That Tinkling Sound You Hear is the Sound of a TV Advertising Executive Earning Her Wings, and Then Plummeting Straight Into Hell


Athena, today, as she watched TV:

“The only reason I’m watching this is to get ideas for things I want.”

On one hand, I’m proud Athena’s twigged to what TV is really about. On the other hand, I am, of course, utterly terrified.

29 Comments on “That Tinkling Sound You Hear is the Sound of a TV Advertising Executive Earning Her Wings, and Then Plummeting Straight Into Hell”

  1. Well, QVC isn’t any good for her anyway. She’s not going to buy anything. That’s what we’re here for, apparently.

  2. As long as she doesn’t sing the jingle while she asks for whatever it is. So, have you had to use the line, “that’s why they call stuff on TV programming,” yet?

  3. I’ve been pretty clear with her that the whole point of television is to make her desire things she doesn’t actually need, and I point out when I see it working. Of course, she responds to this by figuring out which ads I find particularly heinous and then committing them to memory, to spew advertising copy at me when she knows it’ll annoy me the most. Sometimes my kid is flat evil.

  4. Pull the plug! We have 3 kids and never had television, just a tube we use for console games, and two computers. Our kids are a bit eccentric, compared to their peers; they have vivid imaginations, and curiousity about things. They can play games and make up stories together with their friends. They learn to get along together. And we get few requests for the latest popular stuff, instead we get asked for things they know and like.

    The youngest builds, wires together electronics (on a kid breadboard), and wants to be an inventor when he grows up. The middle one is the top student in her class, and a poet. The oldest (11) just finished a 10,000-word first draft of a novella for NaNoWriMo. Television would have made those things difficult, if not impossible.

    Just pull the plug.

  5. I don’t object to the TV that much. I think the important thing is that she understand she’s being sold to — it helps build up the antibodies to commercial pitches.

  6. I don’t object to the TV that much. I think the important thing is that she understand she’s being sold to — it helps build up the antibodies to commercial pitches.

  7. Wait a sec, is this the “old TV” ’cause I remember a super, honking, big screen TV from one of the pictures a short while ago?

    Yeah, kids, for right now it’s going around the house saying, “HeadOn, apply directly to the…” and then it’s “Dad, I’d like you to meet my new boyfriend, Scrag. He plays a drum machine for his Flock of Seagulls tribute band.” They grow up so fast. (sniff). :)

  8. And this is one of two reasons we canceled our satellite feed after our son was born.

    We’re not missing much TV. We’re getting plenty from Netflix, iTunes, and the networks’ streaming Web sites. And Alex can watch his Elmo and Little Einsteins DVDs all he wants.

    It’s not the children’s content we want to prevent him from being exposed to. Most of that’s fine. It’s the commercials.

  9. it helps build up the antibodies to commercial pitches

    I’ve been wondering about this lately. How much brain power are we using daily to subconsciously say “no” as we’re constantly barraged by various forms of “BUY THIS!”

  10. My two two-year-olds get a half hour of PBS a day. No commercials. But it is SOOO NIIIIICE to have that one little half hour that I can get some things done without them immediately undoing it. It is hard to keep it limited to a half hour. They are transfixed by it. It is the best babysitter, but then…something that stops my kids cold in their tracks for that long with a glazed look on their face is a bit terrifying.

    I agree, it isn’t the programming, it is the commercials. (Although there are more and more commercials in the programming.) For now, we do DVDs or PBS or Noggin which is commercial free, but I know that won’t last long. I think the key is to limit the time to a reasonable amount, but also like John says, build up the antibodies by talking about what TV is all about…the commercials.

  11. Far be it from me to suggest child-rearing tactics, but have you considered showing Athena that beloved DVD, “Willy Wonka and the Salt Mine”? Once she is properly “programed”, you’ll be able to solve your previously referenced problem.

    And speaking of that, I know I’ve got your fine products on MY bookshelf….who’s not carrying their weight out there?

  12. Steve’s right about the jingles- my brother and I roomed together when his kids were around nine or ten, and it used to drive me crazy that they’d be unconsciously singing commercials the way North Korean kids that age probably hum paens to the Great Leader without thinking about it.

    To me, TV, like junk food, in small doses isn’t that harmful. I’ve found a lot of people I know who are ‘no TV’ people are kind of like foreigners- they’re frequently missing a kind of common subtext.

    And I agree, it’s a kind of vaccination. On Thanksgiving, my niece’s six year old son was deriding his four year old sister for wanting every toy from every commercial that was shown.

  13. It makes me feel old saying this, but most of my formative years were spent with all of 3 channels (4 in the wintertime–woohoo antenna!). And this was in the 90s! I’m glad for it, now. I read a LOT more than I would have had TV been available. And I wrote a novel at age 12.

    And I played outside.

    Okay, fine, I READ outside.

    I never knew what music videos the kids were talking about at school, and I never saw “The Real World” until I was like, 16…but I’m seriously considering bringing my kids up the same way, when the time comes.

  14. Get a TiVO!
    In the UK we’re stuck with Mk1s from 4 years ago but it’s still possible to zip thru the adverts/commercials in a few seconds. Any advert that stays in the memory after that is doing really, really well.
    An aside: Best UK advert at the moment – the lynx deodorant one with the guys whose armpits spray huge quantities of water. An absolute scream.

    Obviously, we’re a pro TV family – but then we have good old Auntie Beeb for all our needs!

    eBay and this interweeb thing is costing me far more this Xmas.

  15. Turned off our cable service and stopped watching years ago. Our two year old hasn’t seen TV yet. When she’s a bit older and we talk about what it means we’ll probably have some TV again.

    But aside from the occasional South Park episode, I don’t miss it. It just sucks up time that could be spent on something more fulfilling.

    One thing my wife and I do notice, however, is that when we go someplace and TV is on there, it is very difficult for us to ignore it. Our TV immunity has faded.

    But I’ve also noticed that many social gathering that have a TV playing aren’t really that social. It gives people a way to avoid interacting.

  16. Athena has obviously been raised by parents who made her leanr to watch TV from a critical standpoint. This is what all parents SHOULD do, but so few know how. I certainly didn’t as I was raised by people who had not grown up with it and didn’t know exactly how to use it.

    Thus, it wasn’t until I read some theory and some criticism that I was freed from the kind of mindless zoning out that TV can induce if you do not know how to use it as a tool. Which it can be. Some folks have cited letting the kids watch only PBS. That’s exactly what Lil’ Chang watched for the first 5 years of her life, with me looking over her shoulder and counseling her on what she saw. By counseling, I mean asking her questions about it and entering into a dialogue during the shows. Sure, it sounds like ti would be annoying to have ones parent talking during the show, and asking all these questions. But she engaged with me and came up with thoughtful answers.

    So now she can watch Tv and see the commercials and know she’s being pandered to (as I constatnly remind her) and still watch. Every commercial I hear, “I want it!” which I can understand as I did the same thing. But then very often, when seemingly irrelevant commercials show up – like the Ditech commercials during SpongeBob or the Scooter Mobilized Wheelchair commercials during Trading Spaces Kids – she begins a chant of Blah Blah Blah until it’s over. She knows. She’s watching, but watching consciously.

    She’s also very creative, perhaps due to genetics. She also is curious, come up with complex stories during game times and has a good imagination like her father. She reads better than HER 4TH GRADE BOOK BUDDY AT SCHOOL. All while watching TV.

    Now, I think in this day and age it’s almost irresponsible to not teach kids how to view TV in some capacity. Without some training in how to cope with it – like you would teach them how to cross the street or tie their shoes – their gonna find it at one of their friends houses and watch and then just come home with it. This is a media driven country in a media driven age so unless you are living somewhere very isolated from civilization and TV, you’d be deluded to think you’re escaping the influence of TV, and especially in this case media.

    I watched a ton of TV as a kid, though far less than others. I also read like a fiend, wrote stories, played with my friends and had a very overactive imagination.

    As I like to say to people, “Ghandi didn’t have a TV. But then, neither did Hitler.”

  17. Our two year old is a voracious viewer of Blue’s Clues, which we Tivo in the main room (and I later record to our Archos media player for later playing in the bedroom before bedtime (at the moment I have 22 gigs of Blue’s Clues on the device — about 70-some episodes. Great little device)). When the show ends and the commercials start, he stops paying attention.

    I think there is a time and place for children’s programming. TV is a tool; it all depends on how you use it. Also, at least with Blue’s Clues, the folks that do kid’s educational programming know more about teaching children inductive reasoning than I do. Why shouldn’t I take advantage of their expertise?

    Exposing kids to things (TV, sweets (I have a friend who was forbidden sweets as a child who now gets visibly distracted if you pull out a candy bar in the middle of a conversation. Lucky bastard has a fast metabolism so he’s still rail thin)) and teaching them how to deal with things is important, imo.

    No carbon paper solution or approach will fit every child out there; ideally parents are involved enough to actually take an active interest in rearing their own children.

  18. I’m also pro-tv in moderation. For one thing, I think a lot of the anti-tv sentiment is left over from our parents and grandparents, who didn’t necessarily grow up with tv, fondly remember playing with friends and using their imaginations – and of course reading – and were concerned that tv would only ‘rot your brain.’

    Well, IMHO, with the advent of real childrens’ programming, I think there is an educational value to it, that wasn’t necessarily there in the past. And there is a vast difference between Pokemon and Sesame Street, so I think it is important to distinguish between the two.

    Further, if your kids don’t watch tv at home, they’ll be zoning out to it at a friend’s house – and you won’t be there to point out the kind of things that Scalzi was talking about. I suppose you could insist that your kids only played at tv-free houses, but that just seems excessive to me. It’s tv – it isn’t insideous or evil, it is simply blocks of programming supported by advertising, a fairly simply concept to teach your kids, who don’t like being manipulated any more than anyone else.

    And I’m now thinking about all the kids toy catalogs we get, who we give to our three year old. He calls them his ‘magazines’ and reads through them telling us all the things he wants. He also comes up with whole scenarios about how he would use the snowball maker or whatever, and how great it would be to have perfect snowballs and he doesn’t seem at all concerned that he never actually gets the things he points out to us, so I dunno. Is giving the ‘magazines’ to him teaching him to be excessively materialistic, or simply using a free resource to keep him occupied, trying to read, and using his imagination.

  19. trust me, not watching (some small amount of) TV makes kids weird. Kids pick up important information about how the world works and what other people think is important (that their parents don’t think is important) via TV. It can be a window onto a larger world. Someday that will be via the ‘net, but that’s not as relevant yet.

    Buck’s right about it making kids foreigners in their own culture. You ever go overseas? Or get really old? Ever be someplace, and feel like you’ve been dropped in an alien land? Now imagine feeling like that every time you leave your house.

    It’s hard enough dealing with a culture that changes dramatically every 15 years or so when you do have a place you belong to.

  20. PVRs are actually excellent tools to teach kids to ignore commercials. My 5-year-old niece hates watching live TV, because you can’t fast-forward past the commercials when it’s live. She tries anyway, and gets frustrated. It’s funny as hell.

  21. That reminds me of my eldest daughter, who’d bone up on her TV viewing in the weeks before Christmas so she’d get an “idea of what she wants.” One day I asked “but if you didn’t want it until you saw it on television…do you really want it, or are you letting your TV tell you what to do?”

    She looked at me like I was a moron.

    I had a similar conversation with my younger daughter years later, and it seemed like a light bulb went off in her little head. She actually stopped using the TV to influence what she wanted for presents, because no box was gonna tell HER how to live!

    The cool thing is what she asks for now, she actually uses for more than 3 days. (Purchases made because the TV gave them ideas usually only get played with a short period of time, and then cast aside.)

  22. how cute! 8)

    Seriously, I think it’s great – she’s clearly learned how do discern what she wants from what she doesn’t want.

    It’s only brainwashing/programming if the person decides that they NEED these things, instead of just wanting them. ;)

  23. Having also grown up on English TV (which was only two channels at the time, only one of which had commercials) I too had to make adjustments to my TV attitude when I moved into the North America media zone. Fortunately for me my kids, both now in their 20’s, adjusted too with very little need for guidance and show a remarkable immunity to commercial blandishments. Wish I could say the same about my significant other…

  24. That picture is terrifying!!!

    I thought she just crawled out of the TV, and decided that she needed a nap, based on your rendering.

  25. That picture is terrifying!!!

    I thought she just crawled out of the TV, and decided that she needed a nap, based on your rendering.

  26. Also, based on that pic, are you at all worried that she might get the opinion that “important people” (people on television) are more important because cleary they are 50 to 70 feet tall?

    Thats an impressive angle.

    though My guess is that your little salt miner holds a remote and says “crap (click) crap (click) crap (click) crap (click) Dad? really? can I read one of your stories? or can we make a cake? This thing SUCKS!!!”

  27. DVRs FTW!

    I’ve certainly enjoyed skimming over the evil mind-bending advertising since I got mine. Advertising is so ubiquitous, so… effective! I mean, there are actually advertisements that I LIKE (Apple, the new Acura that parallel parks automatically, etc). But the final nail was the political ads from last election. Now I don’t watch anything “on time”. Even if it’s something I plan on watching that evening, I go surf the web, play NWN2, do something for 30 minutes or so while I have the DVR paused so I can come back and skip the advertising.

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