Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mind Games (no class warfare involved)

Let me give us all a break from the subject of class warfare and write about something more mundane that simply annoys (and I think damages!) us in the course of our everyday lives – namely wildly intrusive advertising on TV and online. 

I watch a lot of TV – both for news and entertainment. And I go online a lot – primarily for email, news, research, shopping, pictures for this blog and to decorate my computer desktop, and to play mind-improving brain games. I’m not into social media and I don’t find the Internet entertaining, but I do find it useful. 

However, no matter which online site I go to, even The New York Times, I am barraged with ads: ads that jiggle on the sides of my screen, ads that pop up when I click on something I want to read, ads that pop up in the middle of something I’m already reading, ads I have to endure before the video I’ve selected plays. I don’t keep my speakers on as a rule, but I suspect that if I did, I’d be equally barraged by audio ads. This crap is unavoidable and I find it very intrusive. It really pisses me off. And it feels relatively new. It seems I wasn’t being slapped in the face with an ad with every click of my mouse as recently as a year ago. What the hell is going on? 

Television is even worse. I stopped watching regular commercial TV long ago, particularly major networks. I can’t focus on a program when, literally, I get to see five to seven minutes of a show, then it’s interrupted with five to seven minutes of fast-paced ten and 15 second ads. By the time the commercials are over, I’ve often forgotten what show I’m watching and a dizzying headache begins. I’d like to watch more cable channels than I do, but they’re chock full of ads, too.

I particularly can’t watch movies that are constantly interrupted because I'm totally robbed of the mood and continuity of the film. In years past, I watched a lot of Sundance, Independent Film Channel and AMC when it was American Movie Classics (I don’t know what it is now), but even they have been overtaken with the 5-7/5-7 ad-to-program ratio. And what’s worse, Sundance is editing films (Sundance!) “for content and to fit the time allotted for this program.” Are you kidding me?

For escape, I watch a lot of free On Demand channels, where there were often no ads or you used to be able to fast-forward through them. But increasingly, the fast-forward function is being disabled just for the ads, so I’m in the same position as when I watch things in regular time. But at least I have the option of stopping programs for bathroom, kitchen and phone breaks, so they’re still worthwhile.

And of course there’s TCM, thank God, which is still commercial free and since I’m an old movie fan, I watch that a lot. But it both amuses and distresses me that “old” movies now include the 60s, 70s and 80s. They still have the 30s through 50s, which is what I consider old, but that’s because I’m old. For viewers in their teens, 20s and 30s, my old movies are ancient and young viewers don’t like them because they move more slowly and are in black & white; ‘nuff said.

As a result, I watch a lot of public television, which I love, and so far their commercials (they have them now) are at the start, end, and between programs. I don’t know how long that’s going to last, since public television is now so desperately underfunded, they may have to resort to intrusive ads; indeed, they started experimenting with them in selected markets in 2011. (I also enjoy the uninterrupted panel discussions and Book TV on C-Span.)

And then there are the pay-extra-for-them premium channels, a commercial-free panacea, but a pricey treat. Years back I had them all, then for a very long time I cut back to just HBO. Recently, I added on Starz and Epix – after a lot of negotiating for lower rates, but it still bumps up the cable bill. I justify this because I rarely go anywhere and do anything, especially go out to a $15 movie in a theater, and at home I hardly ever rent newer on-demand fare, so I think it’s a reasonable indulgence.

But it’s not really an indulgence at all, it’s a necessity. At my age, 62, I’m increasingly concerned with brain health and not falling prey to Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. I genuinely believe watching heavily commercial-laden programming is harmful for me and just as bad – perhaps more so – for younger viewers, because it truly lessens attention span and, I believe, increases ADD (or ADHD, but I never remember what the “H” stands for).

I recognize that advertisers, who pay a lot of money for TV airtime and Internet space, are desperately trying to get their sales agenda across and audiences are now so dispersed, they’re trying to capture eyeballs when- and however they can. I think what they don’t recognize is that most of us view them as an unwelcome interruption and I for one make a deliberate effort to ignore them and not even notice what they’re for. I don’t really have any sympathy for their marketing crisis because much of what they’re trying to sell us is crap and most of us are already buying more crap than we need anyway. But like insects, they’re determined to work their way in – and I shudder to think what they’ll try to do next.

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