Y’know, I’ve long held that people are idiots.
But that’s easy to say. What’s hard is finding a good tool for proving it.
One of the gauges with which I measure the idiocy of people is television. More so than movies, and more so than music. Eminem’s success notwithstanding.
Of course, there’s some movies on television. And some music, too. Then there’s music in movies. All that probably skews the results.
But this isn’t science. It’s inference. And I’m okay with that.
Now, before I start, let me acknowledge that we haven’t resolved the question of whether TV reflects our culture, or directs our culture. Do we like the things that we like because we see them on TV, or does TV just show us what we already like? Do we respond to the commercials because we are the idiots that they think we are, or because we are turned into idiots by the subtle influences of mind-numbing, homogeneous pablum, and we become the consumer drones they need us to be?
What we do know is, it works. If it didn’t work, if the demographic suppositions about television shows were wrong, and the ads that were running during the show didn’t really appeal to the people watching the show, the products wouldn’t sell, and they wouldn’t waste millions of dollars running the ads, and the ads would disappear. The fact that they are pumping millions of dollars into those ads infers, if not proves, that people are idiots, because they must be responding to the ads; because these marketing execs may be foul, but they’re foul and smart. They’ve got this crap down to an art.
So if the ads you see on TV are designed to actually appeal to the mentality of the people that are watching the show, and you see a “snap into a Slim-Jim” ad on Big-Ass Time Wrestling Federation Smack Down Thump-fest Mania, and again later on America’s Funniest Home Rescues, you can freely assume that the same kinda people that watch Big-Ass Time Wrestling Federation Smack Down Thump-fest Mania watch America’s Funniest Home Rescues, and that they are assumed to like Slim-Jims.
You won’t see Lexus commercials there. You won’t see Macy’s ads there. You’ll see Daewoo and Kia ads there. You’ll see Bryman School of Orthodontic Assistantship and Dog Washing ads there. You’ll see K-Mart ads there. And if you’re seeing these ads, if you’re watching these shows, you, my friend, fall into that demographic.
Of course, if this were science, we’d ask for causality. In other words, if what I believe is true, it infers some mechanism by which the advertisers can measure the relationship between showing a particular dumb-ass ad, and the increased sales of their dumb-ass products. And although certain paranoid delusionals may argue to the contrary, nobody really knows what you’re watching on your television. So they can infer, from an increase in sales after the launch of an ad, that the ad works.
But how can they know?
Those mysterious, privileged groups of select citizens, chosen to best represent a cross-section of our diverse culture, ushered into plush screening rooms where super-secret cuts of unreleased commercials, films and television sitcoms are beamed onto a silver screen, and extensive, revealing personal profiles are assembled from interviews and delicately structured questionnaires.
So I’m in the mall the other day, and this pimply faced kid with ill-fitting loafers and a wrinkled dress shirt with the folds from the package still in it walks up to me with some hand scrawled notes on a lined yellow pad on a dirty clipboard, and he asks me how I’m doing.
We quickly assess my age, my general income, and will I answer a few questions and watch a little TV for an easy five bucks, all paid for by GM?
Pay me to watch TV? Have I died and gone to Heaven?
So he takes me into a little office in the back of the mall and into a small room with one door, a VCR and TV, a computer monitor, and a two-way mirror, and escorts a fat chick in a black dress in to join us.
Suddenly, this is looking kinda kinky, and five bucks is looking like not enough money.
The two of them ask me a bunch of questions, and then inform me that they want me to watch some commercials to gauge my response.
I see a yogurt commercial, an applesauce commercial, one for a Chevy car, and an Advil spot.
“Do you remember the car commercial?” they ask.
Yes, I respond.
They ask me what car it advertised. Malibu, I say. Or Monte Carlo. I’m not really sure.
He sighs. “Let’s look at the ad again” he says. We look at the ad again. I have failed.
It was the Impala.
“Now do you remember the car?” they ask again.
Impala, I say.
This time I pass.
They want to know how the commercial makes me feel, on a scale of one to five. One is good. Three is neutral.
“You can just say three” he says.
Okay, three. I just want my five bucks.
They ask how I feel about the character in the commercial. One is good. I can relate to him. Five is bad. I think he’s a “loser”.
“You can say three” he tells me.
Okay, three. I just want my five bucks.
Finally, they hand me three sheets of paper with a list of words. “I was supposed to ask you about these earlier,” he says. “I forgot. Just check off the words that match how you feel about the commercial. You can leave a bunch blank if you want. It doesn’t really matter.”
I check some off. He gives me five bucks.
I’m not sure if GM knows any more about their Impala ads. But I have five dollars I didn’t have before, and I don’t even feel dirty.
But the cool thing is that now I have a new insight on my tried and true mechanism for gauging the idiocy of the American populace, and I feel a little better. Because, you see, while the commercials that play during my favorite show may suck, and may be offensively belittling to their apparently intended audience, they don’t necessarily reflect the nature of the actual audience.
When you see the Chevy Impala ad, what you’re seeing is what the fat chick and the pimply kid thought a 40-something year-old guy with bad knees and no money who doesn’t want to buy a car might want to see, after they’d hurried him up to answer the questions so they could get to the food court and grab a Squishy and a Cinna-Bon. So now I can watch Big-Ass Time Wrestling Federation Smack Down Thump-fest Mania and America’s Funniest Home Rescues and know that I’m not necessarily the kind of person who buys curly fries and shampoo because the Ho in the commercial is bump-grinding to Eminem in short-shorts and a halter-top made out of baloney.
I might become that person if I see it enough. But I didn’t start out that way.
The television doesn’t necessarily reflect our idiot culture. But it may very well direct it.
Because, don’t forget, the audience is still a bunch of idiots. My mind hasn’t changed on that.
We just may not have been born that way.
And I’d have paid five bucks to know that.
That’s it. That’s all I got.