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Ad Pollution

When we watch television, we expect to see a certain number of commercials. It's how we pay for the undertaking. Television is not free; it costs a little bit of our innocence every time we hear a sales pitch. Plus $25 per month. In my house, there is a magic button that protects us from contamination. We call it the muter. Regardless of what we do to defend ourselves, though, it seems that we cannot escape commercials, which aren't just for television anymore.

The other day (not that day, the other day), I walked into 7-11 to spend $21.50 on a $20 bill. While the ATM checked to see if I was good for it, the screen turned into an advertisement. A commercial. Scared the hell out of me. It was a trailer for some movie with that I'm-a-handsome-actor voice that narrates every movie blurb. Now my $20 bill was costing me $1.50 and a little part of my soul. I was stranded without my muter.

Later that day (not the other day, that day), I visited the grocery store for provisions. It beats the hell out of hunting in the hills. Mainly because the hills are filled with tract housing, and there is little non-human game. From the intercoms flowed a classic Simon and Garfunkel tune. I love those guys. I began to hum along while I laded my basket, when suddenly the music stopped and out popped the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy. It wasn't a remix of the song, but another bloody commercial. The Doughboy was giggling about overlooked carbohydrates. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so traumatic if I wasn't actually enjoying the music.

Unloading my goods at the checkout stand, I reached for a divider and found that it too was trying to sell me something. The innocent little divider had become a billboard for milk. I didn't know that milk needed to be advertised. It seemed such a natural part of life, like air. Yet there it was. Milk for sale. Got scruples?

I stepped outside and into a corporate conspiracy to "get my business." Where did I get this business, and how can I get rid of it? A man passed by wearing a Microsoft Windows T-shirt. Perhaps he would take up a fund for the Bill Gates charity. On a television inside a bar, a Dodger outfielder moved to the warning track to catch a fly ball, but all I could see was the Target sign on the stadium wall. And the Valvoline emblem on the corner of the big screen. And the Coors sign flashing overhead. I was beginning to feel a bit jaded. Me ... jaded.

I turned to Blockbuster, where I might rent a commercial-free video. Alas, my naive Jasonson, there is no such thing. You will find clips at the beginning of the video to advertise its soundtrack. Wasn't that the protagonist dying in the final scene? You will watch 15 minutes of previews for other movies, most of which have subliminal messages. Whether or not they "work," your mind absorbs the garbage. This does not include product placements throughout the movie.

There was no sanctuary. I looked to my friends, the trees, but in my delirium they appeared to be a Starbucks coffee shop. Wait a minute. They were a Starbucks coffee shop. I drove into a fast-food restaurant, where they offered me a Star Wars Happy Meal. Ah, the mother ship of marketing orgies: Star Wars. We are never more than 100 yards from Star Wars fruit bits, Star Wars bath towels, Star Wars hiking boots, Star Wars action figures, Star Wars passive figures, Star Wars toilet paper ... I think they even made a movie out of it.

In my not-so-humble opinion, Corporate America has turned our lives into a retail circus, and we play the part of the clowns. How I long for a place -- any place -- free of ad pollution. A park bench where I won't find a life-sized picture of Wesley Snipes. A sky where there isn't an airplane towing a sign for Bacardi. I understand that a company must advertise its wares and compete for its "market share"; but our competitive spirit must have eaten after midnight because we've created psychologists who spend their brilliance on "consumerism," PowerPoint experts who chart our "buying behaviors," all of them working to get our business and ensure the well-being of the beast.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that some small fragment of our lives should be off-limits. Turn around slowly right now, wherever you are, and notice how many "spots" you see, corporate logos and slogans and pitches. Kind of disturbing, huh? I'm not sure where -- or how -- we draw the line, but draw it we must. Otherwise, you may walk into church this weekend and find your pastor in a Nike cap saying, "And the Lord said unto Moses, Do it, my son ... Just do it."

P.S. I didn't really want to write this column, but I couldn't pass up the stipends I received from 7-11, Simon and Garfunkel, Pillsbury, Microsoft, the Dodgers, Valvoline, Target, Coors, Blockbuster, Starbucks, Lucas Productions, Wesley Snipes, Bacardi, and Nike.


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