I don’t know at what point I stopped listening to the television and started hollering at it. By now, my roommates are used to my outbursts, and to the fact that I seem personally offended by every commercial for a product that promises me shiny hair or tells me that iced tea is the beverage of people who care about life.
“Oh, so drinking beer makes me sexy? Huh? Drinking beer gave me this gut. I’m shaped like a keg now, thanks to beer. Is that sexy? IS IT?”
Sometimes I’ll even leap to my feet, although it’s usually on my way to the fridge to get another beer. While I hate most commercials, I won’t deny their effectiveness.
I would like to think that my hypersensitive awareness of the insidious evils of advertising has made me a more intelligent consumer, but mostly it has just made me more annoying to watch television with. Last week my boyfriend complained that even when he is watching tv alone, he hears my shrill commentary in his head. “So all I really needed in order to find inner peace was vanilla-scented deodorizing spray! Who knew?” he’ll hear me snarl as he watches, even when I’m across town at the time.
I am particularly fond of spelling out the implied messages in advertising, and stating them with withering oversimplification. “If I buy that car, attractive women will give me coolly appraising glances when we are both stopped at a red light. Then we will drag race in the Alps. Oh, and I should be wearing ‘breathable’ contact lenses, because at some point, my eyes have apparently started breathing. Also, I should only use toilet paper that has been approved by cartoon grizzly bears that don’t wear pants. Gross.”
I’m certainly not immune to the power of suggestion, and sometimes that is fine. Watching someone on tv pour a tall frosty glass of orange juice occasionally makes me think, “Mmm, orange juice”, and I can handle that. I’m happy to think about orange juice any time anyone wants to bring it up. It’s delicious. However, things I don’t want to think about most of the time include but are not limited to: super-absorbent paper towels, erectile dysfunction, heartburn, older couples who have overcome erectile dysfunction and heartburn, David Caruso, itchy, flaky skin, and Mimes. (I don’t see a lot of mime-related advertising, and frankly I’d like to keep it that way.)
Perhaps this is what really bothers me. When you watch a show on television, you are choosing to be engaged by that show. It is probably a specific kind of show; hopefully not one that stars David Caruso or mimes. (I jest. I am in fact obsessed with David Caruso. David, if you’re reading this, email me.) In any event, while you get to choose the show you watch, advertisers get to choose the commercials you watch, and you have no choice but to give your attention to their topic of choice—unless you go instead to the fridge for orange juice, or mute the television. It is this lack of choice; this forcing you to dwell suddenly on acne medication or low-fat peanut butter, that I resent, and this is why I make trouble.
I would like to add that despite my skepticism and aversion, when a commercial actually manages to be entertaining, without being patronizing or smug, I’ll give it credit. I have been known occasionally to laugh out loud, and even offer a grudging, “Ok, that was funny.” So I’d like to think that I’m a tough but fair audience. Just don’t tell me that I should be giving more thought to whether or not my toothpaste kills all the germs.