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Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Why We so Stupid?

If you look at TV for more than about five minutes it becomes apparent that its primary function is to sell stuff. That’s no big revelation; I think we can all agree. How does it sell stuff? One of TV’s most relentless sales techniques is making us all feel incredibly insecure about how we look and about how we live. The job of advertising is to make someone feel inadequate because they don’t have the product they are selling. We aren’t skinny enough, we aren’t tall enough, our hair is all wrong, our boobs are too small, our thing-a-ma-bobs are too dinky, and our car doesn’t have four wheel drive. We need to go shopping.

As much effort as the media people put into making us feel insecure and inadequate about everything else, they never chide us for not being smart enough. In fact, TV does a pretty good job of reassuring us that it’s OK to be illiterate. They don’t want to encourage things like reading which might interfere with your valuable TV viewing time.

I always ask people to name a single protagonist in a movie who is intellectual. The examples don’t come easily. On the flip side, it is easy to name movie heroes who are simple-mined, mentally retarded, or flat out anti-intellectual (every Adam Sandler movie comes to mind as an example of all three of those adjectives). Any actor who takes on the role of a mentally retarded person is almost a shoe-in for an Academy Award nomination. I think it would be more of an acting challenge, more of a stretch, for the current crop of Hollywood movie stars to portray intellectuals.

There isn’t much calling for actors who can play smart folks. We like our heroes nice and dumb and intellectually unthreatening—at least that is what Hollywood has been telling us. The one insecurity that TV and movies don’t prey upon is our lack of education. Could you imagine the sort of world we would be living in if people were as concerned for their intellect as they are about their thighs? Goodbye Joe Millionaire hello America’s Favorite Calculus Problems. I would think that watching a math professor scribble out an equation on a blackboard is at least as entertaining as what we now call reality TV.

We are only interested in the surface. It would take too much time getting to know something about a person before we would be able to judge them on their intelligence and erudition. It is so much easier to dismiss someone because they have the wrong kind of cell phone or because their jacket doesn’t say North Face®. It would be too hard for us all to monitor those people who have slacked-off on translating Homer from the original Greek. Instead of the current easy system of making a snap judgment about your fellow man simply by looking at the car he drives we would be mired in a quagmire of having to pay attention to things that actually matter. There also isn’t any money to be made in intellectual pursuits unless you are a cello instructor, or a playwright, or a mathematician, or a novelist, or a scientist, or an artist…OK, so there is a shitload of money to be made but it would be too hard to market.


#1 Jan 20 2004, 06:42 pm

Aye, some good points.
Y'know I was just thinking about how that Hollywood sign says a lot about the character of what it stands for.
It's cheap-looking, there's nothing behind it (just a surface), it's crooked and makeshift.
yak sox


#2 Jan 20 2004, 06:59 pm

My girlfriend, Sarah, has a degree in communications, and has spent her post-university time employed in advertising and marketing. Specifically, she has worked and a media buyer, and product marketing manager. So I have heard a lot of the ‘marketing speak’ and ‘ad lingo.’ Not unlike other professions, advertisers and marketers have developed their own vernacular to make the profession sound scientific. {Just so you know, I studied political science and work in IS/IT. Thus, I am well aware of language vagaries in these fields too}. While I have been critical of television (and advertising) much like Leftbanker here, I regularly critique the stupidity of TV and inanity of advertising—in front of Sarah. For both of us, it has become sport, not unlike MST3000 was to B-movies. Sarah takes most of my biting criticism with good humor, but sometimes it bothers her, especially as her profession is being ridiculed. Recently while decorating our living room she said, “We need a red accent chair in here.” Leaving the want verses need argument aside I said, “Red accent chair? Why red?” After some more discussion, where she attempted to defend her statement, I picked up one of several magazines lying on the coffee table and began to leaf through it. I found 3-4 pictures (advertisements) of living rooms displayed with red accent chairs. I then said, “Now please explain to me again—why do you think you need a red chair? Is it because it has been suggested to you over and over again!” For weeks after that, I pointed out every red accent chair I saw—on TV, in magazines, in restaurants and in stores. Finally she yelled, “Enough!” and I stopped. This is the power of TV (and of advertising) that I detest. That some of us—all of us—at one time or another cannot even discern the genesis of our own thoughts in the midst of the incessant noise.
Farmer Ned


#3 Jan 21 2004, 07:54 am

cannot even discern the genesis of our own thoughts in the midst of the incessant noise.

Well said, Farmer Ned!
kevin m.

#4 Jan 21 2004, 08:37 am

I dunno why, but I, a perfectly potent male who does not have "size problems,", find myself wanting a fistful of viagra and a penis enlarger. A curious and strange feeling...

That goddamn SPAM--how insidious. Since I don't watch tv except for sporting events, the dark lords of marketing have found other avenues and pathways to infect my mind.

Next thing you know I'll be driving an Escalade, wearing Dockers, drinking Bud Lite, and playing golf at the country club with my other SUV-driving, Dockers-clad, shitty-beer-drinking "buddies."

If that happens, please, please, please shoot me. I mean it.

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