My favorite TV character lately is the cockney gecko who is pushing Geico insurance policies. When I first saw him a few months ago, I wasn't sure I would like him. But's he's grown on me. I'm particularly taken by his comparison of Geico habits with pie and chips -- "Who wouldn't want pie and chips?". And I like it when he tells a fellow lizard, evidently not a gecko, who is licking his own eyeball, to desist because "theatricals" might not be effective in selling insurance. There's something warm and trustworthy in the sound of his voice, and I guess that's exactly the feeling Geico wants to put across.  (Posted, 3/10/06)

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All my grand faiths are collapsing. I used to believe the New Yorker would never become a stinky magazine. But between pages 29 and 30 of the September 27th edition I encountered an ad for "armani mania" which made me sneeze three times. Supposedly, I need to peel back a panel to get a full dose of this "new fragrance for women." But I'm close to being overwhelmed by it with the panel firmly pasted shut. I'm certainly not daring enough to rip it open. Who is it that wishes to smell this way? The young woman whose face fills the page, her cheek resting provocatively on her arm, displays a leer that should be seductive enough without odoriferous amplification. I'm doubtful that she actually smears armani mania on her body. But someone must do it. An ad this expansive has to produce enough dollars to blast away my ideal of New Yorker purity and offset Harold Ross's agonizing twisting in his grave.

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Beware! If you should happen to buy a Hyandai Sonata, a marching band will show up outside your garage and, as you try to escape it, will chase you all over town. Why? Because the car is such an astounding thing it has to be celebrated. The owner in the commercial that depicts these scenes is frustrated and disgusted. But, no matter; he has a new car. Is there some subliminal truth here?

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A woman standing with her husband opens a envelope which has just arrived in the mail. Immediately, sand begins to spew out if it, then water.The deluge rips through the house, destroying everything. The mailman at the door is knocked down. The wife has to hang on a tree branch to escape the attack. Is this a warning against terrorism? No, it's a commercial for Capital One, which is sponsoring a contest in which you can win, presumably, a private island. Is this the way to appeal to people -- with images of a home being ripped apart? If it is, then we're becoming stranger than the commercials that chase after us.

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I'm afraid we're on the verge of becoming the "bring it on" nation. Since Mr. Bush used this obnoxious phrase it seems to be popping up everywhere. Mr. Kerry, for a while, became addicted to it. I hope that his advisors  have finally managed to convince him that it doesn't go with his style. Meanwhile it has now invaded the commercial realms. A TV message for "Claritin-D," which, as far as I can tell, is some sort of medicine to stop people from sneezing, features it prominently. I guess the things to be brought on in this case are allergens of various types. I dread to think what might happen if it skips into the realms of ladies' underwea

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Wal Mart, which is widely reported to have ruthless personnel policies, is running a series of television commercials to show not only that their employees love the company but also to demonstrate that it performs as parents for them. One of these depicts a Wal Mart employee who comes on a family whose car has been wrecked. He takes them to his home, feeds them, and puts them up for the night. And, then, he explains why he did it. "At Wal Mart we're taught to always do the right thing." Think of it -- Wal Mart as the producers of good Samaritans. This guy helped strangers not because his mother and father taught him to be generous but because Wal Mart did. It's hard to imagine a more icky message. But I suppose it tells us who Wal Mart thinks their potential customers are.

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A young woman in a commercial for the National Guard looks resolutely into the camera and announces that she is a guardian of the American way of life. I wonder what she would answer if she were asked to define the American way of life. The term has a pleasant ring to it but without more public discussion than we've had lately, it's hard to know what it means. The scary thing might be what some of our neighbors would say if they did express themselves. Perhaps that's why the National Guard simply throws out the cliche and lets it go at tha

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The attractive lady on the Levitra commercial begins by asking, "Can I tell you a secret?" No! You can't tell a secret on TV. It won't be a secret anymore. Millions will know about it.. What's wrong with this woman? Otherwise, she seems fairly intelligent, though when she says it's about the quality, that bothers me a bit too. About the quality? Are we supposed to be coy about what she's referring to? I hope this actress is making a lot of money for the Levitra commercial. She's going to have to endure jokes about it for the rest of her life.

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There's a pill called "Strattera" now being advertised on TV which is said to be for adults with Attention Deficit Disorder. Anne, the heroine of the little story told in the commercial, is shown to be unable to pay attention to what her associates at work are saying. I, myself, think that's because her associates are so astoundingly boring that no sane person could care what they say. But, in any case, if Anne takes this pill, she needs to be on the lookout for the most dismaying array of side effects I have heard. I am waiting for the pill about which we'll be told that side effects may include diarrhea, headache, sore throat, runny nose, upset stomach, aching joints, tingling in the fingers and toes, and frequent death. I have no doubt the pharmaceutical industry would be able to sell tons of them. They might even name it the thrill pill.

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Every night on my TV I see two people sitting in a pair of bathtubs out in the yard. Then a voice in the background intones, "Cialis is here. Are you ready?" I suppose the import is clear. The two people are about to get out of the bathtubs and lie down in the grass. Or, maybe, one of them will transfer himself, or herself, into the other bathtub. And then, the question will become whether the man of the pair is ready. That, however, isn't the question that intrigues me. What are those two bathtubs doing out in the yard? How do they get water into them? What happens to the water when they pull the plugs? Is it harder to keep a bathtub clean when it sits out in the yard than when it's in the bathroom? All these questions of bathtub logistics fascinate me so that I pay little attention to the product. In fact, I must have seen the commercial twenty times before it registered on me. Is there some deep psychology in this that advertisers know but that flies over the head of a naif like me?

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I get dozens of e-mails everyday trying to sell me drugs -- I mean the kind one normally buys from drug stores. A good many of these promise to minister to sexual dysfunction, but, sexual or not, all of them promise to deliver drugs to me more easily and more cheaply than I can get them any other way.  I wish I understood the economics of this better. The only thing I can figure is that drugs must be a big item in many people's lives. I've got nothing against drugs if they make life more pleasant, but I do have doubts about a culture where drugs are regarded as a principal avenue to happiness. It seems to me people are setting themselves up for disappointment. Maybe that's because I'm too cheap to buy all the drugs that are offered to me so plentifully and generously on a daily basis.

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“She was beauty, brains, and damp” begins an AFLAC commercial, which has a distressed damsel showing up in the gritty office of a tough-talking private eye, while outside the rain pours down. It’s an iconic image of the 1930s, and one wonders why it continues to have such a beguiling appeal. What’s so glamorous about this stripped down, black and white perspective on life? It may be that it sets people in the front rather than putting stuff to the fore. Since the 30s, evermore fancy projections of stuff have been fed to us as the meaning of life. But, seventy years ago, what most people had for helping life make sense were other people. Is it a wonder we’re nostalgic for it?

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I suspect that the makers of TV sales pitches are sometimes too clever for their own good. That may be the case with respect to Digger, the dermatophyte, who occupies the central role in the current Lamisil commercial. All Digger wants to do is find a happy home under somebody’s toenail, and hang out there with a few of his buddies. Their cavorting is a picture of domestic bliss. And, then, comes this creepy big tablet that rolls around smashing them to nothing. I don’t like it, whereas I can more than identify with Digger and his friends. They’re fetching little creatures. Maybe the point is simply to get name recognition for Lamisil, and not to have anyone warm up to the tablet. But for me, at least in TV land, I’m on Digger’s side. I like him.

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We seem lately to be beseiged with an increasing number of do-gooder broadcasts. As far as I can recall, nobody -- except perhaps grandmothers -- ever told my parents how I should be raised. But now parents receive an unending stream of public advice. Yesterday, I heard this: “So if your child is drinking or smoking pot, stop them!”  It led me to wonder whether the degradation of language coming from do-gooders more than offsets any benefit their messages may deliver. In this case, they’re promoting the breakdown between pronouns and antecedents which is now a standard of promotional talk. How a single “child” at the beginning of a sentence is transformed into a “them” at the end is a mystery of modernity I suppose we all have to accept. But what it does to the minds of those children who need to be stopped is for me a fairly interesting questio

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I was sitting, idly, watching a ball game and thumbing through a New Yorker, when this message came blaring at me off my TV: “You can take life as it comes or you can grab life by the horns.” This was a part of a commercial, and it’s a mark of my television watching that I have no idea what was being advertised. But the sentiment, itself, struck me as a fine example of our era’s wisdom. There may be a vague meaning in it, but exactly what that meaning is, it’s hard to say. I realized that I don’t know what the horns of life are, so I don’t know how I would go about grabbing them. I suppose, once the grabbing was accomplished, there would be a possibility of steering. But, since I don’t know how strong the neck of life is, I can’t be sure if I could steer or not. And then, there’s the question of whether one wants to steer life, or whether it might be interesting to let it come as it will. But that’s not the sort of question TV wisdom permits. It’s better to grab than to do anything else, and there’s the end of it. Forget the questions.

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The television promotion for the upcoming film, Troy, starring Brad Pitt as Achilles, announces portentously, "For twenty-eight hundred years this story has only been imagined." Think of that: the tale told by Homer that was the educational foundation for one of the grandest cultures ever known, has, heretofore, only been imagined! Now, evidently, we're going to get serious about it. Hollywood is going to give us pictures of a story that up till now has had to rely on the mind's eye. There could hardly be a statement more evocative of the belief that seeks to conquer America. What really counts is material supplied to the mind by people who are, in effect, selling it. The mind should not be relied on to create its own images. And why not? There's relatively little money involved in that process. It's simple to put words on a page, and inexpensive too. Readers, themselves, supply much of what's made of stories that come to us through words. In movies and television, mental pictures have to be replaced by special effects. The serious issue raised by this transformation is less economical than psychological. Americans may wish to ask about the prudence of losing self-created images in order  to provide capital-development opportunities for those who will sell images ready made. In my case, I'm reluctant, because the picture I've had of Achilles doesn't really look much like Brad Pitt.

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Miller Beer has introduced a new commercial in which a spokesman at a podium ridicules the notion -- in this great republic, --of having a king of beers -- the claim for many years of Budweiser. We shouldn't have a king of beer in America, we should have a president of beer. And that's what Miller aspires to be. The spokesman goes on to propound what is the most interesting quip in the commercial. Of those who still speak of a king of beer, he intones, "I guess they never got the memo." Here's a message, speaking up, although humorously, for the rights of democracy, but at the same time denouncing people who don't get the memo. Where's the memo coming from? Who wrote it? The only assumption one can make is it must be coming from somebody in charge, and, obviously, there's got to be somebody in charge, even about such matters as how we speak of beer. There's got to be somebody in charge of everything! So much for democracy. I'm not much of a beer-drinker myself. But if I were, I think I'd prefer beer with kingly qualities more than I would a presidential beverage. For some reason, I believe it would taste better.

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