I’M ALL GROWN up and pragmatic and everything, so I understand that product placement in television programming is de rigeur these days. Networks must make their money, and selling countertop space in sit com kitchens to Kellogg and doughnut bag logo spots in police shows to Krispy Kreme keeps those poor, struggling media companies from having to raise bucks through bake sales and fund drives.
But as a viewer, I have something to say to the advertisers who hawk their goods not only during the commercials, like normal capitalist pigs, but also during the programming, like sneaky little devils, and to the producers who allow this sort of sideways marketing to infiltrate what used to be vaguely entertaining or informative programming. I have, in fact, three somethings to say.
One, I notice. And I don’t notice in a “Oh, Rory Gilmore is driving a Toyota Prius, I like Rory Gilmore, I think I’ll go buy a Toyota Prius” sort of way. I notice in a “Man, this Gilmore Girls show is now about as enjoyable as reading the car advertisements in the paper, it must obviously be on the skids if they are this desperate for sponsors, and I don’t want to watch it anymore” sort of way. For example, I can no longer endure the “Fox 9 Morning” show on KMSP-TV because it is one, long, inane advertisement for the same network’s American Idol show. To listen to the hosts prattle on and on about Idol, you’d think that what happened on that blasted show is actually of some sort of interest to the rest of us—of more vital interest than, say, what Mayor Rybak has to say about the future of the city or what the Uptown protest marchers has to say about the war in Iraq. Get that incidental stuff out of the way in 30 seconds or less, would you? And let’s get back to another seven-minute segment on what happened on American Idol last night. Isn’t Simon so mean?
Two, I have stopped thinking that programming producers produce either entertainment or news. Clearly, they produce advertisements. Your news shows include clips sent to you by sponsors, which you run as if they were objectively gathered news. Talk shows only talk about other shows, movies, and music produced by their in-common media giant parent. Sit coms include long, lingering camera close-ups of Uncle Ben’s Rice and Quaker Oatmeal. So don’t expect me to help you pretend that prime time is entertainment when it is actually advertising. And don’t, please don’t, expect me to pretend that the news is still news. How dumb do you think I am?
Three, if you think I’m that dumb, then I’m gonna call you “dumb,” too. Well, maybe not dumb. But perhaps twisted, unhealthy for America, and evil. I realize there are only five of you huge monster media companies out there, and you all go to lunch and play golf together, and I understand that my little rant won’t have you quaking in your boots. But a woman has to stand for something, and I’d like to stand for programming being programming and commercials being commercial.
You advertiser-producer bedfellows are going to drive this country to do something drastic, like start reading books. Uh-oh. There’s a whole new frontier for the likes of you media conglomerate synergists.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Luckily, I could easily tell time because I was wearing my Citizen 200 Meter Chronograph watch with titanium case and bracelet, only $400 online.”
“Howard Roark laughed. Probably because he was watching The Comedy Channel.”
“ ‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. Luckily, Amy and Meg and Marmee had just been to the Gap at the Mall and walked in the door carrying armfuls of packages.”
“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf stream and he had gone 84 days now without taking a fish. Then he tried a Bass Pro Shops Rick Clunn Signature Series Baitcast Reel.”
Charles Dickens, Ayn Rand, Louisa May Alcott, and Ernest Hemingway would never have sold out. And as soon as I save this on my Apple iBook, check the address on my Treo, and submit this article over Comcast, I’m going to Google you networks and find out who really owns you.
This appeared on the Op-Ed page of the Minneapolis StarTribune March 23, 2007.