Back in July, I was on a plane, reading Rudy Simone’s “Aspergirls” book (which, although there are shortcomings, I do recommend reading). When I got to the chapter on triggers, she had interviewed numerous females to gather a list of their triggers, and she found that the list was actually quite long and varied. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. How surprised (or not) was I to find out that TV (and probably radio and internet video, too) commercials were mentioned in that list! Right there on the plane, in the middle seat between two guys (whose attention, thankfully, was elsewhere), something clicked. Again, I teared up. It hit home. I had another one of those “a-ha! So THAT’S why” moments.
I had always despised commercials, even as a little kid. I remember turning to my mom and asking her why in the hell they existed. Mom said that it was so that the TV/radio stations could pay for programmers and stay on the air. She wasn’t defending them; she disliked them as much as I did. She was simply explaining the reason for them. I said, “so these things are just to try to get us to buy stuff?” Mom said, “yep.” I remember saying something like, “well that’s ridiculous.”
Because commercials were never all that convincing to me. Even as a small child, I remember thinking (and probably muttering–or even outright complaining), “seriously? All that hype just for a disgusting perfume?” Or, “all that for some body wash?” Or, “all that for a restaurant? Their food doesn’t even actually look like that!” (I realize that the purpose of a commercial isn’t necessarily to persuade you into buying that product–it serves as more of a (constant, repetitive) reminder that the company/brand exists and tries to convince us how “current”, “contemporary”, or even “innovative” it is. Its principal aim is to burn its brand name, logo, and tagline into peoples’ fruit-fly-attention-span-equipped brains, in hopes that we won’t–heaven forbid–forget that they exist. But it’s still an annoying practice, and even those goals are fairly ineffective for me – I’m not any more likely to remember that brand name, logo, or tagline, and I’m not any more likely to remember them when making a buying decision. Aspie/autistic people are “funny” that way – we march to the beat of our own drum.)
In recent years, I had grown even more jaded and resentful. I learned to identify the advertising tactics and strategies used. I began to see that commercials often fit within a handful of formulas. I learned to listen between the words (“a majority of patients reported a reduction in skin outbreaks within the first four months” – how vague and loaded is that??) My let’s-interpret-everything-literally Aspie-brain says, “that’s not even accurate!”
And during these recent years, my response grew in tandem with my cynicism. “Oh shut UP!” I often holler, while frantically grasping for the remote control with its lifesaving mute button.
Not too long ago, I began to realize that although most people aren’t fond of commercials, most don’t express the comparatively exaggerated response that I do. I knew that my own tendencies deviated from the “norm”. And yet, I couldn’t stifle the response, nor the irritation behind it.
Yay – one more item to add to my ever-growing list of Reasons Why I’m Weird. Yet one more (what seemed like a) character flaw that widened the already-yawning chasm between “normal” people and myself.
As my response grew in its intensity, so, too, did my curiosity about the reason behind it. Why was this happening?
Because I’m an Aspie/on the autism spectrum, that’s why. And I can be relatively…particular (read: intolerant). And commercials (and the way they’re written and produced) are completely incompatible with the way my brain works. They irritate, pick at, and grate on every split-end of my already-frayed and fragile nervous system.
They’re obnoxious. Compared with the regular programming (i.e., the show you’re actually trying to watch), they’re louder, crisper, and clearer due to compressed audio. They use lots of quick motion, flashing, and jumpy, jittery visuals. The audio penetrates and invades. And my nervous system can’t tune it out or “just deal with it.” It’s always overwhelming, even at low volume.
They’re attention-grabbing, intrusive, and rude. They barge into whatever you were doing and demand that you look at and listen to them. The show you’re watching suddenly cuts off, and the commercials start in immediately, rapid-firing in 15-second bursts without stopping for breath. (Or, a few of them drone on and on in 60-second or even 2-minute stretches that overstate their point and grow stale and annoying very quickly.)
They require too-rapid task-switching. They interrupt the cohesive train of thought I was engaged in and thrust a completely different idea (and completely different syntax, tempo, voice pitch, vibe, etc) in my face.
They’re over-stimulating, too much noise and quick-moving pictures, too much chaos. There are too many elements on the screen at once. Some are scrolling. Some quickly fade in and out. Others flash repeatedly. Colors clash, or they’re too bright and intense. Images come in from multiple sides, and that happens too quickly as well.
They weren’t asked for or explicitly agreed to. They begin and end on their terms–not ours. They never consulted us, never asked permission. They simply interrupt when they want to, on their own schedule and at their own leisure. I don’t have a say in the matter. (Yeah, yeah–I know that commercials are a fact of life on TV, radio, and now the internet, and we have long since known that we’re going to encounter them, and we implicitly agree to them when we turn on the TV/radio or visit a website. I get all that. But what’s the alternative? Some people do indeed “unplug” completely, even if it’s just for a day or two, and others live their lives relatively unplugged. I admire those people, and very much so. But I’m not at the point where I can simply turn off, tune out, and drop out of the outside world just yet. I also want to keep my physical ventures to destinations beyond my apartment walls to a minimum and thus, I have to experience said destinations in their electronic glory…which means: I’m forced to encounter, or dodge, commercials.)
They almost always involve nonstop talking. They won’t. Shut. Up. They also tend to talk too fast. The male voices are too aggressive and douche-baggy, and the female voices are too estrogen-soaked and mommyhood-saturated. Both grate on me. And often, there is constant background music to boot. Not to mention random sounds (why would a home improvement store’s commercial for paint need to include the random sound of an iPhone text notification??)
Their information (about products and services) is irrelevant; over the past couple years, I came to realize that we don’t actually buy much of anything advertised on TV. Aside from cars, Apple computers, and cell/mobile phones, it’s all crap. It actually became an informal “rule” we live by: never buy anything advertised on TV.
The tactics used are incredibly shallow. I frequently find myself (muttering again, with varying degrees of volume) saying, “what are these advertising firms thinking?? Do they think that this tactic actually works?? Do average people actually fall for this??”
I also find them extremely sleazy and manipulative. And my Aspie-brain does not like sleaze, nor does it appreciate being manipulated. I can see through those tactics; the advertisers are not as slick, smooth, or subtle as they think they are or try to be. I’m starting to figure out that a lot of my irritation with these ads is because they’re insulting to my intelligence. It’s like they’re trying to send me the message that I’m just part of a herd of sheep and I’m too “dumb” (their logic) to notice what they’re doing. Sometimes it almost feels as if they’re talking down to me or trying to corral me in a certain direction. And I do not tolerate being talked down to or corralled. I will think for myself and make my own decisions, thank you very much.
The formulae (and sometimes even particular commercials themselves) can get extremely repetitive, which is also annoying. Some commercials air twice in a row (as in, back-to-back)! Do I really need to see that commercial again? They’ve made their point–haven’t they? I’m even more bored now. Can we move on already?
Commercial breaks vary widely in their duration, making it hard to establish a reliable and predictable pattern. And I like patterns. I don’t like irregularity.
When the commercials end and the show returns, I struggle to pick up where the show had left off and re-engage.
In short: commercials suck. (Why do you think I put lots of spaces or an occasional picture or something between my posts and the ad-space on WordPress?) 😉
(Image Credit: Danny O’Connor)