America seen through television

I wrote this four years ago, during the previous midterm election campaign. Most of it still applies today, particularly the first half which has nothing to do with party politics.

I see very little television. I watch a few History Channel shows on the web, and an occasional football or basketball game. But I don’t watch the evening news, or Mad Men, or SNL or whatever else people watch. I don’t claim that this makes me a better person, in any way. (I’m not denying myself television because I think doing so is “good for me;” I just have no interest).

But it does make television, when I do see it, awfully strange. Especially television advertising.

For one thing, from what I can tell, if one judges by the assumptions made and promoted by TV commercials during most “mainstream” programming, one gets a very weird and rather dismal impression of male-female relations in American society. The near-exclusively prevailing concept of gender roles seems to depict men as affable-but-dim lunkheads, interested almost entirely in beer and sports. Women, meanwhile, are apparently all ballbusting shrews with no interests whatsoever, other than enforcing their total disapproval of, and maybe occasionally mocking, male behavior.

Presumably of course this is not meant to be taken seriously, but instead, “for laughs.” Ha, ha?

At present, of course, other television advertising is temporarilly crowded out by campaign ads. Most of my exposure to television programming comes while I’m at the Y; there are four TV sets at the front of the fitness area and if each one is showing a different channel, it seems like not a minute goes by without a campaign commercial displayed on at least one set.

It’s difficult to find any positive element, directly or indirectly, in viewing these ads. They do have their interesting aspects, though:

  • An attack ad, for example, which leads off its list of the opposing candidate’s evildoings with a condemnation of her campaign’s “negative ads.”
  • I remain baffled at the way in which Republican candidates can, in the space of one commercial, simultaneously blast “government health care” legislation while also blasting the opposing candidate for threatening Medicare. I really wish that we could have at least tried labeling a public health care option something like “Medicare part E.” We could have taken a page from Apple: “the ‘E’ is for everyone!”
  • It’s fascinating to watch candidates from both major parties vie with one another in how many “American jobs” they can blame their opponent for shipping overseas through trade agreements. America, we are always reminded, is a relatively “conservative” country, and certainly loves free-market capitalism… but the popular understanding of what a free market economy is, or what is implied by supporting it, does seem a bit fuzzy. I’m reminded of a family member who once got to carping about NAFTA, and then without any sense of irony concluded that “government should just keep out of it.”

I’m really not sure what’s more depressing to contemplate: the kind of people who find something persuasive in political campaign ads, or the kind of people who craft such ads and apparently manage to live with themselves.

Thank goodness for the gorgeous weather the past few days. If nothing else, after all, “it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world.”

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