During a pause from mowing the other day, I couldn't help but notice the radio at a nearby construction site. It was turned up loud, so that those nailing on the roof, those spreading cement in the garage and those installing pipes inside could all hear it. Half a block away I listened as the station moved to yet another commercial break. Busy with the house I suppose, no one moved to turn down the not-so-subtle messages from that morning's sponsors. Up and down the whole neighborhood rang the clear broadcast, forming a strange addition to the still edge-of-town soundscape.
Normally I can't stand advertisments. I admit that an occasional ad will strike me as funny or even well-done. But most of the time, I rave within (and without) as advertisers deal whiplash juxtapositions at each television climax, rupture nearly every magazine story, shout at me from within the car, ogle at me from outside the car, clog meager dialup bandwidth, leave stupid comments
on my website...
But this time I just listened, wondering. It seems most people have adjusted to the advertisement-sponsored status quo better than I have. As I filled my string trimmer with gasoline, I wondered if the builders up on the roof were listening or not to the local car salesman describing his wares. I was. Maybe my brain stem's noise filter is less developed than most, since I rarely have the radio or television on. Or maybe, others just don't mind marketing as much as I do.
When I got back to mowing, these thoughts and more came jumbled together. Traditional advertising is easily censored. Media companies are free to reject any ad material
they don't feel comfortable publishing. Currently, media companies get larger and fewer, and "comfortable" gets more intolerant of dissent. A thirty-second spot isn't much, but it could be one way to buy a voice in places where none is otherwise given. What if this voice is deemed too "controversial" to broadcast, innocuous (and even beneficial) though it may be? Think of some controversial topics - the war in Iraq, the death penalty, anti-abortion laws, starving Terri Schiavo, the definition of marriage, hurricane response, global warming, ill-received cartoons, free will versus predestination, iPod versus some other gadget, patching the jeans or throwing them away — you can just imagine the fervent blogging. What if the big media does
decide to cover one and only side of an issue? Having television commercials for breakfast and bedtime story, reading the billboards on the way to work, turning the radio on for company: these are passively received signals. I can not surmise how a bias in this signal would affect society. But could this bias be offset in an equally unsolicited way, should censorship prevail in these media?
As I mercilessly chopped down every blade of grass that stood out from the rest of the yard, I wondered why spam couldn't be accepted as an alternative, uncensorable form of advertising. I did once get a mass e-mail from some strange fellow who had a lot to say about giants in the Old Testament. It was strange. I questioned the sender's psychological integrity. I never figured out what was his point. But that spam did not end up in the trash. It still sits democratically with all my other messages, stored for the day when moth and rust get to my data for the final time. What if people e-mailed their opinions to everybody, instead of waiting for the magical combination of search terms to lead the active seeker on? Your TV show, after these messages. Your e-mail, intersperesed with these thoughts from your sponsors. Call it push-style blogging, the latest triumph of our World Wide Mobocracy.
Perhaps an alternative plan for spam
is simply to make spam more entertaining. But just like everything else the marketers lay their hands on, I feel the overall aesthetic would be appalling.