Longtime Pencillistas know that I haven’t had broadcast TV since the mid-90s, nor have I had cable since, if I recall correctly, the late ‘Aughts.
Ergo, I’ve had very little truck with TV ads for at least a decade and a half or so. I do catch ads on radio. I listen to the sports talk station from Chicago, WSCR-AM. That’s how I learn how much I really need boner pills and a better system for betting on games. At this point in time, sports radio is solely about legalized gambling and erectile dysfunction, if one is to judge by the content of its ads. I also listen to NPR, meaning I’m constantly bombarded with reminders of how generous and altruistic the largest corporations in America are, seeing that they’re the biggest underwriters of public radio.
This past weekend, operating on a tip I caught from the redoubtable Don Moore via social media, I subscribed to a streaming service called Tubi. It has thousands of movies and television programs and is free. For instance, Sunday evening I watched Laurel and Hardy in The Flying Deuces and Richard Basehart and Jack Webb in the film noir classic He Walked by Night. I had scrolled down the list of Tubi offerings and was blown away, what with Stalag 17, Fail-Safe, the whole Peter Sellers Pink Panther franchise, In the Heat of the Night, Stagecoach, Notorious, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, at least two of the four Dean Martin-as-secret-agent Matt Helm spoofs, countless schlocky horror films from the late ’50s and the ’60s, and…, well, the list goes on.
At first I couldn’t figure out what the deal was with this Tubi stuff. Before I committed, I wondered how the company made any dough. My first guess was it would sell my metadata and, if I signed up, I’d subsequently forever be swamped by texts, ads, pop-ups, and — who knows? — midnight visits by door-to-door salesmen.
Turns out the Tubi biz model is advertisement-based. Any movie or program on the channel will be interrupted at odd times by a string of ads, just like broadcast TV was back in the ’90s and, I assume, still is today.
Since I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, I’m quite accustomed to commercial breaks on TV, a hardship, I’d guess, that would be unbearable for younger generations today. There isn’t, to be sure, a Skip Ads button on the screen, lower right. I can picture a 20-something saying Fk this! and switching back to TikTok where there are no such breaks. Natch, they’ll be Ignoring the fact that the entirety of TikTok is an advertisement of some form or another. So, I suppose they’re right; it’s like saying there were no sudden showers yesterday because it rained from morning until night.
To tell the truth, I sort of appreciate commercial breaks. I get to run to the bathroom occasionally and stop off at the fridge on my way back because there’s still some cold pizza left from last night.
So, here we are in the third decade of the 21st century and what are advertisers trying to sell us? Lo and behold, it’s the same shit they were flinging at us in, say, 1968. To wit: that we Americans are the stinkiest, filthiest, grodiest, most messy, germ-infested, pest-ridden fat slobs this side of a frat house.
For pity’s sake, every single part of our bodies, inside and out, and all the surfaces within our homes, as well as every article of apparel that touches our skin is no more clean than the reservoir beneath any given port-a-potty at the conclusion of the annual Pitchfork music fest.
But there’s a product to ameliorate every stain, spill, or stink imaginable. The blades of our ceiling fans, the floor tile near our garbage pails, our hair, our fingernails, our breath, our armpits, and our female parts all are fouled beyond belief but — thank Christ in heaven — there’s a bottle-ful of chemicals, a treated wipe, a spray, or a specialized detergent that’ll make any and all pristine once again.
A side note: advertisers have been hammering women that their nether parts are malodorous and un-fresh since at least the late 1960’s. That’s when Madison Avenue realized women’s junk emitted a distinctive aroma. The ad men were compelled by their very nature to portray such scent as hideous so as to sell females mists, scrubs, and perfumes to mask it. Leading me to wonder why men’s junk isn’t similarly branded. I mean, I’m as clean as all get-out but I’m fairly certain my boys south of the belt line don’t quite smell like freshly baked apple pie. Aren’t there millions — hell, billions — to be made marketing male hygiene products?
Anyway, I’d forgotten how ridiculous — no, deranged — TV ads are and always have been. It’s no wonder Americans are a neurotic, obsessed mess. The very fact that we’re alive makes us as delectable as a plastic trash bag filled with putrid fruit and chicken bones.
We don’t care at all for ourselves anymore and TV advertisement surely has played a major role in our meta-alienation.
But products in gaily colored plastic bottles are our only redemption. One commercial I saw during the Laurel and Hardy movie showed a young women who proudly proclaimed she uses Febreze™ on her sofa cushions every single day. Another women was shown unloading her laundromat dryer and when she pulled out a towel, she was so drawn to its fresh smell that she buried her face in it and appeared to experience an orgasm.
We like to tell ourselves we’re 23 times more sophisticated than the dopes of the 1960s were. This is the internet age after all and everybody knows about dangerous chemicals and subtle advertising manipulation. Why, there was even the much ballyhooed Mad Men premium soap opera a few years ago peeling back the curtain on how ad agencies hypnotized us.
Yet, even today, we’re still desperately afraid we’re a foul, rancid, noxious, funky mess.