Posted by: Peadar Ban | May 15, 2011

Funny Kids

A few days ago, well almost a week ago, the little woman and I left Dodge for a short escape to “another place”.  We hid out away from all our worldly cares and took walks, long ones, along the water and up and down the narrow streets of the place we visited.  We read to each other, counted raindrops and watched the clouds moving, the wind across the water and through the trees, rabbits on the lawn and birds flying by.  We prayed and sang a few songs.

On several evenings, we turned on the evil eye and sampled what the culture has provided for the mass of you in the way of entertainment; not much I found myself thinking.  And, that is the reason for this.  Both of us were amazed at the the sheer number of commercial interruptions during the average hour or half-hour long program. It almost seemed as if there were more minutes of those…strung together in short ten to thirty second bursts…as there were minutes of actual programming.  I found myself wondering why that was so.  Have the viewing public become so dependent on what is offered that they will pay and pay (cable ain’t cheap) to be thus assaulted and so cheaply rewarded for their endurance?

I haven’t figured out an answer, but it’s worth a McLuhanesque study I think.  Heck, it’s worth Mc Luhan himself, if he isn’t still under contract to Woody Allen.

Among the many types of commercial “genre” I found one which intrigued me.  Frankly it puzzled both of us, as a matter of fact.  There were quite a number of advertisements for prescription medications, especially on the cable channels; ads from pharmaceutical companies which explained for the viewer how wonderful it would be to be free of any and all suffering  if only they could persuade their doctor to prescribe their particular pill, capsule, elixir or compound for the relief thereof.  Relief (of symptoms) was a much used term.  I do not recall hearing the word “cure”.  About this I wondered, too, since I do remember the frequent mention of “miracle cure” and it’s many manifestations in other days.  Perhaps I merely conflate news reports with advertisements.  I don’t know.  It’s hard to tell the difference, anymore.

Invariably however, all this good news about no pain and all gain was tempered with dire warnings about side effects.  In many cases it seemed as if half the spot warned the curious of disease and death should they be persuaded enough to risk taking whatever was being advertised; from pimples to heart attack the toll was heavy, death imminent.  More than once it made me think of the uselessness of the ads themselves.  What was the purpose, to warn, to sell?  It all sounded so schizophrenic.  They seemed anti-ads if anything, placing drugs on the same level as cigarettes.  Soon will auto ads contain warnings about horrible crashes, burnings and crushing to come?  Will liquor ads reappear if they include shots of stumbling drunks and broken lives?

Nevertheless, the ads always ended with smiling faces and happy sunset glows, re-enforcing the message that there is better living through drugs.

There was one ad in this series of such ads that we encountered with what I thought was an almost frantic frequency.  It came from Bayer, the company that makes, of all things, Baby Aspirin.  I called it the “Choices” ad after watching it a number of times.  I’d link you to it, could I find it anywhere.  But, if I could see it at least a dozen times over three nights you must surely be familiar with it.  The ad in question is for an oral contraceptive made by Bayer which is where the risible irony of my reference to Baby Aspirin is seated.  I can’t remember the name of the product, but I do recall the ad.

Four young women are shown shopping in some kind of upscale store.  It slowly dawned on me that the “store” was life.  The women were drifting along picking and choosing the things, the ways, they wanted to live their lives.  At the end of the ad they leave the store, get into a car and drive away with their purchases.  One of them has bought a lovely house, one of them has a model of the Eiffel tower (vacations??  Foreign Service???) which she’s tied to the car’s roof.  I can’t remember what the other two chose.  None of them, however choose to buy the stork (a live one) carrying a little bundle in its beak…the only live thing besides the women in the ad, and the only “unglamorous” thing.

One hears the words “choice” and “choices”  a number of times during the minute or so the ad runs, as each of the ladies examines, caresses with eyes and hands, the glamorous choices they consider, and as they ignore or reject rejects the ugly stork choice which wanders away and is never seen again.

Of course, since this is an ad for a prescription drug, after telling us of the beauty of all of these choices, their capacity for freedom and fulfillment which will be available with the choice of Bayer’s wonderful drug, the narrator/announcer describes the chilling things which can go wrong when it is taken.  Not mentioned, and why should it be?, is the fact that choices do not include children.  It is the one un-choice.

I could only sit and admire a number of things, not the least of which was Bayer’s open advocacy of a childless society and its care for the health of the young women who would be choosing to trade a life of drudgery for an endless summer of fun.  It kept coming back to me, that scene from Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio” where Honest John, the fox like character convinces Pinocchio to follow him to Pleasure island.  The rest is history.

Oh, yeah, there are no men in the ad.

A few hours ago I read again an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal a week or so ago.  There the reporter said that some contraceptives make women less attractive to men when they take them.  That’s all to the good, I suppose the Bayer folks would say; a fortunate unintended consequence since the intended consequence of the product is to prevent babies and allow “choices”.  I can see some fellows down in Bayer’s marketing division working on this for the next campaign:


“Yeah, boss?”

“How’s that ad for the Ugly pill going?”

“Can’t complain.  A few little details to nail down, couple of “choices”.  You know that stuff about ‘Who wouldn’t trade sex appeal for a sailboat’? That stuff?  No problem?”

“My daughter, Des Moines, says you oughta try to work that Steinem thing into it.”

‘” Steinem?”

“Yeah, the one where she talks about fish riding bikes, or something like that.”

“Your daughter?  She the one who bought that place on the beach in Spitsbergen?”

“Yeah, that’s her, the tax lawyer.  Funny kid, she loves the place; dark, frozen and empty.”


  1. Good one, Peter!

    • Thank you, Rich. Another thought has occurred to my mind about this explosion of prescription drug ads and doctors which I will explore in another little mind burp, soon.


%d bloggers like this: