Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Biting The Hand That Once Fed Me"

Recently, I have found myself aurally hypnotized by a tune in a way that, in the past, could only be pulled off by the latest Beatles single. But this song is shorter. In fact, it’s only six notes long. Yet these addictively arranged six notes exert the power to drive other, unquestionably loftier, musical offerings completely out my head, occupying the space now unavailable for the classics, and looping repeatedly in the part of my brain that accommodates music.

On the piano, it’s

(low) G (up to) E-E-E D (low) G

In the rhythm of the Marilyn Monroe song, “We’re having a heat wave…”

But with different notes. (At least the last two notes are different; they go down instead of up; the first four notes are the same.)

The six notes are accompanied by lyrics, but they’re embarrassing. No. The lyrics aren’t embarrassing. What’s embarrassing is that I know what they are.

Everybody, all together, music and lyrics combined:

“I’m wearing a new blouse.”

It’s a commercial jingle. It’s infectiously catchy. And I’m entirely ashamed that I know it.

A woman sings the jingle in this robust, bubbly-clear “it’s a beautiful day” kind of voice. The exuberance in that voice – not overstated – she’s a regular clothes wearer like you and me, she’s just happy – underscores the message:

“It’s a beautiful day, and I’m wearing a new blouse.”

I can imagine the direction the auditioners were given:


“Could you ratchet it up a notch? Remember. You’re wearing a new blouse!”


“You need to take it down a bit. That was (SINGING): “I JUST WON THE LOTTO!”

You’re happy. You’re wearing a new blouse. But let’s not drive them away with overkill.

Okay, so kudos to the composer. They wrote a killer six notes, and they put them in exactly the right order. Kudos to the director who picked precisely the appropriately bubbly singer to deliver the news. The lyrics? I don’t know. It’s hardly poetry. But I guess they get credit for selecting the correct pedestrian words. It could have been

(SINGING) “I’m happy with my shirt.”

And the impact would have certainly been diminished.

Okay. End of kudos.

My whole life – well, at least my whole life since I’ve started caring about these things – I have always hated television commercials. I have hated their interruption of the program I’m watching. I have hated how – with exceptions – stupid and – with almost no exceptions – meaningless they are. And, most of all, I have hated, despite my best efforts to resist them, the way TV commercials have, in more cases than I am proud to acknowledge – insinuated themselves permanently under my skin.

To wit:

“You’ll wonder where the yellow went

When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.”

“Brylcream, a little dab’ll do ya

Brylcream, you’ll look so debonair.”

“Brush-a, brush-a, brush-a

New Ipana toothpaste


It’s better for your tee-eeth.”

“Kell-oogg’s Sugar Corn Pops

Sugar Pops are tops!”

And many, many, MANY others. Carved into my memory wall like Egyptian hieroglyphics. Blow off the dust, and there they are. They’ve been there more than half a century, and show no signs of ever deteriorating away. What valuable information, I often wonder, have this totally irrelevant doggerel displaced?

“Sorry, no room for remembering why on earth Hitler allied himself with Japan after Pearl Harbor bringing America into war against Germany. You’re all filled up with

“He’s got ‘Go Power’, there he goes!

He’s feeling his Cheer-ios.”

Once, commercials purported to provide information, touting the superiority of one product over another. I was told, at an age when I was too young for it to be an issue for me, that Genesee Beer was brewed with especially pure water, drawn from springs located somewhere around Buffalo. (Toronto American television was delivered via Buffalo affiliates (WBEN, WGR, and WKBW) of American networks (CBS, NBC AND ABC.) This explains how I was able to identify Buffalo department stores, like Kleinhans and (a mouthful for a little kid) Adam Meldrum and Anderson’s, before I knew the name of one department store in my own city.)

Commercials of old informed us that Kent cigarettes were of no carcinogenic concern because they came equipped with the health-insuring “Micronite” filter. (Which was later discovered to contain asbestos, which killed you some other way.) I remember the Kent commercial spokesman had reassuring gray hair, promoting the subliminal message,

“I smoke these, and I’m old enough to have gray hair. You’ve got nothing to worry about. And besides, I kind of look like a doctor.”

Serious claims were made, distinguishing, we were assured, one product from its inferiors. Wonder Bread promised to build strong bodies “eight ways”, though they never mentioned which eight. Some car, I can’t remember which, offered…what was it,…hydrophobic? – no, that’s rabies – Hydromatic…what was it? – drive, or brakes, or windows, something hydromatic – I don’t recall what it was anymore, but it was better than the cars that didn’t have it. Doublemint offered attractive female twins, promising to “double your pleasure”, with the subtle hint that the doubled pleasure lay perhaps not entirely in the area of gum.

This pointed to advertising’s new direction. With the help of comedy pieces satirizing their absurdities – on television itself and in venues like Mad Magazine – “information” commercials, conjuring the specious claims of snake oil salesmen, were laughed into oblivion, replaced, as they continue to be today in increasingly less understated incarnations, by the identification of the product with sex. An arrangement which is not headed for oblivion anytime soon.

From the earliest times, I have always done my best to avoid watching commercials, though, at the beginning, the only way I could do so was to go to the bathroom. Happily, after “remotes” were invented, when a show “broke” for commercial, I’d immediately flip to something else. Now, with subscriber-driven cable channels – where shows are bankrolled by viewer subscriptions rather than advertising – there’s an expansive array of commercial-free programming I can escape to. And of course, there’s TiVo, where you can “fast forward” through commercials. We have TiVo; we just never use it. We’re not “TiVo people.” What prompted us to get TiVo in the first place? Probably a commercial. I am not entirely immune.

Despite commercial television’s plummeting audience share, and the, now, numerous strategies for avoiding them, TV commercials continue to exist. They have to, till they devise a different business model for paying for the shows. I do clearly recognize the ingratitude in my criticizing them. Commercials subsidized my career. (Networks use the money they get from selling commercial airtime to pay for the shows I made, and, not incidentally, pay me for making them.) And yet, oh my god! – I just thought of this. If you added up all the time I’ve spent watching commercials, we’re talking about, cumulatively,

Years of my life!

Gone forever.

Thrown away, watching,

“‘Mr. Clean’ will clean your dirt and grime and grease in just a minute

‘Mr. Clean’ will clean whole house

And everything that’s in it.”

And it continues today!

“I’m wearing a new blouse…”

Please, listen to me! Commercials are monumentally stupid! I don’t even know where the blouse came from! So not only is the jingle stuck in my head. The people who put it there are getting absolutely nothing out of it!

And yet after all these years,

They are still ruining my life!


Keith said...

Well, with interactive TV (which the networks and cable companies are resisting), you'll eventually be able to pause the show you're watching, click on that actress' "new blouse" and order it for yourself right from your "television".

Brian Fies said...

Earl, I had to google the blouse ad, which I didn't recall seeing myself, and think the jingle composer you're looking for is whoever wrote "I Think We're Alone Now" for Tommy James and the Shondells. Tiffany did a poppier version 20 years later that sounds just like the happy lady in the commercial.

Frank said...

My latest hate ad is Fred Thompson selling reverse mortgages like he really cares.

Anonymous said...

I find myself in disagreement with you today and that's somewhat unusual. Maybe because I've worked in retail all my life, I love a good, clever commercial. Granted, there are many, many that are not remotely good or clever. But ones like the little Darth Vader and the VW I just love.