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Volume 16, Issue 5 - January 31 - February 6, 2008


Back After This

Commercials are America’s best-attended school

by Pat Piper

At 5:52pm last Tuesday, every channel on my television (not counting HBO) had a commercial. Fox News, CNN and MSNBC were all selling something, as were the Baltimore TV stations and all of the Washington, D.C. stations. I was trapped. It was a convergence of that horrible Gecko, two turtles lauding the days of dial-up to get online and the always-happy-always-annoying Crystal Koons and her cars, among others, that sent me to the refrigerator for a beer.

In case you’ve been counting, in 1960 an hour-long television show had 51 minutes of content. This year, the content quotient is 42 minutes — or to put it another way, 18 minutes of commercials. This is progress, and if society continues to prosper, I bet we can get an hour’s content down to 30 minutes by 2020.

The Super Bowl, which used to have something to do with football, is selling a 30-second commercial for $2.7 million. The first television commercial — for a Bulova Watch during a Brooklyn Dodger game back in 1941 — cost $9 and ran 20 seconds.

This year, Fox television is carrying the Super Bowl, but the viewers won’t be able to afford anything offered in the commercials because rebate checks aren’t going to be sent until June. So we’ll have to sit through four hours of ads, which means a lot of folks will be getting up to get a beer. Makes one think they oughta sell beer during that time … but of course we wouldn’t see it because we’ve already left the room. Another missed opportunity.

Anyone with a pulse (and a remote control) understands that when a commercial for erectile dysfunction or a home security system comes on, the natural instinct is to change the channel as quickly as possible. We don’t like commercials. But as dumb as television station executives can be, they’re also smart enough to have conspired to run ads at the same time, thus forcing the viewer into picking one of the 1,279 30- and 60-second messages being aired. (The ad people don’t call them messages by the way — they say they are educating the viewer. I don’t mind being educated; just leave an option for Jerry Springer.)

The thing that is the most frightening about all of this education at the same time is that there are people who actually sit through all these ads, getting the entire education in total. Some might blame George Bush for some of the problems we have today, but I’m more inclined to the point the finger at the guy in the recliner watching non-stop carpeting ads four hours a day. It’s okay if he and his buddies stay in their houses, but the problem is these people actually vote.

People who study this stuff will tell you that we see more ads — television, billboards, magazines and, yes, newspapers — and we hear more radio commercials in one year than a person 50 years ago experienced in a lifetime.

And that’s good. We’re more educated now. Some of us are probably drinking more beer, too — but it’s not because we saw an ad for it on TV.

Pat Piper watches television 18 hours a day when he isn’t voting or buying beer. Since he’s originally from Chicago, he does both and often.

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