Democracy beware! TV titans and the marketing industry are gearing up to sap our will and make Americans more passive than ever. Their ultimate goal: the breakup of American character followed by the commercialization of the American soul.
This is TV’s negotiating time with advertisers. Networks and advertisers are meeting this month to plot the reinforcement and intensification of our mindless absorption of TV commercials. It seems that not enough of us are sitting comatose for hours of non-stop consumerist reverie. Too many of us, apparently, are getting up from TV sets to stretch our legs and use the bathroom. The industry is also upset at us for muting the commercials and wandering off to have a beer or acknowledge a family member.
According to a report this week in The New York Times, TV titans are planning changes to please advertisers that include integrating the actors and actresses from the programming into the ads, as well as simultaneously showing more ads with the programming. The goal, one marketing executive said proudly, “is to blur the line between content and advertising message.”
Thank you, TV land, for blurring that line and making the impaired vision of more Americans your policy contribution to national health. That vision thing that democrats talk about is overrated anyway. What’s so bad, other than enriching Wal-Mart, about being compulsively acquisitive and addicted to a stream of erotic impulses to buy more plastic storage bins to keep our junk in?
Fortunately, the TV content itself, such as Desperate Housewives, The Sopranos, and various reality shows, is not trying to sell us anything, unless it’s the idea that life is primarily a dumping-ground for relationships and an uneven playing field of winners and losers.
After years of ponderous thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that TV commercials are our ruination. I used to think that democracy’s decline had to do with the loss of old-fashioned self-reliance and the need to stop every fifty feet or so for a red light. But now I know (in my own mind, at least) that TV commercials are the culprit. They heighten our sense of deprivation and keep us in a state of secret longing for what we don’t have. What’s the big payoff for us?
The commercials feed our emotional addiction to the feeling of emptiness, just as, sure enough, the debt of consumerism empties out our pockets.
Let’s pretend we’re not quite that screwed up and that our shopping carts are not piled high with illusions of entitlement. Let’s make believe we’re not tracking through a no-man’s parking lot of impulses, sensations, and compulsions without a sense of interdependence or belonging. What shape will we be in when the tough-love GOP comes out with its 2008 political TV commercials, no doubt designed to further reduce American character to jittery Jell-O?
Advertising has been toying with our emotions to foster desire since the 1920s. What would we do if the commercials ever stopped? The void in our lives would be devastating, like highways without gas stations. All the logos, brand names, and cool things through which we relate to the world would abandon the cultural landscape, voiding our identity. The impulse to spend money would desert us, and we might feel obliged to save the cash and use it to reclaim the country from foreign holders of our debt.
So when the Nielsen Company calls to see if we’re being good Americans and watching all the commercials, it’s important to say, “Yes, please keep them coming. I watch them all the time. Make them better, more powerful. Blur my vision so I won’t be distracted or frightened by reality.”
Some of us, however, might feel it’s worthwhile to resist the commercialization of our soul. When watching a program we like, what do we do then when a commercial break comes on? Abiding by an 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not watch commercials,” seems a bit rigid. It’s probably better to become conscious of our circumstances in the moment: “Oh yes, it’s me, I’m alive and well, emerging in this moment from my stupor here in front of my TV.” We can then close our eyes and try to recall our name.
We can also ask ourselves, “Is this commercial worth seeing for the 100th time?” Or we might say instead, “How about if I mute the sound and get up and do 50 sit-ups before plopping back down with my popcorn.” (I’ll pass on that one.) A better option: “I’ll mute the sound, pace around the room for a bit, and consider what my part can be in stopping George W. Bush’s reign of terror.” Yes, it’s true: Freedom from commercials is reportedly that empowering.