In reflecting upon the myriad of commercials that flood television these days, a thought crossed my mind. Do these commercials really reflect life in America as it is? One commercial opens with an actor who portrays a husband walking up to his wife. As she gazes upon an expensive auto with a big red ribbon parked in their driveway, he says “Merry Christmas, dear, this is for you!” Another advertisement shows a young woman who is informed by the mail person that it would be better for her to use the United States Postal Service for the shipment of her gifts. In an instant, she hits the remote control for the trunk of her car, exposing numerous wrapped presents, as she says “Yes, I may need a lot of those boxes this year.” Or how about the family dressed in almost formal wear at they sit around the dining room table covered with dishes and dishes of food as they express their gratitude for being able to shop at a certain food store!
No, these commercials hardly reflect real life as it exists in the United States today! The only time that you will see senior citizens in a commercial is when the commercial is for heart medication, arthritis, or an advertisement promoting AARP. Drug companies spend billions of dollars on commercials that promote their products from erectile dysfunction to reducing or controlling blood sugar, bone loss or cholesterol. What we see reflected on TV is almost a fantasy world of people spending time and money to buy happiness. Along with these advertisements, we see the credit card companies offering to “guarantee” all our needs and wants. We even get money back for making purchases using their card? Cash, according to them, has become obsolete. We see people dancing through lines in a coffee shop as they scan their cards and waltz away with their Starbucks in hand.
The United States has one of the highest poverty rates among industrialized countries. In 2008-09, the poverty threshold was measured for a family of four at $22,050. The official number of poor in the United States in 2008 was about 39.1 million people. Indeed, according to a recent news report, one of every seven Americans today finds themselves on food stamps. I actually asked my wife if she thought that there were people watching the commercials today that believed this is how we actually live. “Yes,” she said, “for many poor who were never exposed to life outside their limited world, they do believe that what they see on TV is how life really is.” This is so sad.
With today’s depressed economy, news channels almost have to address unemployment, foreclosures, tax issues and debt, the declining housing market, and the loss of savings, although I suspect that the pundits really do not want to talk about what I call “the dark side.”
Will things change? I doubt it. Given that today’s advertisers feed us daily with a world of “pretend,” perhaps that is the real role of television commercials- to mask life as it really is?
DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati’s Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.