Thursday, 9 July 2020

TV review: The Expanse, season 1, Syfy (2015)

I watched almost seven episodes of this science fiction drama before giving up. I really tried to like it, and terminally failed during what was meant to be a sensual clinch involving two actors, a man and a woman.

The hardboiled noirish production values this movie exploits in order to keep the viewer engaged leads to wooden dialogue and mundane plotting. Stephen Strait as freighter crewmember Jim Holden and Thomas Jane as policeman Joe Miller are not good enough though Dominique Tipper as ship’s engineer Naomi Nagata and especially Jared Harris as asteroid belt independence fighter Anderson Dawes (he works for the Outer Planets Alliance, an informal body representing the people of the asteroid belt and the moons of some of the planets in the solar system) do good work. Harris acted in season 1 of ‘The Crown’, which I also watched. The biopic for Elizabeth II, where Harris played her father, George VI, rocks big time compared to this disappointing show, which I saw on Amazon Prime.

As usual with science fiction shows its reliance on technobabble to fill in the gaps between tonic events is irritating. A bit of esoteric geek-speak can work but too much and I switch off. In any case, at root this series is a police procedural with solar system geopolitics thrown in for colour.

The story hinges on longstanding friction between Earth and Mars, with the OPA caught in the middle. Some representatives of the major powers consider the OPA to be a terrorist organisation but many people who live in that liminal position in the solar system crave the right to self-determination, and the struggle for agency is a reliable story element in contemporary fiction in all formats, including TV.

You can see how this sort of thing could work but unfortunately, as with a good deal of science fiction, the writers thought that noir is, by definition, cool. William Gibson’s novel ‘Neuromancer’ (which I reviewed in 2018) suffers from the same malaise. So in ‘The Expanse’ you get some terrible characterisation as well as unnecessary violence masquerading as dramatic high points.

The first three seasons were made by a company called Syfy, which is owned by NBC and which operates a cable TV channel. A fourth season was commissioned by Amazon Prime (which is where I saw season 1) and a fifth season is planned. I don’t plan to watch any more of this show than I already have done.

Monday, 6 July 2020

New car report: RAV4 Cruiser hybrid AWD

Having had second thoughts about the Camry on which, the previous year, I had paid a $1000 deposit, I drove down to the Toyota dealership and had a look at an SUV called a “RAV4”, which can come with a hybrid petrol-electric powertrain.

I told the young salesman I wanted a car that would let me carry large things as my daughter and her boyfriend would be coming to Sydney in the middle of the year (though plans changed due to rona); for them I’d need to transport furniture and other things. A “steel blonde” Camry had already been allocated a slot in the Nagoya factory and was due to be manufactured in mid-February, so Ryan drifted off and phoned his manager to tell him about my idea, coming back to me a few minutes later to say there would be no problem making the switch to a different model. Using his computer Ryan changed my order details on the company’s database and I left after choosing a colour.

Navy blue, to match the restored, mounted and framed ensign that’s hanging on one of my living room’s walls. The thing had been among dad’s personal effects – actually in a sail bag – along with other things from our old life. A bunch of such stuff made its way to me after, 20 years ago, I returned from Japan, and I had preservation work done on the flag when I lived in Queensland.

On 6 January – the day I changed my choice of car from a sedan to an SUV – when I got back to my apartment I looked at reviews for the RAV4 Cruiser hybrid AWD, the model I was going to get, and then went to the maker’s website. All of this activity made me decide in favour of roof racks, so I called Ryan and added this option to the list, which included weather shields for the windows, as well as floor mats.

When I asked Ryan on 20 March about delivery I was told the car would be made in May with delivery in June, but on 18 May I was told manufacture might happen in June. On 18 June someone at the dealership phoned to say that the car would arrive in Sydney probably in the first week of July. She also wanted to confirm the options included in the order, and we straightened that out. I phoned back a bit later and left a message, intending to talk with someone about the payment method, and later spoke on the phone with Ryan about this important issue. Then on 20 June I sent $10 online to ascertain the accuracy of the account details I‘d been handed back in December. On the Monday morning I phoned Toyota and they confirmed the money went through.

So I started sending the remainder of the amount due. It would take several days to complete, but bit by bit I finished the task before the end of the month. Meanwhile, I phoned my insurance company to notify them of the pending purchase. I’d been told the car would probably be available to pick up on the 9th of July but, on the last Saturday in June, Ryan phoned me and told me it’d be ready to pick up on the 5th, the Sunday of the following week.

In Japanese “five” is “go”, a lucky number, so the date would be auspicious. I was surprised when Ryan SMS’d me the registration number on the 4th (I immediately SMS’d it to my insurer) because it also seemed lucky, having in it the number “5”. Using SMS, I made a date with Ryan to pick the car up at 10am, when the dealership opens, and in the evening I ordered a new tag for road tolls I would incur while driving it.

Yesterday morning I had breakfast and walked to Glebe through Wentworth Park, arriving at the dealership at two minutes past the hour. Ryan was busy in a meeting so I sat down in the reception area. When he joined me he was surprised by the coincidence regarding the number plate and expressed himself in a positive manner while he showed me all the car’s (seemingly innumerable) features, including the ability to answer and make calls on the iPhone without touching the device. Controls for phone calls are on the centre display and also on the steering wheel, a part of the car that is so loaded with functions that it felt, as Ryan walked me through them, as though I had suddenly been transported – via a TV screen with Netflix connected – to a parallel universe. “I feel like I have just swallowed a whale,” I quipped to Ryan as we were finalising the paperwork at his desk next to the showroom. Again, he laughed obligingly at my meagre humour.

It looks as though I’ll now have to upgrade my phone, as the RAV4’s automatic charging station – where you put your phone down in a bay under the A/C controls – only works on newer phones and mine was bought a few years ago.

Ryan showed me how to link it to the car using Bluetooth. Wi-Fi connection is also possible if you want to watch movies on the centre console; I told him I’d think about it for possible use at a later date. He also showed me how to set up the Toyota app on my phone. This lets you generate QR codes to use at service stations when buying petrol; discounts apply for select retailers and you can accrue points on your account. So far, he told, me, only Caltex has signed up.

As often happens, I silently thanked Steve Jobs. An appropriate reaction, as driving home I sort of felt like I was in a helicopter. The thing sits up off the road relative to the height of the Aurion, but I had no problem manoeuvring it into the parking garage under my building even with roof racks on (I’d checked the height earlier via SMS) and driving was intuitive. This was reassuring at first blush, although the overall feel is plush. Having, since September 2007, driven an Aurion AT-X (see photo below for the two cars lined up in my car spaces), there’s a bit to get used to now.


As Ryan explained on the day I picked up this Saturn blue RAV4, regeneration of the traction battery happens when the petrol engine starts up, and also when the driver brakes. By pressing a physical button on the console there’s a dedicated display showing the car’s drive mechanism which, in the model I bought (an all-wheel drive), includes representations in graphic form of the two electric engines (one on the front wheels and one on the rear wheels) as well as the battery. This display lets you see at a glance how much charge the battery has at any given time. The car has a special energy efficient setting you reach by pressing a button on the console that sits between the front seats, and three other power settings as well, including a “sport” setting which is less fuel efficient. 

Ryan told me you can easily get over 900km out of one tank of fuel, and his employer filled the tank for me. The car had six kilometres on the odometer when I picked it up. As he was showing me the ropes in the showroom Ryan told me, when I asked about the hum that could suddenly be heard, that the engine had started. 

You don’t press a button on a remote control to open the door – the correct remote’s proximity to the car, and a hand on the door handle (which contains two sensors), are enough to give you access to the cabin – but the last thing Ryan told me before I drove off in the traffic was not to leave the remote in the car. He also mentioned that to replace the device is very expensive but I got a spare with my purchase. 

A quick spin in the traffic through Leichhardt in the late afternoon revealed that the car is tightly sprung and heavier than the Aurion, but rides surprisingly smoothly. On the road you feel secure but I had, on getting back home, a dose of the heebie-jeebies, so watched Landline, then the news. It’d been a busy couple of weeks.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Dream journal: Twenty-four

This is the twenty-fourth in a series of posts chronicling dreams I have had. As usual, the date shown is the date the dream was captured. This is usually the morning after the night the dream took place. You can’t wait very long before capturing a dream because it soon disappears from memory.

13 April

Dreamt Australia was being invaded and New Zealand was coming to our aid. A giant aeroplane like a Imperial cruiser (from ‘Star Wars’) was flying over the coast at South Head, white stars set in a row on a black background that was painted across the hull. The giant airship was accompanied by a range of smaller airborne vessels.

Then I was down by the harbour (where I grew up in real life). I was a captain or some kind of middling-ranked officer in the army and I was with two people, one of whom, a woman, was younger than me. We were patrolling the coast of the harbour to gauge how far the enemy forces had advanced on the country’s borders. At one stage – it was dark – we were in a car driving down a very steep hill, at the bottom of which was a sharp left turn. The woman was at the wheel – the man, who was older than me, in the back seat – and as we approached the turn I said something about how acute the angle was that the road made. She acknowledged my remark, saying something like, “I’ve got this.”

The traffic on the street we ended up in was heavy so, to keep moving, the three of us ditched the car, going off on foot to reconnoitre. I was sluggish in my movements and the two others, who I could see as a dark outline up ahead on a steep hill I was climbing that contained a road and a footpath, disappeared. I kept going however, and eventually the others rejoined me. The woman darted off and the older man stayed with me, helping me to negotiate the obstacles in our path.

At one stage we came across a gorge with, beside it and slightly to the right, a ridge made of brick and concrete, which flanked the footpath of the road that was laid out even further to the right. The three of us were heading down a hill. The gorge in our path troubled me, and though it might seem strange that I was in the armed forces even though I have a fear of heights, but I didn’t dwell for a moment on the incongruity. The older man leapt onto the ridge and hastened apace down the hill, while I dithered, scared of the yawning depths of the cavern in front of me. In the end I, too, jumped onto the ridge and got onto the road.

Later, I was climbing a rock, musing to myself that, if this had been Australia (in the dream I had suddenly materialised in New Zealand, where I have never been apart from a flight layover in Auckland) there would be spiders to contend with, and I felt lucky that there were none. I saw that the climb was taking longer than expected, and then a mesh ladder caught my eye, on which a black cat was climbing. I swung to my right and grabbed hold of the mesh, which had some sort of sticks set in it as rudimentary rungs, and started to use that to get up to the top of the rock, so that I could rejoin my team. I woke up as I was struggling to make headway up this odd contrivance I had invented in my unconscious mind. As I slowly progressed the cat fell off!

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Grocery shopping list for June 2020

This post is the eighteenth in a series and the fourth with rona.

1 June

Drove to Woolworths and bought (see receipt below) Edam cheese, apples, blueberries, a sultana butter cake, coleslaw, potato salad with Dijon mustard, tea, soap, milk, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).


3 June

Drove to Woolies and bought (see receipt below) sliced pastrami, sliced ham, lentil soup, lamb soup, cauliflower soup, canola oil, bread, instant oats, bhuja, Tim Tams, mouthwash, garbage bags, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).


4 June

Went in the car to the shopping centre to buy something for my wardrobe and while there I popped into Harris Farm Markets and bought (see receipt below) veal New York steaks, eye fillet steak, sauerkraut, sliced beetroot, tabbouleh, artichoke hearts, olives, and hot English mustard.


5 June

A wide-ranging email from the Woolworths CEO arrived at my inbox at 3.36pm. In it, Brad Banducci talked about the company’s use of more environment-friendly packaging, as well as reusable and recyclable tote bags. The email mentioned how the company had lifted restrictions – due to the virus – on goods with the exception of “antibacterial wipes, hand wash and frozen fruit” – no surprise, I guess, for the first two items, but … frozen fruit?! (Can’t go without my smoothies, Brad.) Staff would once again, Banducci went on, be seen packing patrons’ purchases at checkouts, including for those bags customers themselves would bring to the supermarket, but safeguards would remain: “Keeping our customers and teams safe is our top priority, so hygiene and social distancing measures remain in place.”

6 June

Went in the car to Woolies and bought (see receipt below) sliced ham, lentil salad, coleslaw, apples, blueberries, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar). Since my last visit, managers had turned into scales the trays on the store’s checkout machines, and mine produced three or four errors, to fix each of which the clerk had to walk to the terminal to operate it – an eventuality at odds with words contained in the email. I exchanged some civil words with the staffer about the measure the store had taken, and she said they’d lost “quite a lot” of stock in the past, adding that she’d pass my remarks onto management.


Later the same day I visited the Woolworths website – and reset my password; I hadn’t used the website for several months and had cancelled my subscription – putting in an order (see screenshot below) for fillet steak, lamb chops, barramundi fillets, ling fillets, bean salad, basmati rice, olive oil spread, taramosalata, flavoured mineral water (no-sugar), and a plain, unlined notebook. Delivery due on the 9th of the month. 


Later, I went out on foot and bought, at the bottle shop, two six-packs of Carlton Zero.

8 June

Drove to Woolworths and bought (see receipt below) eggs, bread, milk, tomatoes, an oakleaf lettuce, mushrooms, two types of biscuits (white chocolate and cranberry, and white chocolate and macadamia nuts), a sultana butter cake, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).


Later, I went to the Campos website and ordered coffee (see screenshot below).


In the evening an SMS arrived from Woolworths reminding me of the next day’s delivery.

9 June

An email from Woolworths was in my inbox, timestamped 5.06am, referencing my order, and telling me that the variable weight items I had chosen meant that a refund of $15.43 was due to me.

At 7.05am an SMS from the company informed me that the delivery would arrive between 8.37am and 9.37am, and at 9.18am the intercom buzzed and I let the deliveryman into the lobby via the street door. I grabbed my keys and some bags intending to go downstairs but when the lift arrived – he was in it! He stalled on the threshold, and it was clear that he didn’t want to approach so I led him to my unit. I asked him if it was possible to ask for no bags on the website when ordering but he said that, due to the virus, bags were always being used now. Sensible.

I packed the protein in sandwich bags preparatory to putting it in the freezer, and deposited the rest of my purchases in the fridge and on the floor in the hallway, finishing up around 9.35am. They hadn’t sent barramundi with skin on but, rather, the flat fillets with no skin. The lamb chops – which cost $16.15 (see tax invoice below) – would do for four meals, and I cut the steak into smaller pieces so that it, too, would do for four meals. The steaks they sent were enormous, as was the A4-sized notebook with its 120 pages.


I had to go out to the pharmacy to pick up some things, including scalp cleanser, so while in the arcade I went to Coles and bought some no-sugar mineral water. Later, at 5.45pm, an SMS arrived from Shippit about the coffee delivery, which was scheduled for Friday the 12th. At 5.49pm an email from Australia Post arrived at my inbox (though I only saw it the next day) telling me that the parcel would arrive on Thursday the 11th.

10 June

Went out and popped in at Woolworths where I bought blueberries, some containers of soup (one pea-and-ham, one tomato, one lamb, and one lentil), “spiced roasted cauliflower and winter veges,” a block of Bega cheese, hummus and harissa spread, buhja, and Tim Tams.

12 June

Received an SMS from Shippit at 9am, plus an email from Australia Post timestamped 7.06am, about the coffee delivery. The email said the box would arrive on this day.

On this day just before 10am my doctor’s surgery phone me and told me that my test results showed normal levels; on Wednesday I had had some blood samples taken. Tests included ones for cholesterol and blood sugar. A relief, indicating that my diet – more salads and fewer carbohydrates – was working as anticipated. 

At 10.06am the intercom buzzed and I answered the call, then was asked to open the street door so the man could leave the coffee in the lobby. I went down and fetched it right away. The box came with a note inside it:


An email arrived from Australia Post at 10.14am:


13 June

I was out at Waverly dropping off unwanted books at a charity shop and while in that suburb (found a parking spot on the main street; unexpectedly, as the traffic was heavy) I stopped at a grocery store and bought (see receipt below) blueberries, apples, blackberries, taramosalata, and turmeric sauerkraut. 


In the following photo you can see the store’s sign over the pavement outside.


14 June

Drove to Woolworths and bought (see receipt below) sliced ham, pastrami, marinaded goat’s cheese, chillies, lentil salad, three containers of soup (lentil, lamb, and cauliflower), strawberries, a sultana butter cake, white chocolate and cranberry biscuits, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar). This month I saw, after reviewing my receipts, that the price of Schweppes infused mineral water varied from $2.02 per bottle, to $1.80, and (on this day) $1.25. It makes you wonder why they change the price, and what prompts them to do so. The price ($6.50) of the lamb soup and the lentil soup were the same as 10 days earlier, but this time the cauliflower soup ($4.50) was a dollar more.


In the afternoon I drove to Lakemba and bought a banana cake, eggplant pickles, okra pickles, a melon, grapes, mandarins, kiwi fruit, and Turkish delight. Sunday is a good day to go there as more parking spaces are available on the main street, and the loading zones don’t apply. 

In the evening I went to the convenience store and bought milk.

15 June

Went in the car to Woolies and bought sliced pastrami, bread, harissa hummus, bean salad, eggs, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar). The over-sensitive checkout machine gave two errors (instead of the usual one) and the carpark toll system (again) required me to back the car up to get the boom gate to open. 

No matter that I drove slowly approaching the mechanism, which has a device in it that reads the car’s numberplate and that – if the time that you’ve spent inside the space is not more than 90 minutes – lets you go for free. Like the checkout machines, which have scales built into them, the carpark fee-processing system is finicky, leading to errors.

16 June

Had to go to the pharmacy and while in the arcade I dropped in at Coles and bought (see receipt below) Scotch fillet steak, coleslaw, couscous with pumpkin, quinoa and tabbouleh salad, blue cheese, and Tim Tams (which on the 18th would trend on Twitter after the British PM used them in a press conference). If you read the receipt you’ll see that the labels for each kind of biscuit are not uniform. Where one flavour of Tim Tam is labelled “Arnotts Tim Tam 160gram”, another is labelled “Arnotts chocolate bi 175gram”. The person putting in the text for the labels either wasn’t consistent, or else the text for each kind of biscuit was entered into the store’s computer system at different times by different people.


19 June

Drove to Woolworths and bought (see receipt below) lentil salad, “spiced roasted cauliflower and winter veg,” lamb soup, cauliflower soup, sundried tomatoes, chillies, an avocado, instant oats, bhuja, milk, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar). Again, multiple errors on the checkout machine, and the carpark toll system required me to back up from the boom gate so that it would open.


20 June

Went to Coles on the way home from the city and bought a snapper fillet, a barramundi fillet, prawns, sliced roast chicken, flat bread, a capsicum, mushrooms, an eggplant, green beans, ginger, garlic, a green oak lettuce, a jar of parsley, dill and tarragon seafood sauce, toothpaste, and liquid soap. The checkout machine gave three separate errors, each of which had to be cleared by a member of staff.

Later I went out to the bottle shop and bought two six-packs of Carlton Zero.

21 June

Stopped at Coles on my walk back from Barangaroo and bought chicken thighs, cucumbers, broccoli, and smoked cod fillets, and later drove to Bunnings and bought drain cleaner.

22 June

Drove to Woolworths and bought some Schweppes no-sugar flavoured drink, and no-sugar flavoured mineral water. The bottles were expensive at $2 each. On the way out of the parking garage I stopped the car while the ticketing machine processed my license plate number, which took about 10 seconds, and so entailed waiting.

23 June

Walked to Coles and bought (see receipt below) meatballs, scallops, asparagus, blueberries, hummus with jalapeno, pine nuts, chicken noodle soup, and flavoured mineral water.


24 June

Went to the bottle shop and bought two six-packs of Carlton Zero.

25 June

Went to the Fish Market and at the delicatessen bought (see receipt below) sliced smoked wagyu beef, duck and cherry pâté, d’Affinois cheese, queso Iberico, and Portuguese tarts. While there I also bought shallots, ginger, garlic, an onion, tomatoes, and cos lettuce.


Later, went to the convenience store and bought Jatz crackers and some chips.

26 June

Drove to Woolworths and bought salmon steaks, basmati rice, instant oats, Greek mix (olives and sundried tomatoes), “spiced roast cauliflower and winter veg”, lentil salad, blueberries, bread, milk, dishwashing liquid, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).

29 June

Drove to Woolies and parked. I forgot to bring change with me and asked the cashier at the front of the store if she could give me some gold coins (what $1 and $2 coins are called in Australia). She said she would but also offered me a token in a keyring fob bracket (see photo below), that cost me 35 cents. I attached the holder to my keyring and used the token to release a trolley, then went and got sliced pastrami, sliced ham, a butter cake, a banana cake, “spiced cauliflower and winter veg”, a container of bean salad, milk, basmati rice, blueberries, and flavoured mineral water (no-sugar).

The person who had used the trolley before me had left a $1 coin, which I pocketed, counting two lucky stars.


30 June

Went to the pharmacy and while in the arcade dropped in at Coles and bought barramundi, duck legs, tomatoes, a capsicum, an onion, apples, blueberries, kiwi fruit, and a melon. On the way home dropped in at the convenience store and bought honey and pork dumplings.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Crown Casino under construction

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about people in Darling Harbour taking selfies in front of the city skyline. Just this phrase – city skyline – elicits positive emotions. In fact, our love of cities is so deep that consolidating shots in hundreds of movies and TV shows every year have cities in them. You know the ones. You get a break in the action and suddenly you’re up in a helicopter hovering above the metropolis, its busy streets slipping by and a serried rank of glass-encased buildings approaching from the fore.

There’s something about what the Americans term “downtown” and what Australians stubbornly insist on calling the “central business district”. For example the newest addition in Sydney, which will be 271m high and have 75 storeys. I mean of course Packer’s Pecker, or the Crown Casino. Built at a cost of $1.127 billion, it is to have a $100 million penthouse on the top floor.

To make this symbol of economic power and prosperity – these two ideas being the reason for all those cinematic establishing shots – the company commissioned two firms to design the building. Architects Wilkinson Eyre, founded in the UK in 1983, designed the Guangzhou International Finance Center which is 439m tall and has 103 storeys. It was completed in 2010. The firm has over 200 employees. Structural engineers Robert Bird Group is a Brisbane-based company founded in 1982 that is part of the Surbana Jurong group, a Singaporean government conglomerate. At the time of the merger, RBG had 600 employees globally.

Crown Casino has a profile similar to the Guangzhou International Finance Center, which also tapers toward the top. Below is a shot of the tower taken with a mobile phone in Pyrmont, next to a park outside the Star Casino. This photo was taken at 2.06pm on 23 June.


In the following photo you can see Venus rising. This photo was taken with a Canon SX620 HS at 7.19am on 26 June.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Ad capture (02) – Nurofen

This the second in a series of posts that are designed to take a detailed look at TV advertisements. I want to slow down the experience and pay attention to what is offered to view between programs on the small screen. This kind of content tends to be considered unimportant or ephemeral.

This 15-second ad came after one for a home building company and before one for a food delivery service. The narrator asks: “Looking for osteoarthritis pain relief?” With this voiceover, the screen fills with a store aisle and, on a blue sign in the top right, the word “Prescriptions” as though, for reference, you were being placed in your imagination in a pharmacy. The shelves are pale and grey, with only the occasional sign indicating that you are supposed to be in a real place.  Some of the objects on the shelves are boxes, some are bottles. They are in a section of shelving marked “Pain Relief”.

They look like the types of bottles that liquid comes in but whatever they contain, the dream-like and washed-out colours give the space an unfamiliar feel, as though the woman in the ad had suddenly found herself in a distant shopping centre – convention might tell you something about where you are but a lack of the fine detail that accompanies you on an everyday outing to your local supermarket means you feel disoriented.

Entering the frame from the right-hand side, the woman has blonde hair and a slim build. She turns her head as she progresses, slowly and tentatively, on foot, approaching the camera. She moves from right to left, giving you the impression that you are at the beginning of a story. The imagery links cosily with the voiceover and the suspense you feel at being part of this woman’s quest – she’s someone struggling to solve a problem (what drug to buy?) – is lessened by three quick cuts that bring her rapidly to a column of shelves marked at the top, in big white letters, “Pain Relief”. The same words are printed on blue signs plastered to the sign of not one but two columns of shelves (see screenshot below).


No time is wasted in getting to the point and the blue of the signs, in stark contrast to the grey and white of the confusing shelves, offer a bit of comfort, blue a colour freighted with meaning in Australia as it is associated with authority. It is used by the police in most states and territories and it’s also the colour used for highway signs that contain general information – for example those giving notice of rest areas and of exits where food can be purchased – whereas green signs on a motorway will be used to provide directions. So blue reassures in the context of the ad, eliciting welcome feelings. In contrast to the conservative blue signs, the blonde woman wears a modern, sporty, bright pink cardigan. It’s a colour – unlike, say, pale blue, which might also suit a blonde – with other connotations, and an older woman like the one we see in the ad might be making a statement in wearing it. It suggests she has alternative views.

I will return to again and again to the contrast between opposites used in this ad. So, for example, the plain packages of the goods on display offer contrast to the unsightly gaps between the shelves. These two elements combine to give the early shots of the ad a forlorn look and make you feel that something is missing. The woman, for her part, looks lonely and afraid; the pink of her cardigan is, moreover, feminine, underscoring how vulnerable she must feel all alone among the confusing array of products, none of which is what she is looking for. 

To add to the feeling of being disembodied, or in a dream, more disturbing information is delivered via the voiceover. The narrator refers, using his confident male voice, to legislative changes regarding the sale of painkillers. As Senior magazine relayed on 30 May: 
FROM Monday all modified release (MR) paracetamol products, such as Panadol osteo, often taken by osteoarthritis sufferers and other with chronic pain, will only be available from behind the counter at pharmacies. 
The Therapeutic Goods Administration made the decision to reclassify the schedule 2 medication to a schedule 3 (pharmacist only) from June 1, 2020, because of concerns around deliberate and accidental overdose.
The ad exploits changes in federal law designed to promote responsible use of a product that is commonly used by seniors (the woman in the ad looks to be aged in her late 50s or early 60s – about retirement age), and the drab setting underscores the unease people feel about using medications.

In the third shot the woman is shown front-on to the camera, but now she’s turning her head, scanning the shelves with their grey boxes, her relaxed facial muscles pulling down the corners of her mouth. While unsure of herself, she looks like a woman who can give a crisp answer to a question, and who doesn’t like feeling out of her depth. As she turns her head to the right (our left) – taking us back into the past in our imagination, into the realms of memory – her eyes slide in the same direction, emphasising forcefully the notion of “searching”. It is clear that there’s an answer to the woman’s problem, but so far she hasn’t hit upon it.

Added to the feeling of unhappiness the woman evokes in the viewer’s imagination are her big, dark eyes, their colourlessness merging with the grey shelves and contrasting with the bright pink cardigan she’s wearing. The contrast is designed to keep our interest, even as the colourless packages on the shelves lull us into a dream-state, but this first section of the ad lasts for approximately half of the available time – about seven seconds – and this protracted period of disorientation is powerful and compelling for the viewer.


On her left shoulder the woman carries a handbag and in the final shot of this section she is situated just within the right-hand half of the frame. When she finishes turning her head, forming a point of punctuation for this quick, efficient series of shots, most of the screen is filled with those boring grey shelves with their endless ranks of grey boxes. They surround the woman. “And why,” you can hear her asking herself, “are things so hard to find now that the law has changed?” Perhaps she had heard about the change as she was listening to the radio in her car … (She used to be able to go into her local supermarket and buy Nurofen Osteo in the cosmetics aisle when she picked up soap and toothpaste …)

At the bottom of the screen are two rows of fine print that you might have the time and inclination to read, and the lack of colour in the shots encourages you to do so. They say that the medicine being advertised in the ad may not be right for everyone. They also say that the medicine is for temporary pain relief. This is all fine in general, but as far at the woman in the ad is concerned the medication is absolutely essential – why else would she subject herself to such rigours? These pesky grey boxes! It’s impossible to find anything in this place!

From the shot of the woman in her bright pink cardigan we cut to a shot (see image below) showing shelves with ranks of identical grey boxes of painkillers. We’d seen boxes of drugs looking like these in an earlier shot, rows and rows of them on offer. But not the ones the woman is looking for.


You see a hand scanning from right to left (the tonic directionality showing that a question is still to be answered) and the tendons and bones in the back of the hand are clearly visible through her skin. It is a hand that has been carefully thought out as is the packet design of the boxes of painkiller which resembles that of the main competitor of Nurofen (but it is not the brand the woman is looking for). The main competitor being Panadol, which is made by GlaxoSmithKline, and which uses green on its packaging. 

At this point in time, it is the hand that is shown doing the thinking. It’s an intelligent hand, with the thumb cocked, the index finger pointed, and the three remaining fingers bent at the knuckle, as though finding the right box of painkillers were a matter of the utmost importance. This kind of definition of the problem faced by the woman will be familiar to people aged over 50, for whom the youthful luxury of a feeling of having unlimited time has been replaced by the necessity of selecting, based on experience, the appropriate form of activity for each segment of the day.

Visible in this shot, near the top of the frame, is a barcode such as you find on products displayed in retail outlets. It’s there to show that, despite the grey boxes, this is a real shop and this is a real situation such as any 60-year-old woman living with chronic pain might confront on any day of the week. Two more barcodes are visible each side of the woman’s wrist but they are abstract and impersonal, giving nothing away. The hand looks very much like it could be the hand of the woman we have become familiar with as our avatar – a person slim enough and blonde enough to be a fitting representative of everywoman (even us!).

The next shot (see image below) is fascinating not only due to its centrality. The woman stops scanning, looks straight ahead (still with her head and shoulders situated in the right-hand half of the screen, with her right eye at the centre line of the frame) and up pops her head, as if finding the right product had enabled her to levitate. The horizontal of the gap between the shelves behind her head bisects, in the middle of the frame, the vertical created by the shadow under the woman’s hair, to form a cross. A fitting symbol of suffering and redemption. The horizontals of the woman’s eyelids, her eyes, her mouth, and the two gaps between shelves behind her create a nice rhythm in pictorial form to accompany the woman’s sudden broad smile. She’s slightly narrowed her eyes, enabling the viewer to see her eyelids.

Before her eyelids had been invisible. The eyelids are important because they show that the woman is healthy and not puffy-eyed (as a person might be if they consumed too many medications). Now, the woman is so high that the top of her head is cut off by the frame. She’s high as a kite! And her eyes and mouth are so dimensioned and contoured to be almost the same shape as each other.


Note how the hair on her right shoulder is swept back, increasing the lightness of the imagery used to orient the viewer. The tan strap of the woman’s handbag declines to enter into a rhythm with the gap between the shelves, her eyes, her mouth, and the shadows made by her hair, and in this shot harmonises with her hair and with the pink of her cardigan. We are now at the ad’s midpoint.

It’s a point where certainty has been disturbingly delayed for seven seconds – an eternity in advertising time. The narrator now says, “Thankfully, there’s Nurofen!” The tone of his voice shifts to match the popping head of the woman in the pink cardigan, and lifts to a peak on the first syllable of the product name. Your mood instantly becomes brighter as the man emotes happiness with his voice. It’s a voice that is on the high end of the scale for men and whereas before he had been downbeat and factual – all that talk of frightening legislative change – now he is as surprised by fate as the levitating woman.

The next shot, showing a comforting array of boxes of the drug the woman has carefully and determinedly been searching for, appears precisely in tandem with the spoken word “Nurofen.” Perspective now goes not from the right-hand edge to the left-hand edge, but the other way: from left to right, which is subliminally comforting for the viewer. We are arriving at the conclusion.


To consolidate the achievement of a form of closure, the shot of boxes of drugs is quickly replaced – it shows for about a second – by an animation (see image below for its end state) that is labelled, in the top-right corner of the screen, “Dramatisation”; (honesty is important). Now, a range of things happen in quick succession in an ambience saturated with very bright colours. The rapidity and colourfulness contrast dramatically with the long sequences in the washed-out store aisle belonging to the first seven seconds of the ad. 


First up, you see a knee with the bones visible as though an X-ray were had been made of a leg. A red glow around the joint demonstrates that the people who make the drug understand how pain can be crippling if it’s severe enough. Then, from the left-hand side, at the bottom of the screen – the “real” zone – an image of the drug packet slides succinctly into place. You can almost hear it make a “click” as it comes to rest at a polite distance from the aching knee, with its calf muscle carefully outlined in white. 

The words “reduce inflammation” run in the voice-over as this happens, and then suddenly the words “relief of pain + inflammation” emerge in caps above the packet as a set of interlocking rings, with red on the outside and yellow in the middle, appear behind the knee and the words “… and relieve osteo pain …” are layered over the visuals by the male narrator, though the voiceover doesn’t end there and continues as the shot changes to the next one.

Establishing a link between pain and inflammation using the plus-sign is clever, hinting at the speed of the drug’s effect when taken in a suitable dose (which information will be on the packet). The rest of the voice-over’s sentence (“for up to eight hours”) arrives on top of the following shot.


The blonde woman is smiling broadly now, the ends of her hair lying on her pink cardigan. She occupies the right-hand third of the screen, and in front of her face holds up a packet of the drug. The colourfulness and her location in the shot – especially her eyes, which are in the top-right of the frame – combine to give this composition of elements a positive energy. Reinforcing this, the front of the packet of drugs is clearly visible (though it’s seen at an angle) so you know what she’s looking at. Behind the woman’s hand three shelves full of packets of the drug, their bright label in full view (this is what made the woman smile so broadly before), are clearly visible. Their fronts show the same three-ringed symbol as the graphic that came up behind the aching knee in the earlier shot, which had made explicit and unambiguous a link to arthritic pain.

“Switch to Nurofen,” the narrator says as the final shot appears (see image below). The bright white radiating glow coming out from the space behind the logo (made up of its distinctive triple ring of red, orange and yellow) on the idealised packet not only take up the critical central space of the screen that had previously been occupied by the worried-looking woman, they are also echoed by similar rays on the small bottle that is offered as a product packaging option for fussy consumers who might want to travel and hence want something a bit stronger than a cardboard packet.


My analysis is almost over. I just want to quickly note how the ad achieves the transition from the image of the now-smiling woman to the brand shot that closes it out. It is very clever, and uses the three rings of the logo in a compelling fashion.

As the woman stands in the frame with her packet of drugs – the acquisition of which being an achievement that fulfills her immediate goal – colours enter from the extremities of the screen (see image below) and zoom ecstatically toward the centre, the canonical splash ending up as the logo on the packet pictured in the image we saw before. 


Then, in black and red, the words “Switch to Nurofen” are visible at the top of the screen, in the ideal zone, and this message is underscored by the narrator’s voice, which says, “Switch to Nurofen.” The first syllable of this sentence is said in a high tone, with the voice descending in pitch to end with a neutral point in the middle of the narrator’s vocal range.

This ad is incredibly good and uses a full range of elements to achieve its goal: to convey a message about the importance of going to the pharmacist’s shop to get the painkillers that some older people might need to live meaningful lives. It’s a difficult subject to address on TV due to the negative connotations aroused by, for example, the law change. But the ad comes at the problem with alacrity and verve.

Nurofen is shown to be an alternative brand for the thinking woman. It is a brand of Ibuprofen made and marketed by Reckitt Benckiser, a British company that is publicly listed. According to Wikipedia Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that was discovered in 1961 by Stewart Adams working at Boots UK Limited, and initially marketed as Brufen.

In the above I focus mainly on the secondary messaging that operates in addition to the words used in the voiceover. Almost like subliminal or hidden messaging, in subtle ways video and audio content affects the conscious mind as it tries to make sense of adverts.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Anzac Bridge commuter

A man with a rucksack on his back walks down the access ramp at the eastern end of the Anzac Bridge in Sydney at 8.51am yesterday.

What caught my eye were the curves comprising, in the composition shown below, a concrete ramp, pylons, and balconies on the apartment building in the background that sits on Bank Street at the corner of Quarry Master Drive. As well, you can see the retaining wall for the planter box underneath the ramp, a streetlight, and bollards installed to protect the massive structure. In fact, the entire image is filled with gradients of more or less extremity and acuteness.


The bollards were put there since many trucks use Bank Street (see street view, below) to get to local building sites, as well as to the cement mixing station that is operated by a private company, and which sits next door to the Fish Market. The second image below shows the map of the area, with the green squiggle of the access ramp near the centre of the frame.



Tuesday, 23 June 2020

IAG sign on tower two, Darling Park, Sydney

Consciousness is a filter automatically applied to sensory perception. The “socius” of postmodern theory is the layered physical ground upon which ideas are inscribed.

Or, as with this IAG (an insurance firm) sign on tower two of Darling Park – a development on Sussex Street, in Sydney – forming a palimpsest. Beforehand there was a sign for the professional services firm PWC, and when the designers ordered the signs to be changed out they were unable to match the exact shade of grey to obliterate traces of the previous occupant of this piece of marketing real estate. So you can still see how the one firm was pushed out by workmen handling the big letters of the second firm.

Sussex and Darling – the former being the name of a duke and the latter of a governor – belonging to the colonial era that preceded the one we now inhabit. Now, we give our principal institutions acronyms as names instead of noble monikers.

In the photo the remnants of the morning’s fog being burned away by the winter sun might remind the viewer of a Roman god devouring a human, like Goya’s ‘Saturn Devouring his Son’ (1823), a detail of which I saw on Twitter as I was editing this post. The crane at the top of the photo is installed on a different building, not the one I’m talking about in this post. Saturn was the god of renewal and dissolution and his symbol is the scythe; it’s fitting, then, that the tops of the buildings in this image are shaped like sickles.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Exhibition review: Sydney Biennale 2020

It was raining on the weekend but I went to see the Biennale. The ferry to Cockatoo Island was almost empty and the seagulls were screaming when we hit the shore. They paraded around on the grass verges or on the pavement and a sign told us they were nesting.

The signs inside were held by clipboards hung from walls and other vertical surfaces. Exhibit signs are often a bit tiresome, and the ones in this show were no exception, asking you to gulp down wads of text before looking at works that were, often, not that crash-hot. Mostly I ignored the signs.

Two themes dominated this show: the environment and colonial oppression. It was a bit oppressive, frankly, and a more levity might have added lustre to the exhibition, which threatened to become over-determined. It features artists from around the world. Most of the works are not suitable for private collections as they are too big to fit in a room at home, and only work in a space like Cockatoo Island.

Near the entrance were exhibits by Artree Nepal that were comprised of glass cases filled with gold objects. Behind them, two movies showing protesters with writing on their bare torsos confronting police behind ranks of barbed wire. In the following photo you can see both the gold objects – pills packets, medicine bottles, and lotion bottles among them – and one of the videos.


I liked the gold objects in the glass cases, the latter reminding me of a 19th century gentleman’s curiosity display cases, or else the cases you see in shops. In fact, the cases themselves were redolent with meaning in a way that evaded the gold pharmaceutical containers. Inside the enormous, industrial structure the exhibits occupied, the dainty glass cases felt odd and out-of-place, as though put there by mistake. 

The gold paint covering the objects was a bit rough and ready, as though a better alternative couldn’t be found. Ideally they would have been a bit shinier, to complement the shiny glass of the cases they were sitting in. 

Curious conjunctions were also the method used by Philippine artist Manuel Ocampo, the painter of some large paintings – also near the entrance – hung from the walls. These works combined disparate elements in a skilful manner. One painting had words painted on it: “poeme banal” or “banal poem”. It’s the kind of simple French that any English speaker would be able to understand, signalling at the artist’s target: someone from the comfortable middle class who might’ve done a few years of French at secondary school. The use of French also underscores, as does the content of the second painting below, the importance to the artist’s vision of colonialism. This theme will reappear in other works covered in my review.


The above painting has a loose style which is pleasant, and the colours are quite nice though I feel that the overall impact of the work is not overly strong. In the painting below the drawing is not perfect, though the Postmodern irony is very refined.


Near Ocampo’s paintings was an installation with a video that was, in my mind, the highlight of the exhibition. This is Latai Taumoepeau’s ‘The Last Resort’, the remnants of which were strewn around the place inside the enormous industrial setting of the Cockatoo Island shed, once a repair shop for engines of boats.


The video was made up of two separate points of view that were displayed beside each other (see photo below). In the left-hand section of the video frame you can see a man and a woman shod in strange, high-soled shoes that are used to stomp on shards of glass. They move very slowly as to fall over in this predicament might risk serious injury. The woman has a rake she uses to arrange the broken glass. The man has gloves on his hands and with his right hand he does the same. At one point he is squatting on his haunches to get closer to the object of his interest, as the woman stomps around nearby.


Just opposite this installation are some metal sculptures by Andre Eugene. These are a bit obvious – the phallic mufflers welded on motorbike frames – and I wasn’t sure about the anatomical skulls on top; perhaps some analogue for a head could have more usefully have been found. Or else the skulls were a wry comment on the artist’s own Haitian origins.

The work is titled ‘Lavie & Lanmo’ (‘Life and Death’). He is about my age or a bit older and perhaps, like me, he owned a motorbike when he was young. The message is clear with these sculptures, and echoes that of Taumoepeau’s work: the destruction of the natural world in the industrial age.



From the same part of the world is Jose Davila (though he is younger, born in 1974), whose works are next. These large assemblages of found objects sourced from Cockatoo Island (see photo below for an example) fit snugly with the space’s industrial feel. They are titled ‘The Act of Perseverance’, which echoes the colonial theme of Ocampo’s works.


The object shown above is only one of Davila’s inventions, and is a large, bare block of concrete with a fragment of concrete strapped to it with a trucker’s fastening. The yellow of the fabric is lovely when seen in contradistinction to the dull reddish grey of the fragment of concrete, buried in which you can see particles of the aggregate used to make the substance. Concrete is made by mixing cement with sand or pebbles. This mixing is done when the cement is still liquid, so that the two types of element are fused seamlessly together in a solid mass, and often the mixture is vibrated (though not too strongly) so that is blends well. 

The only thing holding this block of concrete in place is friction and the assemblages are not obviously beautiful, requiring a bit of thought to find something with which the viewer can satisfactorily engage. 

The drawings of Paolo Nazareth, which come next, are not that strong, and the skills used to make them are mediocre (see images below). These drawings remind you of how, during the colonial era, the skeletons of Indigenous peoples were acquired and shipped back home to feature in museum displays.



The images are combined with an assemblage on the floor of the space that includes rocks (see below). Using rocks like this reminds the viewer of the glass cases of the Nepalese installation but, here, the message is diluted by the over-definition of the artifice. A bit more thought might have gone into this work to make it equal to those of Ocampo or Davila.



The environmental theme reappears in the installation of Hobart organisation Adrift Lab (see image below). The space here was dark, the light coming from the objects on display.


Nearby was an installation by Lhola Amira from South Africa. Amira is a queer artist who has adopted the plural form of the pronoun.


One work I failed to get photos of was by S.J. Norman, an Aboriginal artist. This was in a room filled with black chairs, each of which had a brush sitting on it. In front of the chairs, in two flanking rows, were hung video screens showing people having their hair brushed. The message was about the hair of Indigenous people being thicker and less manageable than the hair of white people. But hair is a funny substance as it is always adorned or managed, in a way that depends on the culture in question.

Next was a room full of painted sculptures (see image below) by Anna Boghiguian, an Egyptian artist. Like Taumoepeau’s, Boghiguian’s works featured sacks full of things – again signalling at the colonial experience. But here the artworks are both paintings and sculptures. The thin wash of the board lending drama to the works, which were commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney with assistance from the Council for Australia-Arab Relations of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In the artwork below the standard post-colonial narrative is underscored by the paper the woman is holding. It reads ‘A History of Human Oppression’, and so is a critique facing both ways: at the colonial nations and, also, at formerly colonised nations that use post-colonial narratives to oppress their own people. In many countries, in different ways, the cycle of oppression continues today …


On the day we went to Cockatoo Island a ferry left Barangaroo every 30 minutes, and subsequently returned thence at the same frequency, taking visitors back to the city from the exhibition, so the show is easy enough to get to. The ferry trip takes about 15 minutes and you get to see the waterfront suburbs of the harbour (… pause …) site of colonial oppression.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Ad capture (01) – E45 cream

This the first in a series of posts that are designed to take a detailed look at TV advertisements. I want to slow down the experience and pay attention to what is offered to view between programs on the small screen. This kind of content tends to be considered unimportant or ephemeral.

In what follows I focus mainly on the secondary messaging that operates in addition to the words used in the voiceover. Almost like subliminal or hidden messaging, in subtle ways video and audio content affects the conscious mind as it tries to make sense of adverts.

This 15-second ad – coming after a promotion for a Network Ten cooking show, and before an ad for an insurer and one for a non-dairy milk substitute – starts with a mix of low-key and dramatic elements. You see words rendered in 3D on a glossy background looking like a display window that you pass on a street in the retail district, or else a museum diorama – which are displays so beloved of children.

Prominent are the words, “What’s new?” They are set in a modern typeface, in red and white, looking like the masthead of a women’s magazine. This portmanteau brand has its own website and belongs to a company called Now Screen (based in the Sydney suburb of Woolloomooloo) which has been around for 16 years. "E45" is a brand of skin care products from Crookes Healthcare, a subsidiary of Reckitt Benckiser.

To grab your attention, in the ad the word “new” is red as is the question mark, and the words slowly rotate, as though on a turntable, spinning so that the right-hand side of the assemblage comes toward the viewer. Reassuringly, the words are placed in the bottom half of the screen, but not too close to the bottom: there is room for the phrase to stand comfortably in the available space. The placement and appearance of the words gives them realism, as though, instead of digitally enhanced imagery, you were looking at objects that, with perfect artifice, had been formed out of some ideal substance and put on a clever mechanism, a tribute to your own ingenuity.

A reflection of the letters is visible in the ground in front of the words, and a white light is set over the background, so as to give a feeling of depth to the field on the screen in front of you. You feel as though you are looking into a landscape, and within these confines sit the words you read, with their promise of something both reassuring and novel. You feel as though there will be no nasty surprises.

Then again, there’s the little matter of those three additional words, in smaller type: “In skin health.” Should you be worried? With this segment a soundtrack uses the same words (“what’s new?”) but, this time, sung by youthful female voices. The stress is on the end of the phrase, and the tone rises to finish the delivery, emphasising the feeling that the singing women are asking a question. The congruence of the written phrase and the audio track is reassuring, but the fact that the movement of the 3D phrase is from right to left tells you that you should pay attention; we are at the beginning of something, not at the end.

Along with the singers is a simple, unadorned instrumental accompaniment, as if someone were playing a piano. “If dry or flaky skin …” goes the voice of the narrator, “is causing you frustration or embarrassment, try E45 cream.” At the same time as these words are being beamed into your living room you see a brown-haired woman sitting down to have daytime refreshments with two friends (see image below). She’s wearing a yellow sweater and as she gets comfortable in her seat – not really though, as we shall see – she turns her right shoulder toward the woman who is talking (and who wears a disturbing, red T-shirt). Behind the woman with glossy, long, brown hair are three windows filled with light – reassuringly, the same light we saw in the opening sequence – and the curtains covering them are translucent, like the white glow behind the letters we saw at the outset. The colour white is a trigger for positive feelings, and is used in several of the segments.


The Asian woman, on the right-hand side of the table, also has short sleeves on her garment. On the table in front of the women are clean glasses and a plate, possibly containing salad. There is also a flat plate that looks as though it contains biscuits but none of the food is very noticeable. The pale arms of the two flanking women are prominent, however, and are bent at the wrists as they reach in, one after the other, to nab food. Contrarywise, the woman in the yellow sweater, who is in front of the viewer, has her arms crossed. She’s covering up her arms, which are anyway invisible because of the sleeves of her sweater, and she is looking downward, shamefaced as the segment ends.

The next frame shows the E45 cream – sitting in an artificial field like the one used for the opening sequence – in place of the words and the question mark we had seen before. The shot of the cream is quickly replaced by video showing a woman putting cream in a thick, white impasto on her left arm, and then smoothing it in with her right hand, presumably in order to make the cream disappear (see screenshot below). We are looking over her shoulder, in a way similar to how, in a daytime soap opera, one character can be shown talking to another. The face of this unidentified woman is hidden outside the edge of the frame, though we can see her jaw and neck. Because of the white straps over her shoulders we can also see part of a singlet or some other form of undergarment; both shoulders are visible in this carefully crafted shot.


In the background are what look like louvres, wooden shields set in a rotating mechanism. By manipulating a control you can swivel them horizontal to open them, or vertical to close them; here they are set at an angle of about 10 degrees off plumb, so that light seeps in modestly from outside, flushing the space with a glow. You normally see louvres covering windows in standalone houses (apartments don’t usually have them) and the feeling of this shot is light, but secluded, as though privacy were important for the woman applying cream to her arm. She might be the woman in the yellow sweater, but there’s no way to know by viewing this segment. White is also the dominant colour in this scene. 

Lengthy warnings are set in small print at the bottom of the screen but it is unlikely that you will have time to read them, unless you make a screenshot. Though over the top of this segment of the ad are easily visible other words: “Relieves dry skin in eczema & dermatitis.” They give the company making the cream and promoting it on our televisions leeway to use images and sound inventively while not, in a narrow sense, claiming that its product will overcome such conditions. The feint lies in the use of the preposition “in”. If a different word had been used – say, “from” or “of” – a dissatisfied customer, one who had used the product and had not had their dermatitis eliminated, might have grounds for complaint. 

Next we get an animation showing blue bubbles rising to hit a wavy barrier – meant to represent the surface of the dermis – and bouncing dramatically off, heading back into the (putative) interior of the arm (see screenshot below). The bubbles, which represent moisture, bounce around lazily, as though relieved of the need to exit the body, glad to stay within the woman’s arm, in safety (like in a museum diorama). 

In the top-left of this shot is the name of the product, in a capsule-shaped field. The product name looks like marketing material that is routinely made by pharmaceutical companies in order to promote their products. Providing continuity, in the bottom-right corner of the frame are the words “What’s new?” 


The repetition of the phrase is reassuring, and so is the fact that the critical top-right zone of the screen is left empty. This indicates that there is nothing in what is being shown that prevents a viewer from reaching a happy future. This segment of the ad underscores the implication that it can be dryness, and not a genetic trait or an allergy, that is the problem, though dermatologists will, in some cases, get people with a skin condition to use a moisturiser.

Approximately 10 percent of the population is atopic – meaning they are more liable to eczema, hay fever, and asthma – so this cohort (and people who are worried they might belong to it) is being targeted by the ad, which preys on viewers’ insecurities. 

Before the end of the ad – which will feature a stack of jars, much like what you see in a pharmacy’s display window or in a department store – you see three women walking on a street talking and laughing (see screenshot below). It’s possible that they are the same women we saw before though the only one I was sure about is the Asian woman. The woman on the left might be the same brown-haired woman as the one with the yellow sweater in the earlier segment but here, instead of looking unsure of herself, she is laughing animatedly and she is wearing a loose, pink, patterned print dress with short sleeves. 

She’s a different woman, but the street – with its pavement, vegetation, and its fences – looks like a regular suburban street; there is nothing unusual about the scene. The glamour of the opening shot, with its magazine-style letters, has happily disappeared and now everything is quite normal. 


“Feel comfortable in your skin. Switch to E45,” goes the narrator as the women are replaced by a stack of jars. The implication being that women always use some form of cream on their arms each day – so why not a medicated one that is good for you as well as being unobtrusive? By the end of the ad even the question has gone away, like the cream as it dissolved into the skin of the woman in the nice suburban house with her cosy bathroom and its louvres.

Despite the warnings in the red shirt of the woman in the opening sequence, the fine print, and the sense of doom that someone who lives with, say, psoriasis, might feel when confronted by the ad, it engages with received ideas and promotes a product in a way that makes the idea of using it – just a few dabs on your itchy patch in the evening before going to bed, or in the morning before getting dressed – seem easy and anxiety-free. 

Like the cream itself, the ad offers relief from a form of stress – looking different from the people around us can be challenging. And unlike the demanding regime perhaps necessitated if you consult a medical specialist, despite the fine print in this ad you’re reassured that you might have a common problem that, with E45 cream, can be simply fixed.