The Beauty of Commercials

I love commercials. One is not suppose to love commercials. One is suppose to sigh heavily whenever a commercial comes on and grumble about how long they are and how many there are, etc. etc. etc.

But I don't. I appreciate commercials. There's a huge difference between sitting down to watch an hour program, with commercials, and sitting down to watch an hour of movie. And, at least on weekdays, I go for the former over the latter most of the time.

What is great about commercials is:

1. You can multi-task like nobody's business.

During commercials, I cook dinner, read books for class, work on the computer. I can even clean, feed the cats, rearrange furniture. You can't do any of this stuff and watch an hour of movie (unless you've already seen the movie and just want to pop back in for the good parts). With commercials, you can get all kinds of work done AND watch your favorite shows.

2. Some commercials are very, very funny.

For a long time, my favorite was the cellphone guy. No, no, not the "Can you hear me now?" guy, but the rather ordinary fellow who would show up in people's homes and fix their bad cellphone connection problems. He's still on, but I don't like the commercials as much anymore. My favorite was when the farmer order a "herd of oxen" and got a "hundred dachshunds" instead. There's this great shot where the cellphone guy is standing in a field and all these dachshunds go scampering past. Marvelous.

I find car commercials rather boring, although I was getting a kick out of the cars-bouncing-the-ball-around commercial, but then they changed the music and I thought that ruined it. Prescription medicine commercials are dull in general—just a hairline away from life insurance commercials. I confess I love the NY American Express commercial, although I can't stand American Express (the card). I think the commercial is a lovely tribute to New York City--sponsored by a capitalistic, money-grubbing credit card corporation. Isn't America great?!

I don't mind the gecko for Geico but I've never quite got the duck.

Anyway, commercials are fun, and funny commercials are great and well worth the thirty seconds.

3. Commercials reaffirm my belief in the intrinsic sophistication of human beings.

No, really. According to the people who get upset about this sort of thing, Americans don't know their history or their states or their capitals, etc. etc. etc. Americans are supposedly dopes about politics. They supposedly don't have a brain in their heads.

And yet, they can grasp rather subtle commercials, without blinking an eye, like the woman in the rowboat who is hooked up to one of those parasailors and rowing as fast as she can.

We take stuff like that for granted. We are accustomed to ironic imagery. It's like going back to the days of the Ancient prophets and "getting" Isaiah without realizing that understanding Isaiah is suppose to be tough.

Commercials are very complex. In thirty seconds, you get a lesson in communication. The point of the commercial has to be made, it has to be made effectively, the imagery has to support the point, the joke has to work, and it has to work on a broad enough level that at least most of the viewing audience will grasp it. Commercials often depend on a kind of self-deprecation (in Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy Sayers points out the odd conundrum that good ads are almost always written with the tongue "planted firmly in the cheek" while ads written with a sincere belief in the product come off as stale and flat). Irony is at work. Cultural icons are at work. Symbolism is at work. And your ad company, advertiser and viewer take this all in without batting an eye.

You could argue that viewers aren't analyzing the irony and the juxtaposition of imagery or asking why a commercial is funny. You would probably be right. But the beauty of the right brain is that it all works anyway.


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