"I like commercials," a co-worker once told me. "Without commercials, I wouldn't know what to buy!"
The number one reason I don't have television in my house is: commercials.
We live submerged in a sea of commercial speech--advertising, marketing, images designed to catch our eyes, tunes designed to stay in our heads all day. So why is television advertising especially bad?
First of all, no other form of advertising commands our attention so totally. We are watching a show, being entertained. Maybe we are laughing, relaxed, or maybe engrossed in a mystery or on the edge of our seat with suspense. We are tuned in. And here comes a commercial. Maybe we get up during the commercial break to get a drink of water or let the dog in, but not always. And the advertising message that is presented to eyes and ears at that vulnerable time is very likely to get through.
Now, I know you think you are an adult human being with free will. You laugh at the commercials, and at the idea that they could influence your behavior. Besides, at the worst, it's only costing you money if you buy the products they sell. Right?
First of all, as a Robert Heinlein character says, "Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal." We don't know why we do things. We do them and then we make up explanations that make sense to us in the context of our beliefs.
Second, when we follow the directions we receive from the commercials, we end up much worse off. I can't prove the extent to which television has contributed to the problems our society is facing, but I believe that there is a connection between the billions of collective hours spent passively absorbing strong, coercive messages and the collective tendency of Americans to flock together in actions that are harmful to us as individuals and as a society. Overeating, SUV's, McMansions, war, the widening gap between rich and poor, the widespread pursuit of happiness through consumerism--these are just a few examples.
It is a cycle, too, because one of the main products TV advertises is itself.
Tune in tomorrow for more ranting...