Saturday, December 02, 2006

Musings on a Commercial Nightmare.

Today as I was driving in my car, I caught a snippet of commercial radio. It wasn't the particularly abhorrent FM version, but rather the slightly less odious AM talk radio kind. Somehow it's comfortable to hear that sound of monologue stream through the scratchiness and fuzz of the inferior airwaves. I can relax and imagine I am living in a simpler, more innocent time that never really existed. It's a cozy feeling. I probably would have loved the days of the great radio shows, and FDR's weekly fireside chats.

Usually I don't even care very much about what's being said. That is... until I have to listen to some advertising. And I'm not talking about the local shilling for gutter covers or the anti-smoking hyponosis clinic. Those types are almost sweet in their sheer incompetence and lack of guile. I'm talking about the nationwide, slickly-produced commercials for automobiles and unnecessary consumer goods. I mean the ones with the inane jingles tested by focus groups, and the appeals to the sex drive and/or fears of whatever demographic group is most likely to buy the product.

It's difficult to get away from this commercial noise in our fast-paced, grasping society. Huge conglomerates sink obscene amounts of money in trying to exploit every manufactured "need" and desire in a rapidly narrowing marketplace. The amount of time and money that has gone into the development of advertising could well have stamped out hunger, cured cancer, and solved the Palestinian crisis. And what do we have to show for it all? A cupboard full of bubble-gum flavored mouthwash that is supposed to make some Swiss bimbo want to push her tongue down our throats... a new hip laxative that will give us all trim bodies with which to sprawl on the couch and watch Monday night football... a lead-based nutritive that will make us live to a hundred... In other words- DROSS... complete and utter slag. What we come away with from all this noise is simply a headful of slogans and branding.

And it's not enough to listen to public radio, or cancel your subscription to Entertainment Weekly. It's unavoidable. Just get in your car and tool down the "parkway". You are inundated by all manner of billboards selling shampoo, fast food, and lite beer. They even allow moving advertising... a selling tactic that means to distract your mind at 60 mph. Even the vehicles are moving billboards. Hell... just try to go to the park and escape into the wonders of pure nature, only to be confronted with packs of joggers wearing sweatshirts plastered with the names of athleticwear companies. Go to the water fountain and discover that you are quenching your thirst courtesy of the local electric company. The "tragedy of the commons" is big business.

It seems that so much of our attention in the US is directed towards "the freedom to", rather than "the freedom from". Why shouldn't your neighbor obstruct your view of the river with a monstrous billboard advertisement? It's HIS property, and it's a "free market". Nobody better tell him what to do with his land. But just as the founding fathers fought their battles for freedom from religious interference, we ought to consider standing up for our right to live without "consumer interference". I consider all this rampant commercialism to be nothing more than mental plaque. Ultimately it breaks away into the bloodstream and impedes the mental functioning of the citizenry. And how very un-American it is of me to say it.

I try my best to minimize the effects of advertising on my thought process. I avoid network and cable television both... I deliberately avoid glancing at roadside billboards... I don't go to the mall... I don't read the newspaper... I make myself listen to the "smoove jazz" of the local NPR affiliate... I don't look at joggers... I don't keep up with the fashions and fads of popular culture. And what do I get for my efforts? I feel completely out-of-step with the society I live in. People consider me eccentric at best. Why is it that I should feel like a freak for practicing a bit of restraint? Might it be that without all the peripheral noise, folks might take the time to create their own individual paradigms, and therefore have a bit more respect for mine? One need not be a communist or a Frenchman to see the threat of the unchecked spread of global capitalism. Just tune in to AM radio.

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