Ya Ever Wonder Why?


Why television advertisements for hearing aids don’t have subtitles.  It seems to me they’re missing their target audience.

Why, after a murder, it’s always some jogger who finds the body.  I don’t trust joggers — uh — or people who walk their dogs, either.

Why single women in romantic comedies all have crap jobs but fabulous apartments full of cool furniture.  And how — exactly — are they paying for all this?

Why vegans always announce they’re vegan at parties.  Are they worried somebody’s going to accidently drop a pork chop in their drink?

Why English actors can sound like they’re American but, when American actors try to do a British accent, they all sound like they’ve got a carrot up their nose.

Why Johnny Depp resigned from The Too Cool Club.

Why people use the phrase “funny as hell.”  By all accounts, Hell isn’t the least bit funny.

Why Nala from The Lion King and Maid Marian from Robin Hood aren’t Disney princesses.  I think it’s a clear case of species-ism (specaphobia?)

Why a stress ball isn’t for throwing at people who stress you out.

Why algebra?

Why everybody cheers for the early bird but nobody has any compassion for the early worm.

Why people watch horror movies.  I fail to see how scaring the bejesus out of yourself passes for “entertainment.”  And that goes double for scary rides at the State Fair.

And finally:

Why, when you can be anything you want on social media, people choose to be stupid.


The “Unreal” World of TV Ads

adsI love commercials.  I think TV ads are cute, little, itty bitty movies.  So it doesn’t bother me that, for the most part, they’re lying to us.  Look, folks!  Like Skyfall, Terminator and Iron Man, they’re fiction.  Sit back and enjoy the show.

The thing that I don’t understand, though, is how TV commercials ever actually SELL anything.  The ads all exist in these weird-ass Never-Never-Land dystopias that can’t be a good idea to showcase the product.  For example:

Household Cleaners – The houses in these ads are filthy.  They’re disgusting.  Who lives there — trolls?  The furniture and floors look the family pet is a buffalo.  The kitchens are the greasiest, greasy combination of greasy-spoon diner and salmonella experiment known to humanity.  And the bathrooms!  OMG!  They’re covered in so much crud Gollum wouldn’t poop in there.  Even the worst hillbillies I know don’t live like that.  If you live in this kind of squalor, you don’t need “Extra-Strength” anything to clean it up; you need a match to burn it down before the Health Department shows up and does it for you.

Feminine Hygiene – Menstruating women are not that happy.  They just aren’t.  And if they do smile, it’s a lot more evil looking than in the ads.  It’s not a good idea to remind women of this.

Automobiles – Everybody knows the internal combustion engine is a dick to the environment and car ads prove it.  First they drive the SUV through a stream turning the fish habitat into mud pies.  Then, it’s up the mountain, in a 4-wheel-drive rampage to catch the sunset from the summit.  Perfect view!  Except they parked their three tons of automotive junk on a hundred-year-old lichen that just got its endangered species life smeared into the tread of an all-season radial.  Yeah, we’re not destroying our planet fast enough.  I want one of those.

Drugs – I don’t care what wonders the newest wonder drug does, the “side effects” litany scares the hell out of me.  Honestly, “may cause dry mouth, tremors, depression, heart attack, vomiting, internal bleeding, external bleeding, massive bleeding and your tongue’s going fall out” leaves me a little reluctant to try taking it for occasional arthritis pain.

Condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise etc.) – Nobody puts that much mayo on a sandwich.  It’s like they’re painting a barn — with a trowel.  The bread would be slimy, for God’s sake.  And take one bite and you’d have white crap shooting up your nose, down your chin and all over the room.  You’d look like a werewolf who just murdered an albino.

Snack Food – I don’t know anybody who delicately puts one potato chip on their tongue like it’s a communion wafer.  Nor have I ever seen anybody put chocolate in their mouth and suck it to death.  Nobody chews in slow motion, and not one person — ever! — eats just one cookie. Honestly, if people ate snack food like they do in the ads, they wouldn’t eat snack food at all — why bother?

And finally Yogurt – I can only dream that someday someone will look at me the way all women in advertisements look at yogurt.  There’s no possible way they’re not totally disappointed.

Television Commercials: A Misunderstood Art Form

I’m probably the only person west of Manhattan who likes television commercials.  That’s not strictly true: a long time ago, I met a whole pile of people in LA who built them.  I don’t know whether they liked them or not, but they certainly had a lot of fun making them.  I was actually in a commercial, once, way back when.  It was a horrible, boring ordeal.  I was Boy #4, who, with all the other young people, raised a beer bottle in the air and smiled.  I never saw the finished product.  (We didn’t have a television machine at the time.)  Actually, the only thing I remember clearly is getting totally pissed off with Boy # Whatever, who, after a hundred takes, still couldn’t grasp the simple concept: label out!  I’m not sure, but I think he went on to become a megastar as a TV detective.  Boy #4 worked hard that day.  His arm and smile muscles were sore from raising that bottle a million times, but it beat picking tomatoes out in the sun and turned him off beer for a while.  Anyway, despite the experience I like television commercials.  I think they are the most misunderstood art form of our time.

The root of the huge prejudice against TV commercials comes from the archaic notion that they are insidious, subliminal messages, forced on an unsuspecting public who then have no choice but to clamour off their sofas and conspicuously consume things.  This was a cute idea back in the Wonder Years, when Corporate America was the only bogeyman, and the root of all evil – real and imagined – was capitalism.  Unfortunately, many people still cling to this argument, even though we now have empirical (waistline) evidence that proves North Americans are not getting off that sofa, come hell or high water – no matter how many times they’re told to Swiffer.   In actual fact, ever since Uncle Miltie brought his transvestite act to Main Street America, via NBC, TV commercials have been an integral part of our electronic world.  They’re just as big a piece of our cultural heritage as the programs they sponsor.  However, prejudices are hard to break down, but if you keep an open mind, I’ll try to show you how it works.

Viewed with proper perspective, TV commercials are ingenious little stories that provide tons of information.   The writer, director and cast set the scene, introduce the characters, establish the conflict and offer the resolution — all in less than sixty seconds.  I know people who can’t tell a Knock-Knock joke in that time frame.  Plus, commercials cover the horizon from high drama to slapstick comedy, all within a prescribed storyline dictated by the product.  They have to appeal to the widest possible audience, and they must, regardless of whatever else they do, be memorable.  The mark of a good commercial is not whether it makes us laugh, cry, happy or annoyed; it’s whether we remember the name of the product or not.  In fact, many very good commercials fail because, despite their exemplary qualities of art on film, nobody remembers what they were made for.  The people who make TV ads work in a very tight box that most film makers would throw tantrums over.  Yet they produce films that remain in our consciousness long after the sitcom laugh tracks have faded into obscurity.  “They’re grrrrreat!” from Tony the Tiger™ has outlasted anything that George Reeves/Clark Kent/Superman ever had to say.

In essence, television commercials are little itty-bitty movies.  The only difference between them and the films of people like Ron Howard, Michael Moore or Oliver Stone are a couple more hours of digital tape.  Good movies and good commercials work exactly the same way.  They set up their own universe and remain true to it.  They work from a selected premise — be it romance, international espionage or toothpaste.   Then they create the story, always working towards a conclusion.  For example, lately, there have been a rash of commercials for air fresheners, as Proctor and Gamble duke it out with SC Johnson for family room supremacy.  The premise is we stink.  To hear the tale, our homes are as smelly as dead buffalo, rotting in the sun and there’s nothing we can do about it because these are common household odors.  That`s the conflict.  The conclusion, resolution or solution comes when somebody (usually mom) starts spraying chemicals around like Saddam Hussein going after Kurdish tribesmen.  Cinematic triumph: not unlike The King’s Speech.   Premise, conflict, conclusion: the basis of a big win come Oscar night in Hollywood.

Television commercials have never gotten much respect, and now with new media like pay-as-you-go TV, Netflix and PVRs, they may be lost to us entirely.  However, we need to remember that ever since the first guy paused “for a word from our sponsors,” they have been part of our consciousness.  So, before they disappear into history, next time House has a big decision and Ford™ or Febreze™ interrupts for dramatic effect, don’t run off to the bathroom.  Hang around and watch.  It might not be Lawrence of Arabia, but I guarantee you it’ll be better than Tron: Legacy.