The Mercy Rule

Commercials Are Fucking Terrifying

By David Roth

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It's unwise to reverse engineer a nation's problems from its shitty television, but there are instances where it actually works—Italian television, for instance, is a howling, incoherent bonerscape devoted to boob-leering and infantile materialism even when Silvio Berlusconi is not onscreen. In other cases, the reverse-engineering merely comes close—low-end British television more or less accurately presents being peevish, under constant surveillance, and blaringly drunk as the national way of life, but leaves out the glassings and riots that give the place its texture.

And then there's American television, which depicts a nation of prickly, slutty, sad-souled narcissists who spend their time alternately insulting, lying to, being afraid of, and plotting to murder one another. This is not inaccurate per se, but it leaves out all the obesity, joblessness and prescription med addiction, and is thus pretty hugely incomplete. No, for the harshest vision of life in these United States available anywhere, you need to watch the commercials on a Sunday afternoon football game. If you think Two and a Half Men or CSI: Miami are television's crowning insults to the notion of our shared humanity, you should get to know the horror-stricken and horrible wasteland of anxiety, ill will, and terrible life choices that is the average NFL commercial break.

Of course, the NFL offers plenty of objectionable stuff between those commercial breaks. The football itself is grunty and sluggishly paced and brutal, and the people tasked with explaining the game alternate between not knowing things, plugging products, and offering such insights as, “Tell you what, this guy, [football player's name], this guy is a football player right here.” And then the game goes to commercial break, and the punch-in-the-dick of Tony Siragusa's glottal, sub-gym-teacher japery suddenly feels like a warm embrace.

What is happening on your TV? Maybe a guy is at a brightly lit sports bar with some friends he must hate, since those friends—unfailingly a racially homogenous gaggle of chuckleheads—are being really amazingly cunty to him about ordering the wrong light beer, and in fact seem to be suggesting that his choice is making them worry about him possibly being gay, which they apparently would not be cool with. Or maybe fluffy-haired tough guy Denis Leary is yelling at you—just straight-up yelling at you—about how you need to listen up re: Ford trucks and all the awards they've won from J.D. Power and Associates. The popular television firefighter snarls his way through something about the F-150's new Eco-Drive, and it is coming out wrong because no one on earth can make the words “Eco-Drive” sound tough. Or, on the other side of the anxiety spectrum—and this wasn't happening two weeks ago, but now it's nearly December—some rich people are exchanging very expensive gifts. Yuppie ghouls prankishly give each other bow-wrapped Lexuses; khaki-clad saps surprise their wives with diamond jewelry designed by the star of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. In a strange new campaign, people buy gadgets at Best Buy and then stay up late on Christmas night in order to shit-talk Santa Claus about it. It's that or rust-colored pizza muppet Papa John bobbling and grinning something about his pizzas using “100 percent real meats.”

So, no: not very good and not very flattering. The cruel, curdled vision of contemporary American life in the average NFL commercial break—chuckling rich people treating sedans as stocking stuffers and taunting Father Christmas; shit-scared yobs buying terrible beer and gas-chugging trucks they don't even want because they're afraid it's gay to do otherwise—is pretty terrible to behold. It is a good thing that your life is almost certainly better, bigger, and more dignified than the one displayed in the ads—if it isn't, you should find new friends and drink better beer. But there is one sense in which the category-five barfstorm of the NFL commercial break actually works. Yes, the ads are enough to make any viewer wish for the sweet relief of… well, not death, but maybe a light-ish temporary coma. But when the commercials are done, the prospect of watching Tim Tebow one-hop an eight-yard pass seems like the most appealing thing in the world.

Previously  - Enjoy Your Robot Turkey

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