Friday, May 13, 2011

Mark Twain: Ad Man?

In her writing guide, Steering the Craft, Ursula Le Guin uses “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain as an example of how to “be gorgeous” with your prose.  By being “gorgeous” she’s referring to how the words sound on the page.  “Jumping Frog” has wonderful dialectical cadences that make it sound authentic and folksy if not gorgeous.
Twain wrote such great-sounding stories because he observed real people and listened.  In “Jumping Frog”, he portrayed Mr. Wheeler, a man who prattled on and on about Jim Smiley, even though it had nothing to do with the narrating character’s inquiry about one Leonidas Smiley.  This confusion is typical when talking to the elderly or the perpetually bored – they don’t know who or what you’re asking about, but they do know something and, wanting conversation and company, by golly, they will tell you everything that they do know.  There is no way to interrupt someone midway into such rambling without being rude.  Such storytellers never pause for an instant to let you make your excuses and get away.  Best just to hunker in until something else catches their attention.
By the end of “Jumping Frog”, when Wheeler is called away, the narrator tries to quietly take his leave.  But Wheeler comes back, and he starts a brand new yarn about Jim Smiley’s cow.  By now, Wheeler’s spun so much yarn he could knit a scarf, a sweater, some mittens and a dozen socks.  The narrator, as good-naturedly as he can, says he’ll listen no more.  Being blunt is the only way to get out of the clutches of the Energizer bunny of anecdotes.  Otherwise, it’ll just keep going, and going, and going. 
I’ve come to the conclusion that Energizer should use Twain’s Mr. Wheeler as a spokesman for their batteries.  Here’s my idea for the commercial:

Two men sit on a screen porch of a tavern with a sign saying “Welcome to Calaveras County” in the foreground. 

Mr. Wheeler:  Smiley he stood scratching his head and looking down at Dan'l a long time, and at last he says, "I do wonder what in the nation that frog throw'd off for I wonder if there an't something the matter with him he 'pears to look mighty baggy, somehow." And he ketched Dan'l by the nap of the neck, and lifted him up and says, "Why, blame my cats, if he don't weigh five pound!" and turned him upside down, and he belched out a double handful of shot. And then he see how it was, and he was the maddest man he set the frog down and took out after that feller, but he never ketchd him. And…

[Wheeler’s head nods to his chest as if he is asleep.  The tavern keeper comes out, opens a hatch in Wheeler’s back and removes two generic batteries. He holds an Energizer battery in his hand (close-up of new battery, then pan to narrator’s face).  Seeing that Wheeler’s getting an Energizer, the narrator is panic-stricken.  He runs for the door.  Mr. Wheeler, now energized, snaps his head up.]

Mr. Wheeler:  Well, thish-yer Smiley had a yeller one-eyed cow that didn't have no tail, only jest a short stump like a bannanner, and…

[Camera pans to a hole in the screen door in the shape of the narrator’s body as Wheeler keeps talking incoherently in the background.] 

[Scene cuts to the Energizer Bunny and a massive frog under a “Start” banner for a race.  The bunny speeds away, but the frog only sits there and croaks.]

Announcer: Energizer batteries.  They keep going and going and going…

Before you dismiss my little advertising experiment as too bizarrely random, here’s a little trivia for you:  The Energizer Bunny was born in Missouri.  So was Mark Twain.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Besides, if Twain were alive today, he would sell out to Madison Avenue to alleviate his dire financial straits before a Calaveras frog could hop.  (Yes, in spite of his fame, he was bankrupt).

You can click this link to read the entire text of Twain’s The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. 

Check out the Energizer Bunny Page for fun stuff like games, cute bunny slippers, and proof that he is, indeed, a native Missourian. 

Anyway, this was my rambling and long-winded way of saying "Happy Frog Jumping Day!"

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