In the realm of classic comic book heroes, there is Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Hulk, the Green Lantern …and Tintin the baby-faced boy reporter. A comic strip introduced in 1929 by Belgian cartoonist Herge (Georges Prosper Remi), “The Adventures of Tintin” relates tales of a Belgian teenager with a round head and a dorky quiff hairstyle who is dispatched by a youth newspaper called Le Petit Vingtieme (the Little Twentieth) to file investigative reports from hot spots around the world. Unassuming and good-natured, Tintin gamely goes wherever he is assigned, taking his little fox terrier, Snowy, with him. His travels often put him in the midst of political upheaval in the land of the Soviets, the Belgian Congo, China, Chicago, Latin America and elsewhere, and in trying to get to the bottom of a mystery, he is forced to deal with ruthless special agents, diamond smugglers, Al Capone gangsters and other villains who want to run him over, shoot him, torture him, kidnap him and feed him to crocodiles.Tintin and Snowy deal with each encounter without fear and get themselves out of each jam through quick-thinking action and sometimes through sheer dumb luck. What has kept Tintin so beloved over the decades is that he isn’t presented as an egotistical super human like Spiderman and Wonder Woman, but as an average young man who doesn’t seek out danger but doesn’t run from it either. In Brussels, Tintin and Snowy are honored with a life-size bronze statue, and they are even commemorated on a euro coin, which is legal tender in Belgium. An unlikely action hero, Tintin is probably the most admired fictional Belgian in recent history.
Over the year, Rube Goldberg-type devices have popped up in a diverse array of TV commercials, from a promo for the “Elementary” mystery series, an ad for Beneful dog food, and the 2003 classic “Cog” film for Honda Accord. Unlike commercials that demonstrate or tout the product outright, these get their message across in the most tangential way. There is no story line, no spokesperson pointing out product features, not even a lot of voiceover commentary. But the viewer’s attention is riveted to the commercial and the product it is trying to sell.
Just who was this Rube Goldberg? And how did his crazy inventions inspire 21st century advertising creatives to design TV commercials to market their products so circuitously? Let me introduce you. Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was an engineer-turned-cartoonist whose primary cartoon character was one Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, an inventor of gadgets that accomplished the simplest tasks in the most complicated, elaborate roundabout way. For those unfamiliar with how Goldberg started a chain reaction of copycat inventors, here’s an example. Goldberg’s cartoon above explains Professor Butts and his Self-Operating Napkin, which was activated when a) the soup spoon was raised to the mouth, pulling a string, b) which jerked a ladle, c) tossing up the cracker inside, d) past a parrot, e) causing the parrot to leap for the cracker, f) thereby, tilting the perch, g) which tipped a bowl of seeds into a pail, h) which, due to its added weight, pulled a cord, i) which ignited a cigarette lighter, j) setting off a rocket, k) which caused a sickle l) to cut a string, and m) freeing a pendulum and causing an attached napkin to swing back and forth, wiping the diner’s mouth.
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