11.10.11

You Turn Me Off



Television free for two years.  TWO YEARS.  I always felt the pervasive need to own a television, as the standby background noise, the thing I used to pass the time while Limewire was downloading songs or I was waiting for a video to load on near dial-up speed internet.  Despite being raised rurally, I remember so many hours waiting for weekly anticipated shows, stuck in front of cartoons, or watching hockey with my father.  TV was a part of my life, and I paid for the privilege well into my twenties, because life without basic cable was a painful trial of antenna and fuzzy orangey pink faces.   Besides, if you watch the news you're informed, right? It's the mark of adulthood, being able to say you know what's going on in the world, even if you don't have time to be a part of it.  Because you know, paying rent, buying food, getting an education - that keeps you very busy. So you mature and you rely on the trusty plastic and glass beast to give you a window out of your round-trip deja vu daily experience of earning a living, and trying to have a social life.

We don't worry much about advertising, it's the nature of the beast that's slipped past us.  As I mentioned, they've got most of us paying for our daily feed via Shaw Cable, or Foxtel (the new free digital box relieves the old antenna anxieties for the cheap crowd, and who can hate on "free" service?).   I've had people tell me to lay off advertising and TV, it's not so bad - is it?  We can't expect anything less than more insidious forms of marketing, it could even be argued we're driving the creativity of marketing firms simply by being so super-hip in recognizing, criticizing and rejecting their shills a thousand times a day.  We're demanding better, classier, advertising, more suited to our very clever and discerning minds. Which is why we love ads that take cultural  "in jokes", memes and creativity in placement and imagery to new heights.  Sometimes it seems to me that many people speak with their purchases by rewarding brands that have deeply impressed the part of them that feels like they are above it all.  Don't we all know someone who does this? Have we not even been that person ourselves?  But if you were, you kind of felt justified in giving credit where credit was due and using the product. 

That's fine for print ads, internet virals, or even TV ads - that is, TV in my house ads, when I still hold the power to watch or not watch.  I recently noticed two huge screens rise up in the central square of my city, in front of city hall, and again in the heavily populated mall strip that runs through the centre of downtown.  They hang, quietly audible, on sports matches, news or
 other banal channels, seemingly ignored.  Yet there's still something that makes me cringe when I catch their glare from the corner of my eye.  I wondered why, when surely I had to agree that they were doing no harm, was I so discomforted by their presence?


It occurs to me immediately that some spaces really should be left untouched, the mall area is already a clear consumer mecca, it scarcely needs the extra distraction.  The mall itself is a meeting place, a common landmark where people gather before heading out for the night, at the very least it should be spared because it does what it was designed to do, people go there to shop.  Unless you're sour because you're stuck with your girlfriend trying on dresses and can't bear to miss a football match, there are few reasons shoppers or loiterers should need to see a TV blaring the same programs they left the house to do something other than watch.

The city hall square placement is more offensive.  There is no other purpose for putting a screen there than that it is one of the few areas that is generally simply a pedestiran walkway, there are very few print posters or any other distraction in the vicinity other than the city clock, hall building, a concrete color-lit walkway and a cafe.  I suppose they thought it was time something was done about this area, that it maybe  it wasn't serving a purpose or earning it's keep just providing a public walking space and a sometimes entertainment/promotional venue (I attended the Starcraft Blizzard launch night in that square - never had I been surrounded by so many proud geeks).   They probably knew too much permanent print adspace would likely look desperate, so the screen was an obvious choice, but that doesn't make it any less unsettling.

Can no space in my life be sacred? I admit TV provides gems of programming amonst the twenty minute ad breaks. It does still provide investigative reporting, and it's full of genuinely beautiful documentaries that educate.  We're skipping the ads, and turning our computers into our entertainment guides, where we choose when and how we watch, but there is no TIVO, no skipping when you don't have the remote. It's like a cat and mouse game, rather than be rewarded for becoming more media-aware and having access to more choices in mediums and content, there is a sense in marketers that they must be entitled to invade the outdoor space with Fox, with ABC, or ESPN. 

We left them at home for a reason, because we wanted a bit of sunlight, or a bit of company, maybe even just shopping, and aren't there's more than enough screens tucked into pubs and hiding in shops? Yes, I'll ignore them. Yes, perhaps I'm making a fuss over what you may think is a trivial and inevitable issue, but it's the precedent that's being set that gets my back up.  Will you find it unnerving when the your local childrens park comes with it's own TV tucked in between the monkey bars of the shiny new playground equipment? Or maybe one hanging in a primary school hallway? I'd say, let's keep the screens at home as often as we can, leave us some breathing room to use the city space for some of the things it was meant for.


Not "only", but damn near.


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