SOLOMON: Think of All We'd Miss Without Commercials
A new machine is scaring the corporate daylights out of television broadcasters and cable networks. It's called a "personal video recorder," and it can do a lot of things that VCRs can't. One of those technical advances is truly wondrous -- the ability to filter out commercials before they reach TV screens.Such ad-zapping potential will surely interest millions of Americans. But so far, media coverage of this techno-marvel has been sparse.Because of its "computer-like hard drive," the personal video recorder can automatically "pause or rewind a live program, record while you play back, and compile only the kind of programs you like," CNN reported on Aug. 18. "And it can do something else that has media companies shivering. It can easily skip every commercial."This commercial-skipping feature now worries some media conglomerates so much that they're threatening to file a lawsuit to prevent it from going on the market. But the specter of ad-free television will surely delight many Americans.For the TV industry, a nightmare would become reality if viewers had the option of making commercials disappear. But what would we be missing? If we could turn a television into a commercial-free zone, we'd do without loud and flashy ads that:* equate possession of expensive products with excitement and fulfillment;* often present sleek new cars as thinly veiled vehicles of sexual thrills;* portray the power to buy as the power to determine one's own destiny;* supply young people with an endless array of on-screen role models who are fixated on buying, owning and displaying fashionable possessions;* glorify business executives for using the latest computer technologies to show how savvy they are;* link sexuality with access to pricey goods and services;* connect beer drinking with youthful romance;* correlate the most up-to-date purchases with passionate intensity, charisma and personal depth;* pioneer in the realms of illogic by insisting that people can become uniquely themselves by buying what many other people are buying;* convey to viewers that they're only really alive when they're shopping or showing off what they've bought;* perpetuate the notion that Americans should be preoccupied with what to purchase and how to satiate themselves while giving short shrift to deeper values;* treat the appearance of a woman's body as the most important aspect of who she is;* bolster the prevailing media images of gender roles by showing men and women acting in stereotypical ways;* exclude gay people from the frequent portrayals of couples who are in intimate relationships;* extol as wonderful, in armed forces recruiting ads, the training of young people to operate weaponry so that they can kill other human beings;* desecrate some of the finest rock-and-roll songs of the 1960s by using them as soundtracks for selling everything from automobiles to running shoes;* encourage people to spend beyond their means, even if the result is intractable credit-card debt;* reinforce the idea that everyone has, or should have, a price ... by featuring a range of athletes and creative artists who enthusiastically urge us to spend money on commodities that are clearly of minimal importance;* mock people who don't fit in with the crowd because of how they look or what they own;* freeze the frames of television viewing with constant messages that we should keep wanting to buy, buy, buy ... without bothering to ask why.Television without commercials? It sounds like a dream come true. But such a turn of events would hardly clear the air. After all, the programs would still remain -- and they, too, deserve close scrutiny. Many of the same values proclaimed by commercials are implicit on TV shows that fill America's homes. Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."