author, baroque, bob mackenzie, colloquial, dickey, fine writing, flesch, gargoyle, landscape, literary, literature, man, metaphor, plain, poetry, shakespeare, shave, simile, simple, street, terrain, vernacular
A man’s body is not flat. It’s terrain. The soothing male voice goes on to describe the way a man’s body has crooks and crannies not accessible to an ordinary razor. Onscreen is a clearing in a sharp-edged pine forest with craggy mountains not too distant in the background. In the foreground a man, apparently naked, shot in extreme closeup. A techno-razor appears onscreen as the narrator continues his commentary, speaking of the need for a special razor to suit a man’s unique terrain. The camera scans the man’s body as he shaves. His face is never shown, but we see sections of stomach, of legs up near the interesting bits, of calves, of chest.
There’s a message here. This commercial is not about shaving a man’s face. For a man to look his best, he needs to remove all hair below his neck and to shave the rough terrain of his body requires a very special razor. If the commercial is not sex-driven, it’s certainly sensual and at times slightly suggestive. At times the camera changes direction just in time. Like similar messages advertisers send women, the idea here is to tell a man that his body is just not good enough. His terrain needs to be tamed.
This particular theme is new to me but, for as long as I can remember, men have been wooed to make their bodies look and smell better using shaving cream, after-shave lotions and powders, colognes and deodorants, and yes ever-fancier razors. The sales pitch was all about not being good enough. Many men have taken the message to heart. They have not trusted their own looks, their own scent, even their own personality to be good enough. This is not just about shaving.
That’s okay. Some men may go to extremes to compensate for a poor self image, possibly advertising-induced. Some men may prefer to go natural. In between, an infinity of possibilities could exist.
When I started shaving. I chose to use a safety razor, a straight blade held in place by trap-doors at the end of a short handle. I’ve never used shaving cream or after-shave. I’ve had gifts of cologne stay with me unopened so long they became valuable antiques. My body may not be flat, but I don’t believe it is a wilderness of terrain to be tamed by some futuristic razor.
What has this to do with anything?
I’ve seen this commercial too many times. Perhaps because of the prevalence of imagery and metaphor it encompasses, when I see the commercial my mind turns to poetry. Like a man’s body, poetry is not flat. Poetry is terrain with its own crags and crannies and pitfalls. Often poetry will be enhanced with extras that are perhaps not needed to prove the value of the poet’s message.
When I was just starting to write poetry and prose fiction for publication, and long before that, there was a term “fine writing” used in a critical sense. You might think that having your work termed “fine writing” was a compliment, but it was not. This term referred to writing that was overly ornate or in other ways overworked, writing that seemed artificial and beyond the bounds of ordinary usage – writing as fine-art at the expense of clarity and communication. In architecture, an equivalent might be buildings with extreme baroque style and excessive gargoylerie. “Fine writing” was to be avoided.
I took that advice to heart.
There have always been writers who imbued their works with a great deal of ornament, sometimes to excess and sometimes to great effect. For their successes, I applaud them. The literary academics often applaud such work as great art, though it’s only accessible to certain cliques of readers. This fine writing is replete with metaphors and similes that stretch the fabric of credulity and with multisyllabic words often found only in the thesaurus and in academic tomes. Long Joycean sentences and massive monolithic paragraphs show up too often and clarity of meaning is often not to be found.
My training as a newspaper reporter and later as a radio writer as well as reading instructive books by Rudolph Flesch (The Art of Clear Thinking), James Dickie (The Suspect in Poetry), and others only confirmed my belief that simple and plain English was best. For almost fifty years, I’ve worked to keep my message straightforward and my expression simple and to the point. Wherever I can I avoid words of more than two syllables or complex sentences. I try to keep what I write conversational, the way people speak in everyday life. My model is not writers of convoluted so-called literature but William Shakespeare, who wrote simple language in the natural rhythms of everyday human speech.
My writing may sometimes seem a rugged terrain, but at least it’s natural, neither perfumed by false ornament nor denuded by some self-editing razor. I accept all writing and attempts at communication, whatever the author’s style. It all has its place and it’s all important. However, I believe my place as a writer is on the street speaking to everyday people in their own conversational language.