(This previously – and somewhat dated – article is still relevant on this Superbowl Sunday.)
Sixty-nine commercial spots ran during this year’s Superbowl. Each thirty-second commercial cost two million dollars, which means, if I did the math right, that advertisers spent 138 million dollars to convince us to buy their product during just one television program. One suspects that Pepsi, Anheuser-Bush, Cadillac and others don’t buy into the lingering myth that television content has no lasting effect on viewers.
John Paul II once noted that “Vast sectors of society are confused about what is right and what is wrong and are at the mercy of those with the power to ‘create’ opinion and impose it on others.” I am not sure who the Pope had in mind when he referred to “those with the power to ‘create’ opinion and impose it” but I suspect he was thinking of those in the entertainment industry.
Television and the movies have a bully pulpit in almost every home in America. So what do they teach? For one thing, they teach that religious people are always suspect, usually odd and sometimes dangerous (unless, of course, they are clergy, which almost guarantees them to be dangerous). A recent study conducted by the Parents Television Council found that 25% of the time religious people are portrayed on television, it is in a negative light (22% of such portrayals are positive). But on NBC, the network of West Wing, ER and “Must See TV”, over nine out of ten portrayals of religious people were negative. Apparently someone at NBC is on a mission to warn America that religious people are greedy, mean and, very possibly, sexual predators.
Ah, yes, sex: another favorite topic for television. According to an Associated Press article by Lynn Elber, television sends teenagers (and all the rest of us) mixed messages about sex. A study by researchers at Stanford University and Lewis and Clark college found that teens receive a “highly inconsistent picture of what sexual relation are and can be.”
Elber goes on to quote from the study, which notes that TV lessons on sex are both “explicit and implicit” and “ranged from ‘Virginity is a sign that a boy is a loser’ to ‘Teens don’t need to be sexually active to be cool.” I wonder which message plays best in the mind of a teenager.
John Ashton, Britain’s Health Protection Agency North West director, has no doubt. He wrote that “…on film and television people jump into bed together…and there are no consequences. It’s nonsense.”
And they are jumping into bed together more frequently than ever before. Marcus Yoars, associate editor at “Plugged In”, writes that ABC, desperate to reverse flagging ratings, found their solution in “Desperate Housewives.” It is a show built on “lingerie-clad seductresses, affair-driven story lines and suggestive dialogue.” ABC added to their repertoire of sexually suggestive programs the high school drama, “Life as We Know It,” and the lewd, “Boston Legal.” I have to admit that I haven’t seen any of these shows, but I have seen the commercials, and that was enough for me.
Television further teaches us that women and girls need to be physically attractive. Guys can be overweight and balding as long as they are funny, but girls have to be beautiful. If they are not? Then their best hope is to be the lovable but geeky friend of a beautiful girl. Not the role most women aspire to.
Of course, its only television. It doesn’t really have an effect on us – or does it? Maybe we should ask what the marketing gurus at Anheuser-Bush think. They just spent $66,666 per second to air six commercials during the Superbowl. I’m guessing they have an opinion