A friend’s recent post on Facebook dredged up a pet peeve of mine. It’s still rankling around in my brain, so I thought I’d put it down here. Not my usual subject matter, but when I started this blog six years ago, this was its original purpose. (If you’d rather read about another amazing dinner event, click here to read the latest post on my food blog.)
Here’s the video that triggered my disbelief. You can watch it or not; it’s a bland little instruction manual about folding fitted sheets. It’s the very first line that caught my attention: “One of the biggest challenges you're going to face in your life is folding fitted sheets.”
Really? I mean, yes, many people do spend their lives mystified by this modern convenience, but if it qualifies as a major event in your life history, you’re pretty darn sheltered!
This strikes a nerve with me because it resembles the kind of statements you hear on tv commercials all the dang time. I think I’m particularly sensitive to them because, at an earlier stage in my life, I spent a surprising amount of time watching tv with no sound.
It was mostly at the gym, where I preferred to listen to music while tracking miles on an elliptical machine stationed in front of a battery of suspended screens. I might switch to a program that interested me, but was too preoccupied to bother channel-surfing, so got to watch plenty of commercials without their accompanying dramatic music or cheery narration. Often, I had to imagine what intriguing product might follow shots of dimly-lit rippling sheets, or the fascinating conversation two people could be having to lead one of them to suddenly flourish a tube of medicated cream.
Once this separation of narration and image occurred to me, it was permanent. So now, even with sound and picture running together, I still pay more attention than most to the smoothly delivered lines drilling into our nation’s subconscious day after day. Do any of these sound familiar?
“Now your pores can be practically invisible.” Since when has it become shameful for women to display the fact that their skin is a living, breathing organ? Are visible pores a sign of bad breeding or hygiene? Do women who replace their skin with plastic become better sex partners? Are wide pores on the TSA’s list of suspicious signs of terrorist involvement? I must have missed a memo somewhere.
“Keep tiny hands germ-free and healthy.” No. Just, no. Study after study has shown that children exposed to the horrifying messes of pets and—*gasp!*—the outdoors develop stronger immune systems and fewer allergies. Yet the makers of disinfecting products continue to meet success with the message that keeping a white-tiled, sterile home is the only way a loving mother would raise her children. (In spite of all the progress we’ve made, how many Lysol commercials feature Dad wiping down an otherwise spotless counter with a self-satisfied smile?)
“…the luxury and dependability you deserve.” Really? Do you know me? Have you seen the dirty dishes on my counter, the projects on my desk I’ve been putting off, or the unanswered emails required difficult decisions? It’s not like I’ve led the federal government to a new cost-cutting way of saving lives or feeding the homeless. I’m not Ghandi, Warren Buffet or even Mary Poppins. If my personal achievements aren’t relevant, it must be true that you believe anyone able to sit up and pay attention to a tv commercial is worthy of wearing a Rolex or driving a Bentley. So then, why don’t you just give me the damn thing, if I deserve it so much?
Go ahead, next time a commercial pops onto your tv, listen carefully to the assumptions it’s asking you to make. With practice, you too might separate from the party line, and suddenly find that your list of “needs” gets cut dramatically. As a bonus, you might even find some entertainment in these ridiculous sirens to our consumerist culture.
Although I have to admit, my amusement is tempered with frustration when I realize how thoroughly brainwashed most of my fellow citizens continue to be.