As any experienced parent will tell you, the longer you can keep your kids watching PBS, the better. Because even though Barney the Dinosaur may fill you with an inexplicable rage not unlike what an African honey badger must feel right before it crushes a puff adder’s head in its jaws, your toddlers love him and his educational friends. But more importantly: no commercials.
Once you move on to commercial television, it’s all over. First of all, your kids suddenly know about the existence of all sorts of things you’d rather they wouldn’t, like video games and Barbie digital manicure machines. The first time you’re trying to get them to turn off the TV and they declare “But Dad, I love this commercial!,” you can bet that somewhere on Madison Avenue there’s a man in a suit adding another child’s soul to the gigantic jar on his desk.
As it turns out, though, the toy commercials are the least of a parent’s problems, at least once you have a child who starts to enjoy professional sports. If you watch any of the big sporting events on TV, you know they are being targeted to a very specific audience: specifically, rich, white, perpetually randy older guys whose prostates are roughly the size of official Major League baseballs.
The most problematic of the ads shown during these games are of course the ones for Viagra and Cialis, with their now-legendary talk of four-hour, er, building projects (sorry, family newspaper) and the need to be constantly “ready,” like an aging Boy Scout walking around with all the tools on his Swiss Army knife extended.
My initial inclination during these commercials is always to throw myself in front of the TV — parents, if they were true to their natural instincts, would do nothing but throw themselves in front of things all day long. But I realize that would just draw undue attention to them, so instead I just make loud, inane small talk whenever they come on.
Me: “HEY KIDS — I FORGOT TO ASK YOU HOW SCHOOL WAS TODAY! SO HOW WAS IT?”
Kid: “Dad, why are you shouting? We can’t hear the commercial for the double outdoor bathtubs.”
Only slightly less bad are the spots with the guy who would have the most satisfying life ever, if only he didn’t have to find men’s rooms at the most inopportune times (during golf matches, on boats, while skydiving, etc.). It’s hard not to feel bad for the man, which is probably why whenever the commercial comes on my 8-year-old son declares “He has to pee!” and laughs so hard that he has to use the men’s room in our own house.
Then there are the ads for inappropriate movies; for instance, the spots for “2012” have my son convinced that the world is going to end in three years, which both disturbs him and adds fuel to his argument that future school attendance is not only unnecessary, but a pointless distraction from staying home and watching more commercials. My kids have also been lobbying me to buy the automatic soap dispenser, the wall-mounted toothpaste dispenser, the pan that bakes pre-sliced brownies and the machine that makes a cupcake the size of a volleyball.
So the situation is clearly dire, but not necessarily disastrous. Commercials are about as unavoidable as the headlines on the covers of women’s magazines (which you can find me throwing myself in front of whenever we go to the supermarket). I figure if my wife and I try to moderate their TV viewing, and watch with them whenever possible to explain or mitigate what they might be seeing, we’ll all be OK. Which is why if you pop over our house you’ll often find us all on the couch, taking in the ads together.
You can’t miss us — we’re the ones in the Snuggies eating the giant cupcakes.
This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”