The telemarket

On Monday, I discovered I could get my fake news fix by flipping the telly to more4 at half eight. So after only about three years of watching a small, blurry Jon Stewart streaming on a computer screen, I finally got to see the multiple Emmy-winning television comedy show on a television set, in a non-replayable, non-sharable, transcient one-off existence, stripped naked of the magic of social networking. My 30-minute regression back into the age of stupid, un-interactive TV.

Nonetheless, I felt a palpable sense of fulfilment. As if I had scored a ticket to see Les Misérables live at the Queen’s Theatre after watching it a hundred times as a half-baked high school production. Irrational sentimentalism, I hear you scorn. A lust for a familiar past fuelled by a rejection of a disillusioned present. A step backwards into an age of passive subjugation, when television viewers were mere unobstrusive sponges, with programme schedules indelibly clocked into their systems like cogs in their mental gearboxes.

And I’d accept that. My excuse is that I’m a historian. Well, I did the degree at university. So close enough. Can’t really dole out contingent interpretations of the past without some unfathomable infatuation with it, can you?

Regardless, yesterday evening, at precisely thirty minutes past the twentieth hour, I duly plomped down onto the sofa and began mesmerising myself with the tube. The show was alright – a couple of good gags and a light-hearted David Gregory interview. Not the best, not by a long shot, yet completely satisfactory.

But Jon Stewart wasn’t what caused the swirl of thoughts in my head that brought me to my laptop. Rather, it was what came in between his comforting  repartee on the bad news of the day. Advertisements.

It began with an innocuous-looking old man speaking to the camera. Bespectacled, with a head of gray and wrinkled face, he was the wise elder, the learned scholar and the conscientious scientist all at once. Algae, proclaimed scientist Joe Weissman, was the future of green energy, and he was leading the way in ExxonMobil’s research on this promising project. Ah, how comforting to know that one of the leading energy firms (see: funder of climate sceptic groups and trailblazer in condoning gender and sexuality discrimination) is so overtly concerned with telling Britain that they are spending good green money.

The screen then cuts to a bedroom. A father wraps an arm around his daughter, holding up a picture book and reading her the bedtime story. It begins with a disarming touch; a cartoonish rendering of a gaggle of cute farm animals, gathered in some impromptu pow wow about the Animalist Seven Commandments.

But then we get in close to see their faces. Trickling tears, forlorn faces. Maybe Old Major had just left for the great farmland in the sky. And blast, it’s the humans. Fouling our atmosphere and creating this terrible soot monster who comes with the clouds, flooding and drowning all beneath it with its rain. Yet all is not lost, over four-tenths of this fouling can be cut if good boys and good girls switch off their lights when they don’t need them. Maybe.

Right on cue, the girl delivers the cringe-line. “Is there a happy ending?” Brrr, that might have actually stifled global warming for a week or two.

Unfortunately, more4 was very quick to disappoint her. Almost immediately, a jovial female narrator declares that “millions of people in the UK” couldn’t care less about fairy tale endings, prefering instead to “collect air miles”. And they do it by doing just about anything else, like “groceries, petrol…almost anything really”, while accumulating the mileage to receive free flights, including airline taxes fees and surcharges”.

Quite a sequence of commercials. Three different philosophies with regards to climate change rolled off one after another in just as many minutes.

Sure, scheduling television advertising is not quite an editorial process, and 2003 Communications Act doesn’t say you can’t screw your viewers minds with mutually incompatible commercials placed in immediate succession of one another. In fact, why not the hell not; they all paid good money to buy a good airtime slot, and we’ve given it to them so they can’t run off crying to their solicitors to seek redress, let’s fuck them over all at once and have a good laugh about it. It is after all, a 30-minute comedy slot for a highbrow audience who knows their irony well.

Or maybe I gave Channel 4 a wee bit more credit than they were due. More likely to be the case was that the scheduling process works solely on a commercial logic; you get what airtimes you paid for, even if your advert can lay claim to less credibility than the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Clever design or base human nature? Not sure which interpretation I prefer better. Probably the one that’ll give me more site visits.

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~ by spiegel2071 on October 10, 2009.

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