Hello. I’m Howard Gray, and this is Adventures… : a monthly email digest offering you different lenses to better understand yourself, your work, and the world.
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No one wants to admit they do it. The stigma is too strong. And what if someone caught you in the act?!
But I reckon you’ve done it. Maybe you even love it.
Perhaps, like me, you’re a closet narcissist. And you can’t resist that forbidden fruit.
Yup, Googling your own name.
My latest self-interested browse came up trumps. In the image results there's still no trace of me posing in an off-pink, off-the-shoulder 70s dress from the deepest confines of my Mum’s closet (full disclosure - I was 8, appearing in a school play as Greek goddess Aphrodite).
Over in the main search results, I’ve recently overtaken a number of notable namesakes. There’s the illustrator who’s returned to the craft after many years as a doctor of genetics; some character from that TV show ‘Lost’; a sports nutritionist at a Texas university; and priest Howard Gray of Ohio, who died last year at the age of 92. All those holy obituaries obviously provided some solid SEO gains. RIP.
Top of the tree now sits my own website. My inner narcissist is flexing like a modern day Adonis with an internet addiction and tight hamstrings. There’s just one problem. At the right hand side of the page sits Google’s ‘Knowledge Panel’ - and someone else has taken up residence.
It’s the Aussie-born record producer named Howard Gray. For several years I’ve received sporadic bits of this guy’s fan mail, or an erroneous requests to produce a random band’s new album.
On top of this, if I try and ‘claim’ the Howard Gray Knowledge Panel I get a stark computer says no:
Google won’t even entertain www.howardgray.net. Instead, the only link is to the home of 90s reggae/dub/dance band Apollo 440, of which my namesake nemesis is a founding member.
To really rub my nose in it, I once paid hard currency for a 12” vinyl of their biggest tracks, the now-listening-back-it's-frankly-pretty-awful Van-Halen-sampling-pseudo-jungle hit ‘Ain’t Talkin ‘Bout Dub’.
I want my money back.
Speaking of narcissism, I’ve long tried to flex my Spanish language skills. However, my first date with Jacinta remains etched in my memory. We were at an Argentinian restaurant for a parrilla, aka a gargantuan spread of grilled meats. I smoothly ordered in Spanish, hoping to charm her with my suave approach to sweetbreads. The waiter looked baffled, then responded in perfect English. Jacinta raised an eyebrow. Flex denied.
Meanwhile, my Spanish tutor Ana tried to cajole me into watching DVDs of various Spanish and Argentinian movies, but even Almodovar classics felt like a slog. And after we moved to NYC, my Spanish plummeted from borderline B2 to barely bumbling. I blame delayed PTSD (the P is for Parrilla).
Fast forward to today though, and international TV & film are all the rage.
There’s Money Heist, Parasite, The Bureau, Fauda (strong recommend), and of course the irrepressible Squid Game.
Productions that were at best niche successes are now breakout global hits posting crazy numbers. They’re becoming full-blown cultural memes, complete with merch lines, video games and sub-Reddits galore.
This has inevitably stirred up a lot of commentary. A couple of weeks ago Scott Galloway emailed his apparent 1m+ subscribers with a whole riff on the topic called ‘Stream on ‘22’:
“[Netflix] is now investing in original programming in 40 countries and has produced original scripted shows in 20 foreign languages. It’s spent more than $1 billion on Korean content alone. This year the company has either built or announced plans to build two production facilities in South Korea, offices in Canada, Italy, Colombia, and Turkey, a production hub in Sweden, and a full-service post-production facility in India. In each country, Netflix hires content executives to commission work from the local creative community.”
My best guess at why this shift seems to be happening so suddenly? We’re desperately seeking escapism; travel; windows into faraway lands and exciting cultures. We’re yearning for those slices of life.
But here’s the thing. In Brazil, 89% of viewers watched breakout French hit “Lupin” dubbed rather than with subtitles. And the number of US viewers watching dubbed shows has tripled in the past 3 years.
I’ve found myself wresting with this.
On the one hand, dubbing isn’t so bad. Voice actors are talented performers - the level of production has improved a lot in the last few years, and they deserve success. Besides, subtitles can over-simplify; stripping away some of what’s spoken.
And frankly, subtitles can be hard work. In month one of fatherhood I was so raddled with sleep deprivation I couldn’t spread cream cheese on a bagel, let alone watch a mind-bendingly complex Danish thriller with subtitles.
On the other - and going beyond subtitles being an important accessibility option - there’s so much lost in translation when the original language is removed. The original actors’ craft is diminished. Those little inflections disappear. Body language paired with dialogue doesn’t connect. Local locations, food, and customs lose their lustre. This is the texture - and it’s vital.
The loss of texture is also apparent in our still semi-cocooned Zoom world. A lot of stuff is just… well, flat. We don’t have world-class voice actors to come to the rescue. The texture’s gone. And we badly need it back.
Texture doesn’t just elevate our experience when it comes to escapism.
It elevates how we learn, and our ways of seeing the world. And when combined with pop culture, it’s incredibly powerful.
Many people credit subtitled TV & movies with helping them learn foreign languages - especially when it comes to the subtleties of local lingo.
But they’re not just for non-native tongues. My frequaintance Henry has a lovely project called Turn on the Subtitles. It’s fiendishly simple - kids learn to read more quickly and effectively if the subtitles are switched on by default. So Henry’s lobbying broadcasters and streamers to do just that. The project has really taken off in the UK and Europe, and they’re now starting to make moves here in the US.
Up until the final draft of this piece, I was a staunch subtitler.
But maybe I was too hasty to say I Ain’t Talkin' 'Bout Dub.
Because the exciting thing here is we can have both. There's a convergence of mediums; of local and global; text and audio; hot and cool. There’s scope to create accessible and engaging content and experiences of all flavours - and to encourage people to choose which way they want to go.
There’s a new era of Educational Entertainment and Entertaining Education - both capital and lowercase in style. A new wave of Edutainment.
The stigmas are disappearing.
Just don’t Google your name too often.
Thanks for reading, and as always I’d love to hear what’s on your mind, screen, plate or radar right now. Just hit reply.
Bits from the Bureau
Links, kinks, and other high jinks. Here are the best things I’ve been digging into recently and wanted to share with you.
From last time
Last month’s edition took a dive into mimetic desire, through the lens of none other than cult movie classic Trainspotting. Here’s a wonderful behind the scenes photo essay >
In the replies: “Interesting thinking about desire imitation from the Courage to Be Disliked/Adler angle of all problems being interpersonal/comparison problems. Desires and our wants are driven by others - just like our misery, insecurities, pain etc. #balance”
The 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23-Year-Olds Who Work for Them: The article is worth a read, but the comments section is where you’ll find the real action. There’s ageism. Tragic 30 somethings worrying about being cool (ummm....). Gen Z accused of not being able to see the world from multiple perspectives, and using social media to weaponise their very specific worldview (then again, how many of us could see the world clearly from multiple angles when we were 19? Yup - thought so.). Anyway, if you can get beyond the paywall then dive in - it’s an interesting one.
Career Hot Streaks: Nor reserved for the geniuses, nor even those who focus intently on one thing. Instead, it’s a combination of wide exploration followed by some deep exploitation (in the most positive sense of the word).
Web3’s freedom fallacy: Perhaps you’ve been poking around Web3, DAOS, NFTs, Blockchains, and Metaverses. Or perhaps not. Either way, there’s a ton of potential, hyperbole, cash, confusion, and opportunity. A heady mix indeed. This post’s reality check is much-needed. Pair with this takedown of Naval Ravikant and Chris Dixon’s podcast talking up web3. (Note: I am working on a couple of web3 projects right now…if you want to exchange notes let me know)
Teensy Magazine: A project from my local area. Teensy is a 32-page mini magazine, spotlighting the best of the local neighborhood, with stories promoting small businesses, all shared from teens’ perspective. This reminds me of The $1k Challenge my pals Gary and Christina ran at SVA here in New York. The world needs more local entrepreneurial projects with a focus on storytelling...
Start Up Song: Product Marketing at its best. Harking back to the days of Jobs & Woz in the garage, and using constraints for creativity. Here’s AG Cook making a song from Apple system sounds.
The Problem with the 9.9%: Why America’s upper-middle class works more, optimizes their kids, and is miserable. While this doesn’t feel solely specific to the US, there are certain societal constructs here that seem to amplify it like nowhere else...
The Beatles - Get Back: I’m not sure why all this footage was hanging around for 50 years, but hey (jude). Here’s the trailer to an upcoming documentary that looks appropriately fab.
A selection of music from the Front (now), the Middle (the forgotten recent past), and the Back (way back in the time)
Front: Yard Act
Picking up the mantle left by The Fall, Yard Act are one of those bands that can only really come out of Northern England. Their debut album is out in January, with a big tour to boot.
Middle: Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
Now sadly no more, Wild Beasts are one of my very favourite bands. Here’s what most people believe to be their finest album, Two Dancers. One for the ages, and great production too.
I was going to share Sasha's 1995 Essential Mix, but it's full-tilt (ok, here it is anyway). A more appropriate pairing is the stylish and refined Northern Exposure mix albums alongside John Digweed. Still sounding fresh 26(!) years later.
Other things I’ve been up to this past month...
- Building: a very hefty trends report on Edutainment 3.0. Holla if you want to take a look
- Streaming: some live sessions on YouTube and LinkedIn. This week: creating a 90 min workshop using 5 pieces of paper and a marker pen.
- Switching: context. A lot.
- Awaiting: my parents’ arrival in NYC next week. It’s the first time we’ve seen each other in nearly 2 years. I hope they won’t be disappointed. I should probably get a haircut
Thanks for reading...
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Adventures… is brought to you from the desk of Howard Gray