The other night, at approximately 9:20, the phone rang. (Most people, I think, consider 9PM to be the cut off time for calls.) Still somewhat mindlessly, and without checking caller ID (who doesn’t screen calls these days?), I picked it up and immediately heard someone, identifying herself as “Julia,” cheerfully informing me that my number had been selected by Marriott to receive ….” It went no further; I hung up. Now, I don’t like cutting people off: I do feel for phone solicitors (except when they are computers) obliged to make cold call after call, only to be rebuffed time and again. But, on the other hand, why must we be subjected to the phone ringing repeatedly each day, being interrupted by people I have no intention of – or interest in – talking to? I recognize privacy has become a relic of a bygone era but still… (By this point in writing this piece, my phone has already rung on three separate occasions!)
We’ve all had to live with commercials throughout our lives, accept them as an inevitable feature of the environment, understand them to be the very lifeblood and driver of a highly advanced consumer society. And truth be told, we’ve often been amused and entertained by advertisements (thanks to the creative people behind them). Memorable slogans remain lodged in our minds (“Just do it,” “Fly the Friendly Skies,” “Breakfast of Champions,” Don’t leave home without it,” Reach out and touch someone,” “You’re in good hands”). And certain ads have stayed with us, e.g, Coke’s “Mean Joe Greene” (1979), or Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” (1984). Still, while I imagine I’d come to terms with the reality of commercials, I find, these days, I’m losing patience. Here’s why:
• Besides bills, my mail box each day is stuffed with flyers, coupons, circulars, leaflets, offers, solicitations, “gifts,” i.e., readily disposable junk mail.
• There is an unrelenting torrent of phone calls. Even the cell phone, which once seemed to serve as a barrier, has been breached. They’re coming in there as well as over my land line. Each day typically begins with a flurry of early morning calls.
• I’m watching TV and about to face what I know is a lengthy string of commercials. Reluctant to sit through them I switch to another channel only to discover it is simultaneously featuring its own series of ads. I’m stuck!
• I enter my local movie theater and, even before the coming attractions begin, I’m staring at the screen, watching an extended series of ads by local merchants.
• I’m pumping gas at a nearby Exxon-Mobil station when suddenly a screen lights up alongside the gauge. Why – it’s GSTV (gas station TV), featuring its own “stories,” accompanied naturally by ads.
• I’m a baseball fan, listen to many a game. Commercials between innings I can live with, but now, announcers regularly interject ads between pitches or during the many stoppages on the field. It definitely mars the mood.
• Worse still are the “breaks” during football telecasts. The time devoted to commercials overwhelms the actual play by play of the game itself. Indeed, football coverage can be considered as primarily a series of ads punctuated by the occasional action out on the field. (While average NFL games feature scores of commercials, play action, by one calculation, usually consuming a mere eleven minutes.)
Could it be that I’m merely grumpy these days, unwilling to accept the “realities” of commercial clutter in contemporary America and the fact that the “bucks cannot stop,” otherwise the economy will falter. Can you “buy” what I’m saying?