In the olden times, when the world was young, we would gather around fires and listen to the elders tell us about how the world was made, and how the people came to be the way they are. It was a way of teaching the children, and reminding the grownups, how to live in the world, and how to be one of the people. Later, when we had churches and town halls, we would go there to talk about what was happening, and how it had come to be that way, and what we should do. Now, there is only one place where the people learn what is happening to them and what the elders think of it. Television. Especially Sunday morning television.It is a big improvement over the olden times, when the elders did not have people to introduce them, or ask them questions, or to sponsor them. They didn’t have visual aids, and sometimes they went on talking for hours. Now everything is sparkly, and has music and nice pictures, and comes in three-minute bites. I decided I have not been paying close enough attention. Oh, I listen fairly intently to the elders when I can (and when there are not two or more of them screaming so loud I don’t know what any of them is saying). But in between their segments, Mother Culture (as Daniel Quinn would put it) murmurs insistently in our ears, telling us what to do, what we should be like and what we should have, with a constant, muted beat that we often don’t even hear. But we act on its advice, and empires rise and fall as a result.
So last Sunday I decided to concentrate, and make notes, as I might have in a Sunday School class of the past, the better to learn what I am supposed to know, and do. I watched Sunday Morning, on CBS; Meet the Press on NBC; and Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN. The elders were arguing about whether the President had apologized to the Muslims or not, and whether the Tin-Eared Candidate will ever have a heart, but never mind them.
There were 75 paid commercials in those programs, chock full of philosophy, religion and practical advice. In a time when it costs 100 bucks an hour, minimum, to get someone to listen to us and advise us, here were people spending millions — millions! — of dollars to put us on the right course. So it was with gratitude that I wrote down what they had to say. In the order in which they were received (eliminating repetitions).
1. America needs more jobs, not more lawsuits. Funny they brought that up because I was thinking the other day, just the opposite.
2. People who drive Toyotas get to speed along fabulously scenic roads that have no other cars on them. (Okay, so I’m giving you what I got out of them, not necessarily exactly what they said. I’m a journalist, not a stenographer.)
3. Your financial adviser should look you in the eye while churning your account and stripping your retirement fund, one activity fee at a time.
4. Children can ingest the vegetables they need by choking down a fruit-flavored drink named after a large automobile engine.
5. The children of people who own an Infiniti QX have fabulous summers. All of them, apparently, every summer.
6. People who take Vesicare are not about to let peeing in their pants affect their “busy lifestyle” — unless of course their face, lips and tongue swell up, which could happen.
7. People who retire quite suddenly have nothing to do, but that’s okay if they just have enough money. This revelation has something to do with the name Prudential.
8. Toyota says it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, which, in a Toyota, occurs entirely on otherwise untraveled roads.
9. Obama won’t stop China’s cheating. He had seven chances, and he wouldn’t do it.
10. People who have something called a Progressive Snapshot plugged into their cars are plagued by obscenely loud rock music that causes pronounced twitching while driving. Whether the Snapshot causes or cures the affliction is not clear from the commercial.
11. We have enough clean coal to last for centuries, and it’s all ours (at least until the coal companies get all the megaports built that they’re working on to export as much coal as is humanly possible to China). In the meantime, this is no time to limit their options.
12. A new product erases lines from your face because, unlike all the products that have come before, it has an “active” formula.
13. E-Trade has discovered that if you spend less, you will have more in retirement. So they have been inspired to introduce something they call “low cost investments.”
14. The Navy Federal Credit Union is the favorite financial institution of a high-school football coach whose half-time pep talk to his players is so maniacal and creepy that all the players but one cower on the bench in confusion and fear when he’s done. So give your money to Navy Federal.
15. Railroads deliver what America needs. Remember that the next time you crave pizza.
16. The cable guys who install Cox cable are smarter than the guys who install the other cables.
17. We are all invited to join some jocks who are hopping around with some kids doing something that has to do with a bus. I have no idea what.
18. Nissan wants us to know, perhaps with regard to the previous, that football has sure changed a lot. Oh, and they’re having a sale. Unlike Toyotas, which inhabit empty roads, Nissans live on crowded car lots surrounded by crazed mobs trying to buy them.
19. Physicians Mutual Insurance specializes in people who sit at their kitchen tables and vent. Apparently, Physicians Mutual sales people will come to your kitchen table and listen until you buy their insurance.
20. Citgo, the oil company owned by Hugo Chavez’s socialist Venezuela, appears to be doing more for communities and disadvantaged people in the United States than Congress — okay, that’s a pretty low bar — and wants you to believe that “if it fuels good, do it.”
21. The way to have a giggly, jumpy, happy (possibly ADHD) family is to feed them gobs of something called “chocolate flavored hazel nut spread.”
22. America needs more manufacturing jobs, and Chevron (the third largest corporation in America after Exxon and WalMart) is responding by making lots of unspecified stuff. Whatever it is, a procession of actors in clean and pressed workers’ clothes assures nus that “it” is making a “difference.”
21. Some really cute kids in a store confound their mothers by showing that one serving of Ore-Ida Industrial Potato Stuff has just 120 calories! They neglect to add that one serving = one french fry.
22. Another new product erases wrinkles because it, unlike all products that came before, uses both “serum” and “moisturizer.” Really. No one thought of that till now. After slathering on the liquid that remains after blood clots, which is what the dictionary says serum is, “83 per cent saw fewer wrinkles.” Whether this number is the result of an actual wrinkle-count, or of substantial impairment of vision because people got the stuff in their eyes, is not specified.
23. A short, cute porcupine says we can get a Flu-Zone brand flu shot with a needle that is “90% smaller.” So that would be about 10% of the trauma, right? But in the fleeting closeup of the actual needle it appears to be 90% shorter, but about a half-inch in diameter. Still, the porcupine is very cute.
24. It is amazing, astounding, astonishing, awe-inspiring, what Campbell’s Soup can do.
25. The guilt of a man who habitually leaves his family to fend for itself while he grubs the world for money can be assuaged, and his family can be can be reconciled to his neglect, if they choose the right — dog food! “Because you’re not just a family — you’re a dog family.”
26. Virgin airlines used to use its airplanes’ rest rooms for office space until it got smart and let Xerox set up customer service centers in rest rooms in Bangladesh.
27. Exxon Mobil thinks local governments should pay teachers more. Not that Exxon is going to start paying taxes that could be used for that purpose, or give up their tax breaks and subsidies that make it impossible to pay any government workers more, or start paying fair market price for the oil they extract from publicly owned land. They just think it would be a great idea to pay teachers more.
28. A corpulent farmer, by setting a land speed record in an enormous, fuel-guzzling pickup truck, demonstrates how industrial biodiesel means “more jobs and energy independence” in America’s future.
29. You can avoid having to use logic, mathematics and fairness in negotiating telephone usage and expenditures with your family, especially if you are an obnoxious, fairness-challenged dad, by simply buying Sprint’s all-you-can-eat, all-of-the-time plan.
30. Northrup Grumman’s manufacture of war weapons and material, several menacing examples of which appear in quick succession, is exactly like — or at least has something to do with — a long concluding shot of a pretty young blonde girl playing the piano. One cannot help wondering if she represents the protected citizen, or the girl plucking the daisy just before the nuclear weapon detonates, in that other famous ad.
31. BP has worked hard for years to keep some sort of a commitment to the Gulf. The commitment, and the reason for it, are not mentioned, but in BP’s opinion things are going really well. In fact, BP says it’s going to make the same commitment to all of America. Which, when you know the reason for the commitment to the Gulf, can only be taken as a dire threat.
And so my Sunday morning passed, and when it was over I had a much clearer idea of the kind of mindless consumer of suicidal products that my culture expects me to be. And I redoubled my efforts to prepare a sanctuary in which to try to survive the collapse of the industrial world, which, as they sometimes say on television, is already in progress.