Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Television IS the anti-Christ

Posted on | June 19, 2008 | No Comments

Recently, my increasingly bitter divorce from popular culture hit a new low. In Boston. In a men’s room.
I was sidling up to the urinal, ready to do my business, when I realized something was talking to me. It was a television set, embedded in front of me, just above the urinal. It was set to CNBC, just in case I needed to know, as I was taking a leak, whether my investments were taking a dump. It was appalled. I was more appalled than when my local gas station dropped video screens atop the gas pumps (which really ticked me off, because my gas station affords a magnificent view of Mt. Tamalpais, now soiled by the audio blarings of marketing messages). My gas station, by the way, is better at putting in TV sets than it is filling the windshield-wiper reservoirs on each island. Go figure.
I pondered this sorry spread of video messaging into almost every corner of our lives as I sat on a six-hour flight from Boston to San Francisco aboard jet blue, with flickering TV screens all around me. They do a really good job of calming any nerves that might be jangled by incessant flight delays–I will give them that. Can’t get the plane off the ground but, here, watch endless chatter about the death of Tim Russert.
You can’t escape TV on Jet Blue, but neither can you escape it on the ground. Bars, restaurants, offices, bathrooms, gas stations, doctors’ waiting rooms. At first, I’d thought it was the triumph of Moore’s Law, making electronics cheaper and cheaper and end systems more ubiquitous. But it’s about advertising to you 24/7 (even as the effectiveness of TV advertising is falling). It’s insulting. It’s noisy. It’s anti-cultural.
Advertising is moving onto your mobile phone now too.
Pretty soon you won’t be able to escape marketing messages unless you’ve bought a wilderness permit and walked deep into the hills (even then, there will be a logo on your boots and sweater for all to see).
There is a backlash that should be louder, but it’s no fault of the backlashers. Why would major media flog Adbusters and risk catching hell from advertisers? Some public interest groups, according to a Wikipedia entry that lacks a citation on this point, are increasingly suggesting that access to the mental space targeted by advertisers should be taxed.
There’s a great thought!
I’m in a bizarre spot to complain about it given how much marketing focused our industry is, but it is what it is.
Whether these movements gain traction remains to be seen.
For now, sitting amid the flickering Jet Blue screens, I stare out the window past the left engine, illuminated in the setting sun, down toward the gloaming rolling over middle America. We’re flying over sadly soggy Iowa, where water has splashed out everywhere. A huge thundercloud poised above Cedar Rapids sparkles with lightning. Above, a gibbous moon hangs. As we float over the darkening fields, pools of water suddenly flash in silver light from the moon. It bursts through in fits and starts, flaring like distant artillery shells.
It’s a helluva show.
And no advertising.

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Comments

No Responses to “Television IS the anti-Christ”

  1. Loring Wirbel
    June 20th, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

    Only one thing to say:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6CgotCUtMo

    Well, maybe two:

    http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/1.htm

    Excellent post

  2. Lou Covey
    June 20th, 2008 @ 3:50 pm

    Maybe.

    Then again, William Shakespeare wrote his plays to entertain the masses, twisted history to portray English leaders as heroic (Henry V) and was considered the Aaron Spelling of his day.

    But he wasn’t the only playwright producing mass-media entertainment. He’s just one of the few that survived the test of history.

    There has never been a moment in the history of media that dreck was less than quality. I can see in my mind a time when a elderly bard was complaining to his young son as the latter was immersed in a scroll.

    “We’ve got 300 scrolls in this house and not a decent thing to read! If the oral tradition was good enough for my father, it should be good enough for you!”

  3. Loring Wirbel
    June 20th, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

    Or what about when pamphlets first came around, about the time of the American Revolution? “You kids these days have such short attention spans, those screeds aren’t any more than a couple thousand words, all that emotional ranting and fast channel-changing is going to leave you with no linear thinking left to enjoy a good novel. And don’t even get me started about that damned Laurence Stern…”

  4. Kerri
    June 20th, 2008 @ 9:18 pm

    I can’t tell if you’re blaming ‘television’ or ‘televisions’. Is it screen time that bothers you, or the content that you see on the screens?

    I would probably be annoyed if I lived in the kind of place that had screens everywhere. But we don’t even have a single billboard within the town limits, much less video screens in our loos. Sometimes, I look forward to the familiar blue flicker in places, because it’s exciting and new for those of us who aren’t bombarded all the time.

    If it’s the content of television, well, that’s a completely different tirade for me.

  5. Jeff in Oakland
    June 23rd, 2008 @ 3:41 pm

    I feel your pain. When my wife was pregnant we spent a lot of time in the waiting room at a doctor’s office. They had a 5-minute infomercial repeating endlessly on a big-screen set, at high volume. No controls accessible to the audience. I finally had to pull the plug.

    Here’s my solution:

    Gas stations, airports, and (apparently) rest rooms have too many video screens.

    Schoolyards, street corners, and many other places have video cameras — but nobody watching.

    How about if, while you’re stuck for a few minutes in front of one of those screens, you keep an eye on the neighborhood? See something suspicious? Press here and the video feed gets priority attention from the school principal, the neighborhood beat cop, or whatever.

  6. wretch
    June 28th, 2008 @ 5:32 pm

    The problem with screens in urinals, as I see it, is that the installers tend to mount them higher than I can arc a stream. So maybe it’s time to start carrying permanent Sharpies…
    Brian

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