You’re Ugly, Poorly Dressed & Uncool — Basically, a Loser


I, like every other teenager in America, learned about subliminal messages in high school. Determined not to be influenced against my will, every time I entered a dark movie theater I would steel myself against advertisers’ sly tactics. I was certain that “Buy Massive Amounts Of Buttered Popcorn And Obscenely Large Soft Drinks” flashed in red letters every tenth frame. And as my paranoia grew I was convinced that the nation’s parents surely had slipped their own agenda into the movie reels; “Clean Your Room!”, “Just Say No!,” “No Bumping Uglies Until You’re Married!” Even though I felt triumphant as I marched out of there without popcorn bits down the front of my shirt, there was still, sometimes, a nagging feeling ofwell, my own imperfection and maybe even lacking.

Fast forward to my early twenties. It’s 1995 and I’m stranded on an airplane that is not moving. We are on the runway, which is shiny with nighttime rain, in Düsseldorf, Germany. It’s the fourth day of a five day journey home from a four month stay in a remote Zambian village called Mwandi. Next to me, sprawled over the picked blue fabric of the isle seat is a subtly handsome, youngish man with shoulder length auburn hair.

In the hours we spent waiting for take off, he filled the ever-thickening air with my introduction to the world of product placement in movies. I, stupidly, never new it existed as its own little consumer-focused universe. He was very hip and West Coast and laughed at my shock of how contrived the practice was. I’m sure my southern accent added to his amusement. The dusty, hopeless smell of Mwandi’s clinic, where children lay dying of AIDS and simple diarrhea, was fresh in my nostrils as he bragged about the clever ways he devised to highlight his clients’ products — a purse, designer jeans, a toy – in films.

I have never looked at movies, the ones made in Hollywood anyway, the same since that day. I feel like the power of a film – or any art for that matter – is in its opportunity to share a universal truth with the audience, hopefully in some new way. Instead, many movies are a sales pitch; a protracted commercial, especially children’s movies. I’m sad to see the opportunity that artists have to inspire wasted on one more explosive chase scene in a certain brand of car whose logo gets as much screen time as the lead actor.

And the TV news, if we can really even call it that anymore, isn’t any different. I normally don’t watch any of the big three national TV newscasts (I prefer public television), but one night this week I did. An interesting change had occurred since I last watched. CBS News’ Charlie Gibson said before a commercial break, “We’ll be back in 75 seconds.” And I thought to myself, “Well, I might as well sit right here and wait for Charlie to come back. What else can I possibly do in 75 seconds?” — which, I assume, is the reaction they hoped for. Then an announcer’s voice boomed through my living room, “Tonight’s CBS News With Fewer Commercial InterruptionsBrought To You By Fixapil: (or some drug name which I promptly blocked from my brain and wouldn’t print here even if I remembered it).

And then I said out loud to the television (something I learned from my Granny Margaret who cussed and grumbled her way through her “stories” every afternoon of her life), “This entire newscast is a commercial interruption of the actual news that should be in its place!” Because, if the drug company sponsors the show, won’t they have input when Charlie wants to report about the anal seepage, vaginal flaking, raging rashes, swollen eyelids, bad breath and genital warts that Fixapil caused in 74% percent of adult patients who took it for a headache?

And even worse, nowadays, we are told not only that we must have the latest and greatest, but that’s its embarrassing not to. There is actually a billboard ad for an insurance company in my town that shows a close up of a person’s smile with a green bit of food stuck between the teeth. The caption reads that it’s also embarrassing to be with out health insurance coverage. So the uninsured person is supposed feel vulnerable and embarrassed? Have they no shame?

Actually, advertisers often don’t even bother to use subliminal messages any more. They blatantly hijack gas pumps, elevators, bathroom stalls, even the ceiling of your OBGYN’s office! It is tempting to give up the resistance to such pervasive forces, or, as my husband calls what happens to married men, to lose our will. But I believe that we have to decide; are we merely consumers or are we thinking individuals who can determine what our needs and wants are with out advertisers bullying us into submission? I feel that we must reject the premise of most advertising pitches which is usually some form of this, “You are, in your current state, inadequate. You are ugly, poorly dressed, and uncool — basically, a loser.” We must not slide into their jaws with this line of thinking: “Well my skin is a little dryand the woman’s skin on that lotion commercial looks really smooth” Of course she does! She’s computer animated!

Someone once asked my aunt, who is a therapist, “Why do parents use guilt on their children?” She answered, “Because it works.” Unfortunately, I assume that’s the same reason that the ubiquitous deluge of advertising will continue for the foreseeable future. But I’m Not Buying Any Damn Popcorn!

Image Courtesy of Maddie Digital

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11 Responses to You’re Ugly, Poorly Dressed & Uncool — Basically, a Loser

  1. JMBIndy says:

    I love watching the movies from many years ago, where a product in the movie had a made up name. No more, as you have found out. Now it’s a game to me. How many product placements can I find in one movie? It’s ridiculous as to the number of them.

    As for television, the greatest invention for blocking out the commercial noise in the mute button. I like to make up my own story for the commercial, when the content allows.

    In public, well, that’s another matter. It’s bad enough, as you said, that we see ads all over the place. Can’t even visit a bathrooom without seeing something advertised.

    Have you seen the rolling billboards? The ones pulled by a truck? Each one has four ads, two on each side with the screen flipping from one to another. I couldn’t believe it the first time I saw it, but then again, I’m surprised that its appearance surprised me.

    Sadly, advertising is here to stay and will just get worse as new forms of media appear. I even tried to watch a news clip on a webpage one day and what popped up first? That’s right, a commercial.

    I could keep going, but I’ll end it the same way as you did. There is no way I will buy the popcorn or anything else for sale within the theater, ticket aside of course. I’ll have a nice dinner at a nearby restaurant before heading for a movie. In the long run, it’s healthier and cheaper.

  2. CT says:

    Don’t you think its a tad ironic that you’re complaining about advertising and product placement on a blog that has several google ads on it? Advertising helps companies sell their products, and money spent on advertising pumps money into the economy by paying for certain costs (such as the cost of bandwidth to host your blog).

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  4. Max says:

    Exactly! This site is maintained via ad placements, revenues from which help to pay you as a contributing writer. We all know there’s a limit — plastering a Coke ad over Lincoln memorial would be truly disgraceful. But what’s wrong with companies pushing their products through media (including movies)?

    Also, most basic cable installations (if not all) come with a DVR. Hit “record”, let the program you watching lapse for 15 mins, and fast forward through all commercials.

    Just look a Google and how immensely huge it is … all because of effective delivery of ads.

  5. granny says:

    To me there is a huge difference between subliminal ads and standard advertising. A report in the news that has been created by a company and is paid for and then presented as a news item is a whole hell of a lot different than the commerical in between breaks.

  6. dan says:

    lol. great title!

  7. Jason says:

    I hear this complaint all the time, as I work in the broadcast industry and used to sell advertising for a TV station.

    Realize that while it’s fun to complain about advertising, without it you would be paying a lot more for the privilage of using/buying/viewing just about anything. A newspaper is only as cheap as it is because of all the ads in it. The same premise is true of TV, and especially TV news. The cost of producing a news program is enormous, so if they got rid of the advertising, most stations would pull the plug on their newscasts.

    To Granny: You need to realize that a direct result of trying to balance news and ads, many TV newsrooms don’t have the staff necessary to cover all the stories, and so they have to rely on press releases to create content. Especially when it comes to science, there are very few reporters that are versed enough in science to report on it.

    Complain about it all you want, but if advertising went away, you’d be paying out the nose for just about everything you use.

  8. One Man 33 says:

    I agree with some of the other people who mentioned just how important advertising is. I also agree that it has made its way into every crack and crevice of society. Oh well. The bottom line is advertising is a necessary evil. We need it. Without it, we would not know what products are out there. Advertising helps companies’ bottom lines by telling showing consumers what’s out there. We need to know, right?

    If you’re paying attention to the product placement in movies, then maybe the movie just isn’t that interesting. I noticed that Transformers was a giant ad for GMC, but do you think that took away from the movie? Nope, it was still an awesome movie. I mention that movie because we had a big discussion about just that at work a few weeks ago. If TV commercials bother you that much, then maybe you should do what I do and just flip through channels while you wait for the show you were watching to resume. Ultimately, exposure to product placement is inevitable, but how you let it affect you and your financial decisions depends solely on you, the individual.

  9. MLH says:

    I enjoyed reading the article,the information was helpful and amusing,as it has been going on since TV came on the air.
    oh,by the way Charlie is on ABC not CBS.

  10. Cindy M says:

    I tell myself that at least I still pretty much have the freedom to turn the stuff off (and do) if I don’t want to look at it or hear it in my own home or car. And I don’t believe 98% of what the media blabs on about anyway.

  11. madmanmardy says:

    honest Adverts are not the problem the problem is subliminal messages and product placement

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