Help The Renal Support Network Make Teen Prom Dreams Come True

In a post last year, Kit captured the glamour and significance of high school proms as "The First Big Night to Remember":

A rite of passage in many ways, all of the rituals and excitement surrounding the prom give most kids their first brush with adult glamour. Reared on princess mythology, girls finally get to don their own ball gowns and be perceived not just as little girls, but as something close to grown women.

For kids with chronic kidney disease, who typically spend four hours a day, three days a week  hooked up to a dialysis machine, that rite of passage is often just a dream. That was the case for Lori Hartwell, who was only two years old when her kidneys failed and later missed her own high-school prom because she was on dialysis. As an adult, Hartwell founded the Renal Support Network to help give people with kidney failure “health, happiness, and hope” while coping with their disease. (If all goes well, Lori is due for her fourth transplant early next year, with a kidney donated by her step-sister.)

Renal Teen Prom 2010 dancing

One of the networks's most inspiring—and certainly most glamorous—programs is its annual Renal Teen Prom, which each January gives “kidney teens” a special night “to have what no young person should miss...the chance to enjoy being young!” As Linda Oakford, RSN's patient coordinator explains,

The best part about the Renal Teen Prom is that they get to share a wonderful evening with others who are experiencing the same issues that they are and that they are not the only one dealing with [chronic kidney disease]. They don't have to explain their scars or other obvious medical problems.  The girls will wear strapless dresses not worrying about covering catheters or scars. As you know teenage years are difficult enough without medical issues, many of these teens feel like outsiders. Life-long friendships have been made at the Renal Teen Prom.

Thanks to financial and in-kind donations, and a lot of volunteer labor, the prom is free, including dinner, transportation, gowns for the girls and ties for the guys. The prom is held the Sunday before the Martin Luther King holiday, because dialysis is rarely scheduled on Sundays and the following day is a holiday.

Beautiful guests

The photos above were taken at last January's prom by DG friend and kidney mom Karol Franks, whom you may remember from her great candid photos at our hat party. She told us about the prom when she was looking for a last-minute replacement photographer. They're covered for photography this year, but DG readers can still help make these special prom dreams come true.

Renal Teen Prom Dress Caravan Your $50 contribution can send a teen to the prom. Or you can help with in-kind contributions. In particular, the RSN needs donations of large and extra-large dresses that look appropriate for teenage girls. During the first two weeks in January, volunteers will visit hospitals and dialysis centers around Southern California, bringing dresses for girls to try on and select from. They already have plenty of small and medium dresses, but larger sizes are in short supply. They can also use accessories like jewelry and evening bags. Dresses do not have to be new, but they should be cleaned before donating.

Financial and in-kind contributions are tax-deductible. Businesses that support the prom will receive credit in the printed program. 

To donate dresses or accessories, you can contact me at or leave a comment below. I will either arrange pickup or a convenient dropoff. If your business would like to support the prom or RSN's work in general, please contact Linda Oakford at or 818-543-0896 x106.

Jack Black at Renal Teen Prom 2010
And if you're a celebrity, or know one who'd be willing to spend an evening in Sherman Oaks, they'd love to hear from you. Jack Black was a big hit last year.

[Photos by Karol Franks, Flickr user okarol, and used with permission.]

Creating Illusions

Stage-setDigital special effects are now used so frequently in films and television that we tend to take them for granted. Photoshop is so widely used to manipulate digital photographs that we seldom notice the changes, sometimes even when “realistic” advertising photos have missing, wrongly sized, or misaligned parts. (The website Photoshop Disasters adds funny comments to miscalculated images.)

The theater has always dealt in illusions, and we are perfectly capable of imagining that a bare stage or an abstract set (such as the one shown in the photograph) represents a fictional world. Shakespeare’s plays were first performed on bare stages: thus the characters often speak of the time of day and place.

With experience we also sometimes take theatrical conventions for granted. A proscenium stage is described as having an invisible fourth wall through which the audience views the sets and action onstage. A movie or television screen serves much the same purpose. We forget that we are looking at a flat picture plane once we begin looking “through it” to see images that seem to have dimensional qualities. The addition of 3D further heightens our feeling that we are seeing a dimensional reality, rather than the illusion of one projected onto a screen.

Stage and screen illusions depend partially on an awareness that what the audience will be able to perceive is limited. The fourth wall, for example, does not reveal what is going on above, behind, below, or to the sides of the stage. Cameras reveal only what is in front of the lens, concealing even the person operating the camera.

When actors and dancers perform onstage, they know where the fourth wall is, and they sometimes “cheat” by turning their bodies enough to insure that their speeches and actions are audible and visible to the audience. Dance studios have large mirrors so that dancers can develop some sense of how their bodies, costumes, and movements will look to the audience. In film and photographic work, actors and models learn to maintain an awareness of where the camera is, as well as the light.

Kitchen-set In most dramatic productions, the prevailing convention is that the actors act as if the audience is not there, even though actors need to retain some awareness of them. In most film situations, such as the dining room set shown in the photograph, it is impossible to ignore the presence of the equipment. The ability to perform effectively while aware of the presence of an audience, or a camera and a set full of equipment, is a difficult skill, but one that actors must master if we are going enjoy the fictional illusion that they exist in a “real” world.

[The abstract set was built for a production of Sara McKinnon, an opera by Mark Medoff and Randall Shinn. Photograph by Carol Shinn. The photograph “Film set in the dining room” is by Flickr user ricardodiaz11. Used under the Flickr Creative Commons license.]

The Seductive Smell Of Escape

Escape to a tropical island has long been the promise of travel ads featuring glamorous scenes of beaches, palm trees, and hammocks. Now it's apparently become a fashionable promise for mass-market products none-too-subtly selling the way they smell. (To see larger photos, click the images.)

Glade hammock ad spread

And while Old Spice has gone viral with its over-the-top manly man ads, its packaging isn't as tongue-in-cheek.

Old Spice
Note that both Old Spice versions promise to make you smell like freedom.

Ready For Your Snapshot? Facebook Paranoia As A Sales Tool

Facebook silhouette If my DG email inbox is any indication, people are getting increasingly paranoid about how they look in their Facebook photos. Or at least the publicists for various skincare and beauty products hope they are.

One PR query asks, "Is Your Face Facebook Ready?"

Did you know the there are more than 500 million active users on Facebook? Most people block their walls and photo albums, but profile photos are broadcast to anyone who cares to look—from new classmates to prospective employers. Don’t let a bad complexion ruin your image on Facebook… and beyond. Prep your skin for your close up with Vichy Laboratoires skincare solutions. Whether you have acne scars, puffy eyes or oily skin, Vichy will help you put your best face forward.

Another has the subject line, "Look Picture Perfect!"

Unfortunately, every picture you are photographed in isn’t always Facebook “profile” worthy and we’ve all had photos taken that we are not proud of. Luckily, Romy Fazeli of Kymaro Health and Beauty offers quick inexpensive tips to give you a photo-ready look.

Her mixed-bag of recommendations includes a teeth whitener, body shapers, and jewelry. I wonder what they have in common?

Back To School: The Most Glamorous Time Of The Year?

Kids may lament the end of summer vacation, but back-to-school season offers up a kind of excitement that's not available any other time of year. It's not just limited to the school-lovers, either. Back to school offers something for everybody—a fresh start, an opportunity to be something new. Each year is filled with so much potential, manifested in empty notebooks, unsharpened pencils, and shiny new first-day-of-school shoes.

Marketers know this, too, and aren't afraid to tap into those feelings. Mainstream retailers design elaborate campaigns around buying clothes that help kids fit into one niche or another. This year's JC Penney campaign, titled, "New look. New year.  Who knew!" is the latest riff on this common theme, which capitalizes neatly on kids' desires to fit in and on their feelings of heightened anticipation around the start of school.

Of course, kids aren't the only people susceptible to early September stirrings. After spending twelve or more years heading back to school, with all the feelings that evokes, adults often find themselves longing for a new start just as the leaves start to change. Marketers know this, too, which is how we end up with commercials like this one, my new favorite from Target:

Kids get a new look. Grownups get a new hat. And we all get a new start.

The Glamour Of Arrival: Now With Cats!

Morris cat red carpet glamour 9lives ad

Shortly before the 2009 Oscars, I blogged about how the red carpet arrival has become the touchstone image of Hollywood glamour, with the fantasy of recognition supplanting the penthouse luxury of old movies. 

The latest incarnation of this now-iconic image showed up in Sunday's paper: a one-page flyer for 9Lives cat food, featuring Morris the Cat as the arriving star. Parody or homage?

I'm collecting "glamour of arrival" images. If you come across one, please let me know via email to or in the comments below.

The Man-Beast Myth

Icebreaker-2010One of the most successful companies producing Merino wool clothing is Icebreaker, a New Zealand company. Icebreaker is known for using evocative images in their advertising, and their Summer 2010 ads are no exception. In one a fair-skinned, wide-eyed naked woman rides a dark-skinned, naked Merino-ram-headed man who is at least three times her size. The ram-man is leading a column of Merino sheep numbering in the thousands. (The image shown is a crop taken from the central quarter of the full image.)

One of the themes of Icebreaker’s advertising is symbiosis, with human forms covered in soft, warm, odor-absorbing Merino wool clothing. However, the use of naked human bodies in snowy mountains seems completely beside that point. I have always found their ads fun, but some people who live and work near the Icebreaker store in Portland have found huge window displays such as this image offensive. A salesperson in the store told me that this image has been the most controversial yet.

Icebreaker2 Some people object to the petite fair woman being carried off by the huge, dark-skinned beast, which they feel has both racist and sexist overtones. But, as seen here, in one of their earlier ads an even fairer and frailer woman clearly has the advantage over a darker-skinned beast-man more her size. And it is a longstanding cliché of Romance novels that the fair heroine falls for a tall, dark, handsome, somewhat unruly man whom only she can manage to tame.

Icebreaker does not shy away from the cross-species “monster” implications of their images. Early ads showed a white-haired woman with sheep ears. But beast-humans have a long mythological history—witness creatures like satyrs, centaurs, and the Minotaur. According to Greek legend the Minotaur, born with the head of a bull and the body of a man, was the offspring of a mating between the wife of Minos, ruler of Crete, and the Cretan Bull. I suspect that Icebreaker is merely pushing the notion of symbiosis into mythological imagery.

I suspect few men can see an image of a woman preparing to shear a beast-man’s groin without feeling a twinge of terror, but ultimately I see these images as more fun and tongue-in-cheek than genuinely disturbing. On the other hand, I also think that there is no question that they were intended to be provocative, and in that sense, they have been successful. Apparently too much so for some people’s comfort.

Addendum, August 30, 2010: A few days after writing this post, I remembered that in his delightful book The Happiness Hypothesis Jonathan Haidt uses the metaphor of a rider on an elephant to represent the scale of our newer language-oriented, reasoning part of the brain in relationship to the faster, automatic processes in various older and incredibly powerful parts of the brain. Our ability to accomplish things depends in part on creating a good working relationship between the rider and the elephant.

The day that the post went up, my wife Carol and I did a lovely, but tiring 5.5 mile hike in the Columbia Gorge. That afternoon we spent some time driving around Oregon with Carol giving me directions from the map. At some point, as the afternoon wore on, I began to feel like the car and I were a beast, and that Carol was a rider directing us. I expressed that thought, and Carol said if the beast was tired it was all right if we went back.

Now when I look at the image of the woman riding the beast-man I consider the possibility that she may be doing her best to control the direction of the herd by using her hands to steer the ram-man's head where she wants to go.


Visit Amazon's Icebreaker store

The Value Of Bedrooms

One of the 2008 Cialis commercials portrayed the danger of dropping everything else in order to enjoy impromptu sex at home.

A recent series of Cialis ads has featured domestic places like kitchen islands beginning to overflow with water and then the whole kitchen transforming into a tropical outdoor scene. One ends with a couple lounging in individual claw-foot bathtubs at the beach, a shot that understandably baffles viewers. (Does anyone understand it?)

The only discussion that I have seen about the outdoor aspect of these ads speculates that taking Cialis for Daily Use means that a man can be ready for action if the mood strikes while he’s at the beach or in the jungle.

If the thought of outdoor lovemaking is supposed to be a turn-on, I have to say “no thanks.” In my limited experience there is nothing like being bitten by mosquitoes or horseflies to wreck the mood. Or noticing that the tick that just fell on your blanket is trying to join the party. And even worse than sharing your love nest with creepy-crawlies is spotting three fishermen trying to sneak up for a better view.

That last experience ended my interest in outdoor playing around. Being inside a house or a tent may seem less adventurous, but I find privacy and bug-free environments infinitely more conducive to the mood.

Toyota And Chrysler Try Retro Transit Glamour: Guess Who Fails

How do you sell a bland car with a tarnished brand name? Wrap it in retro glamour, with some Mad Men style. (The young people love Mad Men.)

Instead of showing old cars, which would look jarringly different from today's styles, Toyota's Avalon commercials cleverly play with the old-fashioned glamour of streamlined trains and Jet Set-era airplanes, all done with a wink to update the attitude for the 21st century. The Avalon still looks bland, but the commercials do make the car seem roomy and, most important, its occupants seem fun.

Chrysler, by contrast, offers a study in how not to use retro glamour. Here's the text, run sideways along four pages of muddy photos whose Manhattan skyline and pretty people are supposed to spell glamour.

Chrysler ad 1 Whatever happened to style?
Where has the glamour gone?
It wasn't long ago, America had it.
Looking and feeling like a million bucks
was practically our birthright
We didn't race from place to place.
We cruised.
Going for a drive was a big deal.
People took notice.
We turned heads.
and when we arrived somewhere
At Chrysler we believe it's time to get it back.
To regain the style, the cachet, the confidence.
We say it's time to reignite the American dream.
And the same design principles that got us there once will catapult us there again.
Our aim is to design things that start out revolutionary and end up timeless.
Beautiful and functional.
It's time to put our right hand at two o'clock and our left elbow out the window.
To rediscover what it feels like to drive down the street and have every kid in the neighborhood running to take a closer look.
Let's turn driveways into runways.
Let's design cars people want to make out in again.
Cars people want their photo taken with.
Because pride is a wonderful feeling
And it should be available to everyone not just the privileged few.
It's time, once again, for America to arrive in style.

As an internal design mandate, this statement might work. But as an ad it's all telling rather than showing, with a bathetic result. After the buildup, what do we get? An ugly Chrysler grill. The voice, while striving for glamour, comes off as crotchety and backward-looking. Chrysler, it declares, makes cars for the Get Off My Lawn crowd, the people who believe America peaked in 1955. No glamour there. (Besides, the Get Off My Lawn crowd wants its money back.)

Chrysler ad 2 Chrysler ad 3

Chrysler ad 4

Transformations: Perfume, Flowers, Butterflies, And Bugs

Flora-gucci-ad Gucci has designed a highly effective ad campaign for its Flora perfume that revolves around fields of flowers, diaphanous floral print dresses, and the sultry beauty of model Abbey Lee Kershaw. In the print ads Kershaw is photographed in dresses that seem to magically transform into butterfly wings. The Chris Cunningham video shown below was shot in Latvia in a seemingly endless sea of flowers. Kershaw is depicted like the Roman goddess Flora, who with waves of her arms causes the flowers to bow to her (an effect that appears to use a mobile wind machine). At the end the images are manipulated so that Kershaw and her dress seem about to take flight.

Primavera-Flora If you have seen Botticelli’s Primavera, the Gucci ads may remind you of his image of Flora, who holds spring flowers in the folds of her sheer floral dress. These images all promise that winter’s reign will end, that spring will transform the world, and that once again we will enjoy the scent of blossoming flowers.

The butterfly-like shape of the billowing dress in the Gucci ads reminds us of another transformation, that of caterpillar to butterfly. Most butterflies are colorful, beautiful creatures. How tempting it becomes to try a perfume that suggests it can transform you into a creature as beautiful as spring, flowers, butterflies, or a youthful goddess.

Most people do not find butterflies attractive in their caterpillar stage. The same is true of bugs. While we might be delighted to have a butterfly land on us, we may shudder if we notice a caterpillar or a bug crawling on us.

Contemplation-cicada That’s one reason this photo by John Bonath, titled “Contemplation on a Cicada,” is so arresting. The beautiful blond model appears to be naked, photographed in a studio, and deep in thought as cicadas crawl on her hair, face, and body. This image is used on a card advertising an upcoming show of Bonath’s work at The Camera Obscura Gallery in Denver. He specializes in surreal digital images, so it is difficult to know what is “real” in this image. Cicadas don’t bite or sting humans, but I can’t image them arranging themselves in such orderly fashion.

When they molt cicadas leave behind ghosts of themselves in the form of hard shells whose claws cling to trees, bushes, and posts. (Here is a time-lapse image of a cicada molting.) We tend to associate bugs with disease and decay, and in nature various bugs and their larvae help decompose dead animals. That is a transformation that few of us enjoy contemplating, yet nature’s transformations are not always pretty. Once while leading an art class on an excursion to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my wife came upon a group of Monarch butterflies feasting on smelly poo in a tossed-away baby diaper.

Part of the cleverness of the Gucci perfume ads is how well they combine positive images of transformation. In contrast, a brilliant aspect of the opening of David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet was its fluid movement from images of an idyllic small town to an man dying while watering his lawn, and then to bugs in the soil beneath the lawn. This sequence prepares us to see the film reveal part of the decadent underworld of the town. In both cases images are used to help us focus on transformations, either toward renewal or toward decay and decadence.