Saturday, December 16, 2006

Advertising Overload

A longtime advocate of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, I have, of late, begun to question the rationale supporting my position on these issues. One need only open e-mail or switch on a TV set to learn the reasons why.

Let’s face it! Spammers are a major pain in the ass, with their semi-literate subject lines, bogus return addresses and worthless messages that no one reads taking up mailbox space and wasting precious time. I have no idea what they might be trying to sell; I delete all of them, without exception, without opening.

And what about TV commercials? Most of them are so mind-numbingly stupid, loud and obnoxious that they make you wonder if anyone actually pays attention to them. Worse, they make you wonder if the people who thought them up have any brains.

Still, it can’t be denied that a few TV commercials have actual entertainment value.

Take this one, for example, from a few years back, which was a cartoon featuring an opossum hanging by its tail from a tree limb above a country road. The viewers (and, presumably, the ‘possum) see a bright, glowing yellow disk rising above the horizon. The ‘possum visualizes one thing, but in fact it’s something completely different. In the next scene, we see a truck motoring off into the distance, while the ’possum, still attached to the limb by its tail, makes a few orbits of said limb and gradually swings to a stop. Big surprise, eh, Mr. ‘Possum? (Anyone who’s familiar with the aerodynamic devices mounted atop the cabs of many trucks that ply our nation’s highways can appreciate the inherent humor of this particular TV commercial.)

Then, there’s this one, introduced more recently, in which a guy walking downhill trips, falls, and begins to roll, collecting garbage cans, pedestrians, a food cart and vendor, cars and an assortment of other odds and ends into a conglomeration that builds mass like a rolling snowball in its inexorable rush to the bottom of the hill. It’s the absurdity of the situation that makes this commercial so funny.

Or this one, which features a couple of talking crows that trick a human into walking into a closed patio door. As the crows yuck it up, one says to the other, “C’mon, let’s do it again!”

Although the humorous aspects of these few commercials are memorable, the products they advertise are not. I can’t begin to tell you which products the first two examples advertise; I’m totally clueless. The last example might have been an ad for Windex. Or, maybe, for that other brand of window cleaner. What’s it called?

The point I’m trying to make is that, as a society, we’re so inundated with commercial ads that some of us, and perhaps many of us, simply tune them out. Advertising, at once pervasive and persistent, is such a commonplace part of our existence that we've become immune to it.

Even though I deplore the thought of freedom-of-speech prohibitions for individuals and the various forms of media, I’d welcome it for corporate advertisers. After all, corporations aren’t people. And damn those Supreme Court Justices who, so many years ago, made it possible for corporations to behave as though they were.