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But You're Too Late! Welcome to the Latest Mass-Media Hysteria
In saner times, pop culture's minor successes are allowed to prosper in obscurity. People who've discovered a TV show (or a band, movie, whatever) can relish their membership in an exclusive club, as the object of their fandom is unknown to the outside world. Those who aren't likely ever to become fans are permitted to live in happy ignorance of it. The eruption of media attention to Comedy Central's South Park in recent weeks shows how far we've come from sanity. Everyone's a loser for it. South Park cultists lose the pleasure of feeling that the show is their little secret. People who might have liked the show are turned off when it doesn't live up to the hype. And probable nonfans who'd have been happy to ignore the show feel called upon to actively dislike it. After all, it's harder to adopt a live-and-let-live attitude when other people's bad taste is foisted on the culture at large by multiple cover stories. Adding insult to injury, people who weren't yet familiar with the show (i.e., most of the population) are told their interest is tardy. Even while devoting three pages to South Park, a story this month in Time solemnly informed us that the show "already seems to be running low on imagination." So, the time frame has been so compressed that a show can go from major discovery to has-been in almost the same breath. Look: If a cultural phenomenon's 15 minutes of fame truly last just 15 minutes, won't people decide it's a mug's game to care about such ephemera? If we miss this month's Event of the Decade, another will come along next month.

Check It Out: In Which Librarians Are Queried (Quietly)
Amid widespread concern that we're becoming an aliterate society, plenty of people still use their local libraries. Granted, they're not hounding the librarians for Proust, but at least they're reading something. A recent study conducted by Library Journal put John Grisham's The Partner atop the list of adult fiction that circulates most briskly. Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes led the nonfiction rankings. The category termed "popular fiction" is (befitting its name) the most popular type of book, followed by mystery and romance novels. As the chart indicates, the rise of the Internet is driving people to the public library, not drawing them from it.

In: What Do Brains, Cigars And Kids Have in Common?
Next time you're annoyed by someone's stupid behavior, inform the miscreant that such antics are uncool. A Roper Starch survey on what's "in" finds 76 percent of respondents conferring that status on "being smart." Indeed, smarts are eclipsed in their in-ness only by blue jeans (cited by 86 percent of respondents), the Internet (83 percent) and female athletes (77 percent). Kids (74 percent) are nearly as in as gourmet coffee (75 percent), even if they're the more likely of the two to keep people up at night. Also achieving in-ness are such unlikely bedfellows as ethnic food (69 percent), the supernatural (58 percent) and motorcycles (54 percent). "Playing a musical instrument" graces the in list, too (50 percent). Those of you who can't wait for Casual Smelly Stoned Friday will note that khakis (47 percent), cigars (47 percent) and marijuana (42 percent) are clumped together at the bottom of the top 20.

Big-City Sex: (Almost) Nobody Here But Us Temperate Souls
If Washington has become Sodom on the Potomac, at least New York isn't the Gothamorrah on the Hudson people imagine it to be. New York magazine has conducted a survey among the city's single and footloose--a.k.a. those age 21-40 who are not currently engaged in a "serious relationship." Asked what percentage of the time they have sex on a first date, 48 percent said "never" and 21 percent said "seldom," versus 10 percent saying "often," 8 percent "very often" and 7 percent "almost always." Asked to say how many sexual partners they've had in the past year, 73 percent of women and 45 percent of men said two or fewer, while just 1 percent of women and 4 percent of men placed themselves in the 15-to-50-partner range. As you can see from the chart, male and female respondents differ somewhat in the chief qualities they seek in a romantic partner. But both genders have the good grace to insist they're looking for attributes that go more than skin (or wallet) deep.

Mixed Blessings: As Hope Shuts Out Reason, A Delusional Sales Pitch, Shipboard Romance, Etc.
Need to win credence for an implausible sales pitch? This is the time of year to try it. As a new baseball season gets under way, millions of otherwise rational people are willing themselves to believe in possibilities that oddsmakers would rate as sucker bets. It's the time of year when hope--not yet ground into the warning-track dust by losing streaks, injuries, disastrous road trips, et al.--overrules common sense. Thus, we come across Philadelphians with elaborate scenarios in which the Phillies nab a wild card berth, Tigers partisans who can make the starting rotation's likely wins add up to 80, Brewers fans who are convinced the league-switching team can ambush unsuspecting pitchers in the senior circuit, etc. Amid such credulity, these consumers are not in a position to scoff at an advertiser's claim that a brand is new and improved. If some guy believes the Devil Rays can sneak into the playoffs, who is he to say Gloppex won't brighten his teeth or prevent leaks in his basement? For a few weeks, anyhow, these folks have relinquished the high ground of skepticism.
Honors this week for Best Plate-in-the-Head Joke in an Ad go to Woody's Fairly Reliable Guide Service of Rainy Lake, Minn. The theory behind this campaign: People who hire fishing guides want some eccentricity for their money. Created by Russell & Herder of Brainerd, Minn., the ads indicate Woody will not disappoint in that regard. The motto at the bottom of each ad: "Highly experienced. Mildly delusional."

And So To Bed Ads. People know from experience that promises relating to bed aren't always to be trusted. So an ad for Bloomingdale's (created by its in-house creative staff in New York) goes beyond the "sweet talk and false promises" with which others try to lure you into bed. "We'll give you a commitment"--indeed, a "Comfort Guarantee." On the other hand, if you want a bit of privacy in bed, you may be alarmed by another vow in the body copy: "We stand behind our mattresses."
"I took my geoduck to Puyallup." If you've lived in Seattle, you'll know how to pronounce the impersonal nouns in that sentence. You'll also know it makes no sense. But what if you've just arrived from a foreign country to play for the Mariners? A new TV spot for the team shows veteran slugger Edgar Martinez instructing the foreign-born rookies in how to enunciate phrases they'll need for life in the Pacific Northwest--including such terms as geoduck (a giant Puget Sound clam, pronounced "gooey duck") and "double tall latte." In another spot, a kangaroo court finds outfielder David Segui guilty of usurping the manager's seat on the team bus. His punishment? Scrubbing the team's mangy-looking moose mascot. Copacino Creative of Seattle devised the series.
Tell a tale about a boat and you'll elicit polite interest. Tell a tale of passionate romance on a boat and you'll sell a zillion tickets. If it worked for Titanic, maybe it can work for the S.S. Nobska. At any rate, that's the tack Wenham, Mass.-based Mullen takes in an ad aimed at raising funds to restore New England's last remaining steamship. Worth a try.

West Vs. The Rest: Basking in the Warm Glow of Their Friends
Perhaps the proximity of sunshine counts more than the proximity of Ma and Pa. As you can see from the chart, Westerners are far more likely than Americans in general to rate the climate as a big drawing card where they live. But, since lots of them left the old folks behind in the Snowbelt, they're less apt to enthuse about having family nearby. Conducted by Sunset magazine and Roper Starch, the survey doesn't tell us how many people enjoy living where they do because their relatives are thousands of miles away. (Perhaps just as well.) It does reveal that family ranks well behind friends when people enumerate the things they like about where they live. Among other info-tidbits in the study: Westerners watch considerably less TV (26.5 hours a week) than do people in the U.S. as a whole (31.1 hours).