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Friday, 2 October 2009

Do you see, Grasshopper?

I was saddened to hear earlier this year of the death of one of my childhood heroes - David Caradine. To my sons he will be remembered for playing Bill in Tarantino’s Kill Bill, but to me Caradine will forever be Kwai Chang Caine from the classic TV series Kung Fu.

Like thousands of teenage boys in the mid 70’s watching Kung Fu was the TV highlight of the week. I used to daydream of being able to floor Philip Hughes or Gareth Penman (the school bullies) with the same ease that Cain despatched the unscrupulous gold prospector or corrupt sheriff.

Although the short-lived fight scenes in Kung Fu were always good value, my favourite bits of the show were Caine’s flashbacks to his time in the Shaolin monastery, where Master Po would dispense liberal amounts of Confusion wisdom to ‘Grasshopper’, Po’s nickname for Caine.

For old time’s sake I watched an episode on a re-mastered DVD. A couple of things surprised me; firstly how slow the fight scenes were compared to today’s martial arts films, and secondly how interesting and authentic the ‘wisdom’ actually was. In one particular episode ‘Dark Angel’, Master Po tells Cain “The present is rooted in the past. It is through these roots we draw nourishment and strength.”

What’s all this got to do with advertising? Recently a freelance digital designer was trying to convince me that a blue square was an idea. I said it wasn’t. He disagreed and tried to convince me otherwise explaining how the colour and shape could dominate takeovers and expandables and ‘carry the message’. What message? I asked.

Professionally my ‘roots’ in advertising were from a time when there were no Macs, photo libraries or You Tube. An idea had to be robust enough to stand up to interrogation without all the extra ‘loving-up’ modern technology can add. A good idea has always drawn nourishment and strength from within itself, its own depth, ingenuity or novelty. I’m not one of those creatives who bemoan technology; I love it. But let’s get honest about what is an idea and what isn’t. And when it ‘isn’t’ let’s not dress it up in digital king’s clothes.

Later on in the episode Dark Angel Master Po asks Caine “What is a tree without roots?” I’d say it’s a bit like a concept masquerading as an idea only to be blown over by the slightest intellectual interrogation.

Geoff Turner
Creative Director

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