PM Pick

Five-blade razors

Marginal utility (the concept, not this blog) be damned! According to last Thursday's Wall Street Journal, Gillette has a lot riding on its newest "shaving system" set to debut next year. The groundbreaking innovation? This new razor, the "Fusion," will have five blades, besting the Schick Quattro by one. Why cut the same beard hair once when you can pretend to cut it five times? Five razors would seem to mean that you're five times more likely to cut yourself, but apparently Gillette is expecting most men to be going with the "more is inherently better" sort of thinking. The law of diminishing marginal utility suggests we'll be less interested in paying more for the next unit of something, since it will be that much less useful to us. So an entirely unnecessary fifth blade should have little success in attracting consumers. But never underestimate the power of marketing. Marketing manages to shift things by making the utility of a razor come not in the form of a close shave (that would be pretty unimaginative, like thinking the utility of a car is in its getting you from one place to another when everyone knows its a lifestyle signifier) but in selling an enhanced form of manliness or novelty. And it also phases out its old razors and leaves you with little choice: "Each launch is underwritten with a huge advertising campaign, and Gillette rolls out the new blades at a hefty price premium to its predecessors. The company then gradually raises the prices of its older razors to persuade men to switch to the new model." So the ploy is right out there in the open. Gillette uses ads to create the illusion of a product improvement, then makes everything else more expensive to dupe men into making the leap to a new product whose only real difference from the one they already used is that it is more expensive. This kind of calls the notion of the autonomous consumer into question as well. Many men will buy the Fusion out of their own "free will" after seeing a barrage of ads during the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four and after noticing that it's not such big leap in price from the Mach 3, especially since you're getting 2 more blades -- a 40% increase in shaving power! Free will is experiential, a pleasant sensation for us to reinforce our sense of ourselves as unique and important, but it has nothing to do with reality, when much of our marketplace behavior, in the aggregate, is anticipated well in advance. Shopping is largely our chance to consume "free will" as a kind of product while fulfilling those "needs" industry has set out for us. Shopping is the magical procedure by which conformity becomes a sublime exercise of our autonomy.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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