Tag Archives: television

Selling you something

I have a lot of issues about television, but for today, I’m going to focus on the adverts. Now, adverts of course are not unique to TV – posters are everywhere, magazines, facebook, most websites. Anywhere you go, someone will be trying to sell you something. Even here (glance to your right, in case you missed it.)  See, I’ve just tried to sell you something! But TV is unique in how it does this, and I find it troubling.

Most ads, online and on paper, are static. A few words and images which are easily ignored. They may even be targeted, and I don’t mind that – eco tourism in my nature magazines, green products in my Green party publication and so forth. I don’t mind hearing about things I really could be interested in. TV can focus, based on assumed age group of the audience, but aside from that, it’s mostly aiming for everyone. This is not helpful. Your best hope is things like DIY stores alongside DIY programs. So it’s mostly a cluster bomb approach.

Now, when you watch TV, you may well be sat down, and interested in a program. If you’re not, then the raised volume often associated with advert breaks will draw your attention to them. But, watching is an immersive medium. With your vision, and your hearing engaged, and anything to hold your mind a bit, that’s your attention tied up. TV programs try very hard to keep you engaged. So do adverts. You are, in many ways, a sitting duck. And so the advert has the power to throw you, immersively into the world of the advert, and tell you something that will make you want to buy a thing.

Now, you may assume that what adverts tell you is all the reasons why you want this fantastic product. They don’t. I did a brief marketing course a few years back. The first thing they told us is that the easiest way of getting people to buy stuff, is fear.  Fear of missing out. Fear of being left behind, or thought less of by friends. Fear of not having something you didn’t even now you needed, and so forth. Every time a TV advert sells you something, it is also almost certainly selling you a little bit of fear too. It’s telling you that your bathroom isn’t clean and shiny enough to pass muster. It’s telling you that your kids will fail because they don’t have some bare essential you’ve never even heard of. It’s telling you that colleagues will look down on you for being sweaty or having the wrong glasses, or some other bullshit. It’s also telling you that it’s ok to look down on people who do not have what you have.

Under the smiling, shining surface of adverts, there’s a lot of encouragement to feel dissatisfied with your life as well. Are you in the slow lane? Is your car not as great as this one? Is your wardrobe letting you down? Are you too fat? Too hairy? Too human? Be afraid that people will judge you for this. Be very afraid. Buy our product to have a hope of hell in surviving out there in the urban jungle.

The adverts come round with considerable frequency. How much time does a typical TV watcher spend being told to buy more stuff, and given reasons to feel shitty about themselves? Every day. What does that do to a person’s self esteem? What does it do to their consuming habits? We cannot, as a planet, afford the rapacious nature of our consuming culture, and yet every day, the vast majority of us are being beaten about the head with the message that if we don’t buy more stuff, we are going to be total failures. This is not helping. It’s not good for us. It makes us sad, and it encourages to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need. The things we are sold as solutions to our problems are not solutions. Happiness is not a shiny kitchen, or the right brand of soup. Happiness is much more complex. You will not find it at the bottom of any kind of bottle.

I would hate TV less if it didn’t spend so much time trying to sell us stuff. Adverts are not the only problem though, but I may come back and grouse about other issues another time.

It is possible to sell things without using fear or trying to cause misery. I’d rather go ‘ here is a thing that I made, if you think it might suit you, please do buy one, it helps keep me in mushrooms and potatoes and that enables me to keep doing this stuff.’ But what about an advert campaign that suggested, be it ever so subtly, that you couldn’t hope to be a real and proper druid without reading my books? A campaign to tell you this is the definitive book. The only one worth having. So many adverts sell the authority of the product. I don’t believe in the authority of my product. I’m going to spend some of my time telling you to read Ronald Hutton, Kevan Manwaring, Robin Herne, Brendan Myers, Cat Treadwell, Emma Restall Orr and others, and more. For gods’ sake, don’t imagine you need my book to go druiding! There are lots of good books out there. Mine is not the only way.

Somehow, I can’t see that catching on in mainstream advertising, but it feels a lot more honourable than the usual approach.

Entertainment with a pagan hat on

Cat commented on my ‘making time’ blog with an observation about the value of entertainment and the need to recognise that. My immediate reaction was to want to argue, but I couldn’t figure out how to say it succinctly. On closer inspection, I wasn’t even sure what point I wanted to make. It took quite a bit of figuring out, but we’re there now.

I value entertainment. I love any kind of live performance, I’m fond of film watching, an avid reader, keen on wandering round museums, galleries and events. I listen to the radio a lot – both music and spoken word. I really don’t like television. Some of that is to do with speed – I read, and think quickly and a lot of TV stuff is just too slow for my tastes. It’s also very passive, it’s so easy to sit there and have TV happen to you, without really thinking about it. And this is where my serious issues start to kick in.

Good art, in any form, should be entertaining. For me, being entertained includes being made to laugh and smile, having warm fuzzy moments, being moved emotionally and being inspired to think. I am also aware that for a significant number of people, the ideas of entertainment and thinking are wholly incompatible. I’ve listened to debates on art programs on this very subject. The idea that in a blockbuster film, what we want is a mindless distraction involving no mental effort while pretty, trivial and distracting things happens for our amusement. For me, good entertainment is engaging. It demands something – your attention at the very least. It stays with you, it adds to your life. It isn’t merely a method for killing a few hours.

This is where I think my issue with television really lies. For so many people, entertainment and relaxation are assumed to be the same. That whole ‘veg out in front of the telly’ thing. I want my entertainment to be stimulating and engaging, and my rest to be… well, restful, and I don’t think television does either very well. That barrage of sound and noise – especially when there are adverts – is not really conducive to rest. Most people don’t sleep enough. Actual, sleeping rest is far better than vegged in front of TV rest. Curling up in a warm place with a warm person, or a warm cat, or whatever lends itself, is far more soothing and relaxing.

Again, this is a balance issue. It’s about how we understand the resources available to us, and how we then deploy them. I find I want more of the extremes – I want high levels of emotion and though provoking in my entertainment, and I want deep peace, calm and rest in my rest time. The pagan hat does come into this, because it’s all to do with my own relationship with inspiration. I prize inspiration. Experiencing the creativity of others is part of that, for me, and entertainment is the usual medium of sharing. I don’t want muzak and wallpaper, I want experiences that drip with awen and magic. When we make entertainment into something safe and easy to veg out with, when we make it banal, we deny the possibility for wonder and inspiration. That feels very wrong to me.

I’ve seen my share of daytime television. I have fleeting contact with TV content at other people’s houses, and most of it fills me with despair. So much of it is there to pass the time, or to sell us stuff, or both. Yes, there are good programs in amongst the dross – my son loves David Attenborough’s work, and that’s a fine example of TV worth watching. I heard a guy who writes TV drama the other day saying that he never thinks about the social impact of his work or how it may affect people’s expectations of the medical profession. All he does is write good drama. As though drama exists in a vacuum and doesn’t interact with the rest of reality. The bard in me wanted to write nasty satires about him. Entertainment does contribute to how people perceive the world. If we make it cheap, tacky, misleading, banal, mindless… that’s what we feed to our own souls. Television is not the only guilty medium, by any stretch of the imagination. But we can choose to switch off, walk away, pull the pagan hat down over our ears and head off in search of something better.