Dec 3, 2013

Commercials Suck Cess

[It is appropriate at this time to address what some might characterize as the inappropriate.  Many years ago, while slowing for yet another toll on the Chicago Skyway, I heard an anonymous Citizen's Band user opine, "Profanity is the crutch of the conversational cripple."  It was somewhat in this spirit that Blasphemes long ago adopted an unofficial guideline regarding profanity, obscenity, vulgarity and any other "-ity" that might cause consternation for some, due either to their long-standing principles or simply because they suddenly found themselves the parents of young children. 

For the most part, we at this site try to avoid the overt use of some of the more widely acknowledged offensive words.  Some of us --and by some I mean me-- often do little more than pointedly substitute alternatives which are, when viewed objectively, every bit as ugly as the words they replace but for some reason are subjectively seen as somehow less impolite.  Every now and then, though, bringing a word in off the bench just won't do; one needs to keep the starter in the game.  This post contains multiple examples of one such instance.  After all, the proclamation that profanity was the crutch of the conversational cripple was quickly followed by the rejoinder, "Talk dirty to me, baby.  I LOVE IT when you talk dirty to me."]

posted by killre

So, I heard a commercial on the radio the other day...

Someone once told me I had forever changed their perspective on radio commercials simply by uttering the word writing. I regarded it a fairly casual utterance at the time (heh, rather than a causal one).  I'd not yet realized I was one of but a few who actually gave much thought to such things.  Still, I have no doubt that the great majority of people, were they to stop and think for all of 1.59 seconds, would easily recognize that radio advertisements are scripted.

There are essentially two reason why most of us don't fritter away such an enormous chunk of our lives pausing to consider it.  Both reasons might factor into a given example, but for the most part they work independently of each other.  Curiously enough, despite their exclusivity, they are almost equally effective in shielding us from the bottomless nightmare that is critical thinking.

The first one is called, by the people who give names to such things, a willing suspension of disbelief.  The unwieldy length of that label is strikingly indicative of just how little thought our species has given the phenomenon, because that mealy mouthful of syllables describes a truly ancient development in the psyche of homo sapiens.  In fact, it may predate the sapiens part.  I'm not a paleoanthropologist, but I don't think it wholly whimsical to suppose this development came soon after enough members of the genus homo figured out how to control fire.  Simply put, we like to be told stories.  So fond are we of being told stories, in fact, that we frequently and readily dial down our skepticism when being told one.  We know, on a level almost instinctive, that nothing spoils a good yarn quite so quickly as poking our mental fingers into the weakest points of its fiber.

The second reason people don't give a second thought to how a commercial is cooked from scratch is far more familiar.  It is commonly referred to as I wasn't really listening.  This speaks to a much more recent development in our collective psyche:  As much as we like to be told stories, we dislike them ending with someone trying to sell us something.  Just as readily as we dampen our skepticism for the first reason, we avert our attention for the second.

As I alluded to earlier, we sometimes do both in quick succession.  This is why we can often remember what happens in a given advertisement, but can't remember, you know, the advertiser.  (Serves 'em right, anyway.)

Such was the case the other day when I heard the first part of a recorded message that was neither a song I liked nor the banal banter of one of the local morning zoos.  A woman who sounded a lot like Allison Janney was reciting a list of things we could all do to become friendlier drivers and thereby, I don't know, foster world peace or something.  No doubt the list ended with buying a particular brand of gasoline-- because the sale of petroleum products has done so much to advance world peace in recent decades.

Near the top of the list was something about using one's turn-signals.  I think we can all support that, at least in theory.  I'd guess the overwhelming majority of people, if pressed, would agree at least in principle that using turn-signals = good; not using turn-signals = bad.  In fact, I'm such a proponent of turn-signal use that my own attitude on the matter would be more accurately described as: use turn-signals = good; don't use turn-signals = you are an unmitigated asshole who is so overflowing with assholishness (wait... assholiety? assiety? ashiety?... no, I'll stick with assholishness) so overflowing with assholishness that you have to go out of your assholish way to vent your assholishness in a multitude of small and ultimately cowardly assholish ways or you won't be able to sleep at night for all the poisonous assholishness still coursing through your system, asshole.

Further down the list was an item about not honking one's horn as soon as the light turns green.


There are a number of reasons why a radio commercial might be badly written.  In my mind, they all stem from two causes.  One: a significant percentage of people who write radio commercials never dreamt of writing for a living and therefore would never dream of trying to be any good at it.  Two: another significant percentage wanted to write for television, but weren't good enough.

Most of the time the flaws are merely cosmetic, like another recent advertisement for a local dating service (typically, I can't remember which one) that told me --oh, yes, told me-- that I was "sick of the whole bar scene atmosphere."  No, what I'm actually sick of is people not just using, but recording for posterity, terminology like bar scene atmosphere.  In the given context, scene and atmosphere mean the same thing.  I'm also sick of people telling me what I'm sick of.  After all, it depends greatly on the bar in question.

Occasionally, though, the chinks in what someone probably convinced themselves was carefully crafted copy are more substantive.  Consider what it reveals about the author of the gasoline commercial, for instance, that they place the burden of courtesy on the would-be honker rather than the, um, honkee.  If there is a line of cars waiting at a red light, and the light turns green, and none of the cars move, it is the fault of just one person: the one driving the lead vehicle.  There that person sits, [Insert here a long list of possible activities that doesn't include paying attention to the stoplights.  You know... driving.  Feel free to use the comments button to suggest one or two, be they insightful, humorous or revelatory.] or any number of other actions that are self-involved, likely trivial, thoughtless and ultimately irresponsible.  It is the person who has apparently forgotten --just since their last stoplight, I might add-- that green means go who has succeeded in [screwing] up a small part of everyone else's day.  The guy two cars back who gives his horn a couple of toots (a toot sweet, as it were) is merely calling attention to it and, in doing so, trying to limit the causal effects.

(For the record, I very rarely honk, blow, toot or otherwise sound my horn in traffic.  I have a blog for that.)

P.S.... Dan "Dislikeable If Only For Porking Hannah Storm" Hicks must go.

1 comment:

Cthulhu said...

I count to 5 before honking at the light. Horns on automobiles sold, shipped, or operated withint 25 statute miles of Boston, MA should be removed, use of said offensove device publishable by community flogging.

There areany erudite, eldritch, and perfectly cromulent curse words out there eager for use. For as much profanity as I myself use, I agree with the initial supposition; swearing can lead to lazy speech.

Mine own personal quest to to make "abscess" happen in place of such derogatory comments where "asshole" is currently en vogue. Assholes are great things. But no one wants or needs an abscess.