for a front garden …

This is part two of a continuous story, part one is: Old Home

First Contact

Laura enjoyed the embrace of Dennis. It felt warm and fuzzy to be appreciated for who she was. And even if it had been hard to tell Dennis what was up with her at first. He had been so nice, loving, and accommodating. He really didn’t behave, like she had expected a teenage boy to behave.

She was caught up on this warm island in a bleak and dreary world. Had she ever felt that way? Well maybe, but not in a long time. They didn’t move. beneath them the boards of the garden path set into the grey and dark grey gravel that was her parent’s excuse for a front garden. The gravel kept in place by a wall of rectangular granite blocks, set into the ground at different heights, delineating the border of her parent’s kingdom to the grey pavement and street, above them the orange glow of the streetlight draining all other colours from the scene. Behind them, a bush, more a shadow than visible green, yet. It was early March.

She had fond memories of that moment. It had been the first moment in a long time where she felt at home, but now she was hurtling through the upper layers of the atmosphere at a breakneck pace. The engines were roaring beneath her. She was pressed into the cushioning of her seat. At this time there was nothing to do for her than to survive the enormous acceleration. “Even if something goes wrong, you’ll have no chance to intervene fast enough in the first stages of ascent!”, she remembered, her instructor told her. She had been scared then, and she was scared now. She tried to think back to that spring evening under the orange lantern. Maybe it would calm her down or at least make her remember why she was speeding through thinner and thinner strata of air.

Without a sound, a raindrop fell onto the gravel next to them. Dennis looked at it: “I guess we should move and look what’s up in the garden before it really starts to rain.” Laura looked at the wet spot on the ground for a little bit longer: “I guess.”, but she didn’t move her arms. She still held Dennis tight. “Well, you’d have to let go of me”, his voice interrupted the silence. “Oh, yes, I’m sorry”. She quickly let go of him and moved her arms behind her back, awkwardly shuffling a step back. She looked at the floor. She didn’t want to look him in the eyes. “Hey is everything okay?”
“Sure”, she replied still only raising her eyes slightly, trying to look him into the eyes, but repelled as if by magnetic force.
“Then, come on.”, he grabbed her hand.

Laura hadn’t realised they were already at the back of the house when she finally caught up with Dennis, who had moved fast pulling at her outstretched left arm. They looked into her parent’s backyard. It was relatively big, especially compared to the small house and how big the property looked. The premises were narrow, but long, and faded into a small forest at the end opposite to the house and street.

Dennis kept on running and tugging on her left arm: “Come on, it’s going to rain soon, you sure don’t want to sit in the cinema all wet and soggy!”

They reached the first trees, but there was something amiss. “This tree has moved!”, Laura exclaimed, “Look, it even left a trace!”. Dennis stared at the deep groove, that started a few meters behind the big oak tree and led all the way to its gnarly and scarred trunk. The old and leave-less oak was still standing on firm ground and didn’t look like it would move easily at all, but apparently, it had moved. The marks were evident. “Ho … How, does a tree move like that?”, Laura asked. Who would come into an unsuspecting garden and move an old and knobby oak tree? Had her parents withheld a garden remodelling from her? Had someone wanted to steal a tree? What if the thieves were still around? Laura caught herself nibbling at her nails, still starring onto the disturbed soil behind the tree.

Dennis stepped a little bit closer. With his left boot, he tapped a clump of loamy soil. It didn’t move but was left with a slight indentation from his heavy shoe. He exhaled.
“Maybe someone pulled it along with a rope?”, Laura asked.
“I doubt it, wouldn’t the tree topple first? And besides that, I didn’t see any tyre tracks or anything like that…”
“Maybe they were just very careful?”
“Sure, and it wouldn’t have been easier to dig the tree out of the ground then?”
“Okay, I admit, that sounds implausible, but the tree definitely moved. A groove like that doesn’t appear on its own … What if it was Aliens?”
“And that sounds more plausible to you?”, Dennis looked at her with incredulity.
“It was just a joke”, she backpaddled.

The rain had stopped, maybe it didn’t really want to rain, but who knew. Laura jumped over the groove. It smelled like wet grass and soil. She looked up into the bare and crooked branches of the old oak. Dennis called her. He had walked over to where the small forest got denser. The ground was covered with dry leaves and needles. It was soft. Laura could see his heavy boots sink into the cushioning the forest floor provided. “Look, these have moved too.” And indeed they had been pushed or pulled in the same direction. They hadn’t moved as far, but they had left a small gap behind them, where their trunk didn’t touch the soil anymore. Laura crouched down next to the leader of the trees. She laid her left hand onto the rough bark as if to keep balanced. She felt a slight tingling in her hand. What was that? She yanked her hand away.

Tentatively she reached out again, and even before she touched it she felt a weird hum in her hand. It was as if the tree was vibrating with static electricity. But trees don’t do that, do they?

She looked up at Dennis. From down here he looked so tall, even if in fact he was just a teenage boy of average height for his age. In fact, Laura was taller than him. But Laura didn’t think of her height, usually a source of great anxiety for her, she just said: “This is weird, this is really fucking weird!”

Dennis didn’t reply. What should he have answered? Of course, this was fucking weird. Why did she even have to say that? Surely, he knew this was weird. Why was human communication so hard? She looked around, avoiding to look at him directly.

“I think we should tell your parents what’s going on in their garden”, Dennis suggested after a while of staring into the forest.
“I don’t feel like telling my parents. They’ll probably just declare us out of our minds and in the end, they won’t be able to do anything anyway.”
“Eh, I just feel out of my depth.”
“I mean, fair, this isn’t something I see on the daily either.”

Laura tried to get up, out of her crouched position next to the tree. Her knees were slightly stiff. She struggled slightly but caught her tumble with an outstretched arm grasping at the rough tree bark. And there again there was that weird hum in her left hand, and it got stronger. Not only got it stronger though, but the hum also moved up her arm quite quickly.

And with a thunderous rumbling unusual for the season, the heavens opened their gates, and a torrential downpour hit the ground. At first, thick and heavy raindrops hit the dry and dusty ground forming small little impact craters and then the drops got more and more frequent, wetting the earth, wetting the leaves around the two teenagers. Dennis was dripping wet within a surprisingly short amount of time, but Laura was kept dry by the canopy of leaves that had blossomed from the barren branches of the autumnal trees in a speed akin to that of a time-lapse.

Laura’s attempt at getting up was stopped in its tracks and half crouched down half upright she looked into the leaves above her, her mouth open with wonderous astonishment, her face hit by a thick collected drop of rain every so often. Dennis turned towards her, his arms extended to his side as if hit with a cold bucket of water, and he just stared at her. She was slightly levitating, but she didn’t notice. All she noticed was a deep and sonorous voice calling out to her. Dennis couldn’t hear it, but she could.

“Hello, Laura!”

Speaking like a German Melancholist

Today we’re again diving deep into an entry to the 1956 Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne. Last time we talked about Fud Leclerc and his drowned men, today we’re talking about Walter Andreas Schwarz. This is the first German entry on our journey and I’m sure I’m biased in its favour just because I’m German too. Who even chose this title image? Blergh… I feel way too patriotic.

Before we talk about the song though, let’s first talk about the musician behind it: Walter Andreas Schwarz. Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück was Schwarz’s only big musical success, and even if it was good enough for participation in the final, it wasn’t enough for commercial success. His main line of work throughout his life remained voice acting. His passion definitely shows in his work as a singer and songwriter. His entry for the competition is mostly spoken and only interspersed with intermittent attempts at melodious singing. Schwarz died in 1992, and his sparse musical work remained deeply rooted in a tradition of straightforward storytelling, that to my ears is concurrent or even precedent to the tradition of German Liedermacher like Reinhard Mey et Altera.

Surprisingly, this song is rumoured to have been ranked second in the 1956 contest. Why I find that surprising? Because at least to my ears it doesn’t fit into the classic Chanson that is so defining for all other entries we’ve listened to so far. This is also a point where we could get into the controversies around the voting procedures in 1956, but I think, as it doesn’t actually matter to this song, I’m keeping that for a discussion of the actual winner, so stay tuned! Let’s better move on and discuss the song.

The song itself is around 4 minutes long and starts with flutes that would be worthy of any German feel-good television show intro from the 1960s and 70s, but the flutes get interrupted by a way less cheery accordion only seconds into the song, and with that, we’re into the lyrics.

The song title, that roughly translates to In the Waiting Room to Good Fortune, gives away the main point and image the song conveys. Everyone seems to be waiting and dreaming of their happiness, but in a way, this strikes the author as a Waiting for Godot. As Godot, luck will never appear (on its own). Positing that only those who seize the day will capture their luck while those, who wait for their dreams to happen, remain waiting forever, the writer strikes a chord of thinking that has been present in our cultural consciousness at least since Horace‘s famous aphorism carpe diem. Schwarz, however, moves further along this line of thinking, and his dreamers don’t even notice the luck they could attain. After all, they are waiting for their own special luck.

Und man baute am Kai der Vergangenheit
Einen Saal mit Blick auf das Meer
Und mit Wänden aus Träumen gegen die Wirklichkeit
Denn die liebte man nicht sehr
Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück
Da warten viele, viele Leute
Die warten seit gestern auf das Glück von morgen
Und leben mit Wünschen von übermorgen
Und vergessen, es ist ja noch heute
Ach, die armen, armen Leute

Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück, Walter Andreas Schwarz

And they built at the quay of the past / a hall with a view of the sea / and with walls made from dreams against reality / because they didn’t love [reality] much. / In the waiting room to good fortune / there were many, many people waiting / They waited for the good luck of tomorrow / and lived with the wishes of the day after tomorrow / and forget it is still today / Oh, the poor, poor people.

This song has gained a special place in my heart, not because its instrumentation would be amazing or the metaphor would be groundbreaking, but because its mood translates so well for me. I can feel the weird melancholy. I can feel myself live within my own dreams. I can feel both the pain of never seeing my dreams fulfilled, but I can also see the despair of me not moving forward through time and life, as if I had a third-person view of myself. I don’t agree with the song, that there is any magically glowing freight, that could bring light into my life. I don’t believe that there’s someone who could make my sunrise right now, but still, it feels weirdly descriptive of my life right now. And who knows? Maybe I can take this melancholic look into the world and make it my own, move on and take a step out of the waiting room.

But is it truly that easy? I might be getting too caught up in this fantasy … Where’s my cynicism? This song isn’t a straight forward carpe diem. There’s a problem. Sure you can say it’s just a beautiful image, but apparently, in the song’s world there’s an infinite amount of good to distribute, and people are at fault for not finding it when all they would have to do is to step out of their dreams, when in fact stepping out of your dreams can take some serious effort. Not everyone is in a place where they can afford to work for their own happiness, not everyone is in the right mental place to even step out and find their luck. I don’t feel ready to capture my luck. I know I should, but my brain is great at telling me what I should do and then being too fearful to do it. Reality can be scary. Dreams are an escape for those who fall out of our systems. And maybe there’s still a way to live your dream and not follow the idea of what a German voice actor would deem lucky or successful.

Well, we should probably not be too harsh on this song. After all, Germany after the war, was very much yearning for easy entertainment, light comedy and simple solutions. There had been enough pain and misery in the recent past, that at least some writers and many producers for television, radio and cinema, didn’t feel comfortable about hitting people over their head with deep and thoughtful works or about showing people the bleak reality. They felt people wanted to dream of a humble but gleeful future or past. And maybe, just maybe, this song is a subtle protest against this overly produced and glossy dream-scape.

I’m not as subtle. I’m, without a doubt, hitting you over the head with the weirdness that is early-day Eurovision. To make it easier for you to keep track of all the songs, I made a Spotify playlist of all the songs, we’ve talked about so far. Sometimes, there might be a sneak preview in there, but probably not regularly.

If you want to read the first entry, it’s about De Vogels Van Holland or if you want to get a full picture, feel free to check out the whole 1956 category. Or if you have enough of weird old songs, make sure to check out my latest fiction piece: On the Importance of Touching a Tree.