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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    No time for commercials

    When I was a kid, commercials seemed just as vivid and interesting as any of the shows they surrounded. Whether they were for toy cars, toy dinosaurs, toy guns or sugar-stained breakfast cereals (or, as I like to call them, “”toy food””), commercials on late ’80s kids’ television were loud, brash, noisy and rather fun, just like the products they advertised.

    Like most kids, my enjoyment of commercials eventually cooled with time. It was part of a steady, if prolonged, disenchantment with television that culminated last summer, when I decided to try to do without it for a while.

    Not long ago, feeling that enough was quite enough, I started regularly watching television again. Then came an interesting discovery: Where once I had found commercials either mildly entertaining or mildly irritating, I now found them positively horrifying to watch.

    There were so many of them – their presence so all-pervasive, so impossible to ignore – that they seemed every bit as “”real,”” so to speak, as any of the shows they paid for. Watching any given show, you were invariably subjected to a handful of commercials over and over again – a dozen times or more in an hour. They were as relentless – and often as loud – as an approaching freight train.

    Sometimes I would leap for the remote and jab the mute button when they came on. But there were just too many of them, and apathy usually won out over nausea.

    Other people, I soon noticed, weren’t bothered by the commercials; even those who didn’t like them were rather bemused by my violent distaste for them. Most television viewers learn to zone out, I suppose, but after a year off I found it impossible to ignore them.

    It took me a while to put my finger on why exactly I found them so hard to stomach: They’re all trying to sell you something, and they won’t shut up about it.

    Well, duh, you might retort. That is, certainly, the point. Commercials all seem to reach out and grab you by the throat. Their company is, in some ways, as diverse and interesting as a crowd of people at a party – except that they’re all salesmen dressed up as people.

    Even commercials that seem flat and unstylish have their “”hook.”” The hook usually turns out to be the phone number, which the commercial’s narrator repeats a few times. I had always assumed this was for your convenience in case you wanted to write the number down, but I suspect it’s actually to implant the number’s rhythm in your mind, making you more likely to call.

    Local commercials invariably feature a chorus singing the store’s name, often in an improbably joyous tone – Sleep America, Jack Furrier’s Western Tire Center, Precision Toyota. Apart from that obnoxious touch, they’re usually cheap-looking and devoid of the kind of blaring salesmanship that marks the more expensive ads.

    I was once telling a professor of mine how I couldn’t get all those commercial jingles I heard when I was a kid out of my head, how often they would pop to mind unbidden. “”You have demons boozing in your brain,”” he cracked, quoting Baudelaire.

    Those demons aren’t about to go away. But watching the usual avalanche of commercials one night, I realized something that gave me a faint gleam of hope.

    More and more commercials have next to nothing to do with their subjects. The best ones are like miniature skits, usually involving someone in a discomforting situation, with an almost arbitrary tag line that goes something like “”See what happens when you don’t have insurance?””

    These are commercials that are trying, as hard as they can, to hide the fact that they are commercials. These are commercials made by people who know what it’s like to be irritated by blaring, crass advertisements. Their existence means that more and more Americans are growing fed up with commercials, to the point where major companies are bending over backwards to assure us that they’re not trying to force us to buy anything.

    That’s a major step in a country where we are all subjected to regular lectures from on high about the glory of the “”free market”” and the invariably noble ends of big business. As usual with Americans, the power of ideology is no match for the power of irritation.

    -Justyn Dillingham is a history and political science senior.

    He can be reached at

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