This may well be the age of TiVo, but I think I might love commercials. Rich with Snuggies, John Hodgman, and creepy-yet-mesmerizing Prius spots, commercials can be pretty damn entertaining. So why are we all doing our level best to make sure we don't see any of them? (Except during the SuperBowl. [Well, it used to be "except during the SuperBowl," because the SuperBowl commercials are fairly sad heaps of noise and products these days.])
I have in my possession three cherished VHS tapes whose current viewing quality leave a lot to be desired. Recorded off television twenty years ago, the movies are incomplete, have white lines running through them, tracking issues, and with some, you have to crank the volume up to obscene levels just to hear what the actors are saying above the hiss that comes from using an incompatible VCR. Of course, I can always re-tape or buy the movies on DVD, but I won't ever get rid of those tapes because they are are veined with 80s commercials gold.
I impress my husband with my fabulous memory by singing along to "Orange You Smart?", "Moms Love Kool-Aid, it is the one for kids", and "Reach for a Sprite!" as well as improvising my own cheer-arms to "We! Build! Excitement! Pon-ti-AC!" I say "impress," but in reality, I think he's horrified by exactly how far back my obsession with television goes. (Either that or he's jealous because the only retro commercial he can recite from memory is the phone commercial depicting "futuristic" technology where it looks like an entire family is seated around a big table and someone says, "Shh! Granddad wants to say something" and then Grandad says, "Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!" via some sort of video-phone interface.)
I have only three such fabulous tapes because my parents were usually pretty diligent about pausing the commercials out. Does anyone even remember that was the verb used to get rid of commercials back in the day? You had to "pause" them out. Or, "blank" them out. Our first VCR predated wireless remote controls, so the pause thing was "handily" attached to the VCR by a long cord, allowing you to relax in your armchair as you taped Peter Ustinov, Maggie Smith, and Bette Davis in Death on the Nile on the ABC Sunday Night Movie.
Well, you could almost relax, because if you got too comfortable, you'd forget to click the "pause" switch on the control until halfway through the commercial break. Or, you might get cocky and leave the room to grab a quick Cherry 7-Up while the pause switch was activated, and then possibly have the idea to make up a batch of Orville Redenbacher in the air popper, which subsequently drowns out the noise of the movie coming back on, and by the time you remembered to dash back into the den to unswitch the pause button it's too late.
That's why some of the movies on those precious tapes are "incomplete."
Today, we have the miracle of TiVo and other DVR technology to quickly zip through commercials, which I've recently decided has two separate deleterious effects.
We're such a Type-A culture that we can barely make time to watch the television shows we banked on TiVos to save us the trouble of being in the house when the show came on. And we impatiently "break up" with shows that aren't worth the time they're wasting. (Personally, I've already sent a Dear John letter to Vampire Diaries this year, and last year I took back my toothbrush and sleep shirt from Heroes and How I Met Your Mother) However, when I did make the time to watch my beloved and undersold Pushing Daisies, I zipped through the commercials even though I adore some of them.
I mean, like everyone else, I'm totally obsessed with the Snuggie commercials. I will actually stop fast-forwarding through the commercial and REWIND if they air the one with the family who looks like a weird cult of very cozy monks. And if he happens to glimpse it as we zip through one bank after another, my husband insists on watching the T-Rex AT&T commercial. I don't know what this says about his paternal instincts, but he laughs himself sick over the close-up on the face of the bawling kid and often rewinds to rewatch.
If history has taught me anything, even the commercials I didn't like at the time have now become a source of amusement to me. For instance, all those 80s car commercials I used to find so boring are now rendered quaint by virtue of what bad taste America had in cars. I'm just saying, the Nissen Ultimate was one fugly bucket of bolts.
I don't have to go as far back as the 80s to find examples of commercials I loved. Had Craig "Ironhead" Heyward not starred in those Zest commercials with his special scrunchy "lather builder," I wouldn't even have known who he was, much less been bummed out by his death. My husband and I still singsong to each other, "Hey, Ironhead? What's with this thingy?"
Look, I know I'm not the only one who spends hours on YouTube trolling for old McDonald's ads or recent Ped-Egg spots, so if the brilliant minds at Hulu and Sling have figured out how to stream us both current and classic television shows, I wonder if it's time for them to start building a commercial archive. (And for free, none of this rumored subscription crap, either, because charging for commercials would just be...gross.) My husband is desperately searching for a particular United Way commercial from the 80s that featured his Redskins hero, Darrell Green, and I have a long list of British commercials I'm yearning after, so if one of you could get on that, we'd really appreciate it. Thanks.
Do you really think the product companies involved are going to object if a larger audience voluntarily opts to watch their old commercials over and over again?
I think not.
Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic is a contributing editor to BlogHer's Pop Culture and Entertainment sections. She spends a great deal of time yelling and throwing the occasional fruit and/or vegetable at her TV. That said, she loves television almost as much as she loves cooking. Her personal site is The Grub Report where she makes fun of her food and other aspects of her life.
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