My talented son has a college assignment to re-label a product; here's his reimagining of Jones Soda. When my kids were little I'd sometimes take a product off the grocery store shelves and ask, "Good design or bad design?" It was my way of getting them to think about art, advertising and design. I think this qualifies as "good design." I hope he gets a good grade on it...
I think about design a lot, and in the oddest places. For instance, the Zurn logo (the company makes valves and other plumbing items) is familiar to any male standing at a urinal in a public men's room. But it reminds me of the Burger King logo. I don't want to associate food with where I'm at when I see the Zurn logo.
I saw a wonderful documentary over the weekend, Man on Wire (2008 - the odd phrase comes from the NYPD citation), about the French aerialist Phillippe Petit, who furtively strung a cable between the two World Trade Center buildings in August 1974 and walked between them, astonishing the world. His team called it le coup, which is indeed what it was. The documentary was fun and caused me to reflect upon the French nation and all she has given to Western civilization.
I suppose there are other nationalities who could have and would have done such a thing, but to me, the act of stringing up a line between the two tallest towers in the world and walking - actually, dancing - upon them seems quintessentially French. Somebody had to do it. (Really? Was this necessary? Yes, it was. August 1974 was a troubled month. Petit pulled off his coup on the 7th - Richard Nixon resigned the presidency on the 8th. While the resignation was what dominated the press and there was no connection between the two events, Petit's coup was a light-hearted but typically French way of saying life goes on and people will still do amazing things - do not become disheartened.)
I think an Franco-American rapprochement (the French always seem to have the right word for it, don't they?) is long overdue. When the Gulf War began and it became obvious the French were not going to take part as we would have wished, a wave of anti-French feeling washed over us. The faux patriotic demanded that we rename French fries "Freedom Fries." (The French themselves call them pommes frites, a prettier name.) I never went along with this nonsense.
General Schwarzkopf, the allied commander, rather ungallantly said, "Going into battle without the French is like going into battle without your accordion player." Perhaps. They haven't exactly distinguished themselves militarily since World War I, when they were fought down to nearly the extinguishing of an entire generation (an important consideration). But this misses the point. To quote my favorite lecturer Robert Greenberg, France has been, is, and always will be a cultural powerhouse. The French have led the way in civilizing the West, and it is their traditional role to show the rest of the world what is good and desirable in the arts, fashion and culture. Socrates said that the unexamined life isn't worth living. The French excel at this examination.
There is no bigger Anglophile than I. I can name all of the Plantagenet kings and give a fair account of much of Great Britain's military history. That being said, you would expect that I would harbor dismissive feelings about England's traditional enemy and rival, France. But I do not. (Full disclosure: I am half-French, via French Canada, on my mother's side.) I think that even the most rabid Francophobe would have to feel somewhat guilty, I think, at slagging off the considerable accomplishments of the French in world civilization.
There is no language more beautiful to the ear than French. Italian could arguably be a close second, but French is properly called the language of love.
Nobody but nobody cooks like the French. The phrase "French chef" or "French cuisine" means the best there is.
There is a compelling reason why haute couture is a French phrase. Try as New York, London, Vienna or other nations can, they cannot dislodge the French from their commanding position in fashion.
I am convinced that there is no more mystical art/science than that of perfumery. Scientists can't even predictively describe the mechanism by which compounds give off smells. Who dominates the world in this arcane science? The French. Once again, the phrase "French perfume" describes the best there is.
Paris - The City of Light - has called the cultural and artistic shots in Europe for centuries. And I am not overstating things when I assert that Paris is one of the glories of Western civilization.
French composers like Debussy and Ravel looked at the world of classical music dominated by the frequently bombastic sounds of Richard Wagner and gave us French impressionism, which was totally new, infinitely more subtle and even mysterious. Astonishing, even - but that's what the French do, they astonish us. Once again, somebody has to.
And let us not forget that George Washington was very, very happy and grateful to have the assistance of the French at a critical juncture in American history. I need only mention the names De Grasse, Rochambeau and Lafayette - could we have won our War of Independence without them? And if you seek to fully describe enduring American national characteristics, you need to turn to the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, a very perceptive Frenchman.
..and that's another thing the French do for us, they point out what is best in American arts. Were it not for 19th C. French critics, Edgar Allen Poe would not have the secure place in American letters he enjoys today - it was the French who caused us to recognize his novelty and genius. (Don't ask me about their love for Jerry Lewis films. I haven't figured that one out.) The same goes for my favorite American artistic invention, film noir. It was French film critics who pointed out to us that, after 1944 or so, a darker and more cynical tone had been substituted for the usual cheery productions Hollywood had been cranking out since the Depression.
Perhaps what I like best about the French is their enterprising nature. They are not just content to develop the considerable arts, fashion and culture within their own sphere - they look outside of themselves to other nations, as I have described above. Who brought, say, Brazilian bossa nova to the attention of the world? The French, via Michael Camus' 1959 film Black Orpheus. Who brought Russian music and ballet to the world? Paris, via the Ballets Russe. When black dancer, singer and actress Josephine Baker, tired of American racism, fled to Paris she was warmly received and celebrated.
But I am waxing overlong in this blog entry - and what's more, I am defending that which is patently obvious and does not need to be defended. It is sad to me that, among my politically conservative friends, the French need to be defended, as if there is some kind of virtue in emphasising the traditional Special Relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain (and other Anglophone nations) at the expense of France. France is still a friend to America; deep down they still respect and admire us. Indeed, it is not the French merely being the French and occasionally disagreeing with American foreign policy that disturbs me - it is the thought of the French culture being subsumed by a growing Islamic culture and ceasing to become traditionally French that bothers me more. For instance, I miss devout French Catholicism; I think the world is a shabbier place without it.
I shall close by stating that not only do the French still matter, but that we need them more than we think. Indeed, a more relevant question than, "Do the French still matter?" might be, "Does California still matter?" (Which is painful to me since it's my native state.)