Column – TV ads reflect much of what’s wrong with society

Published 7:40 pm Monday, December 12, 2022

Television has always been a product of our culture, though all-too-often reflecting our baser, rather than our more enlightened, instincts.

Much of today’s television advertising does just that. Advertisers’ dive toward the bottom seems to fall into three categories — modern culture’s general crudeness, a cynical view of our own society and our too-often self-centered nature.

Crudity seems to have reached bottom when a deodorant is indelicately described as killing a lady’s “stink.” Do we really have to go there? Other examples are too manifest to bother cataloging.

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Far more troubling than crude, though, are ads that trade on, and may help fuel, the belief that our country is going to hell in a handbasket. These ads support the idea that the country is “on the wrong track.”

A recent ad even quotes Revolutionary War gadfly Thomas Paine that the country’s security rests with the will of the people before it concludes that our security today rests with extended auto repair warranties! Want to be patriotic? Buy our car repair warranty. This passes for serious advertising in 2022.

There was another ad in the same vein during COVID. A mattress company ad featured an attractive blond reclining on a bed as a fighter jet roared overhead. “That’s the sound of freedom,” she declared, before telling us that Americans know what’s important, and that a new mattress will give us the freedom we deserve — at a good price, of course.

Then, there are the self-serving ads, the ones that pander to our obsession with our own personal wants over everything and everybody else. We have become so focused on what’s best for me and me alone, it’s inevitable that companies would find it lucrative to tap into that attitude.

Such ads have been around for a good while, but like everything else in our national dialogue, they seem to have become more blatant. Hence, there are television ads featuring a guy who says he owed $15,000 in taxes and was afraid the IRS was “coming after” him. His answer, in step with 21st century America, was not to pay the debt he owes but to call a company that specializes in talking down the tax collectors. When they were done, he proudly declares, he had to pay less than $4,000.

This fictional character never says he didn’t owe the original amount, just that he was afraid he would have to pay it, so he managed to beat the government out of more than two-thirds of what he owed. Now, who did he really beat out of that money? If you pay the taxes you owe, as the vast majority of us do, then he beat you out of that money. Somebody has to pay for our military, roads, bridges and other infrastructure, education and numerous other public services, but this deadbeat wants us to know that, if at all possible, it won’t be him.

I guess you can’t blame him since, when I first saw that type of ad run, we had a president who bragged that he never pays taxes. Why shouldn’t Joe Citizen expect to do the same? And those of us who pay what we owe? We’re left to believe that we’re the suckers in modern society.

The same thing applies to credit card debt. People who run up huge debts on their credit cards often find they can’t pay off the loan. Their answer too often is not to be more frugal but to turn the problem over to a company that specializes in “negotiating” with credit card companies and thus reducing what their clients owe. Again, nobody claims they didn’t run up the debt. They just want to get out of paying it.

Guess what that does to the cost of business for everyone else?

Bad debts have always been the bane of existence for businesses large and small. People contract to buy services or products and, if they’re not required to pay up front, some of them will try very hard not to pay at all.

More than 50 years ago, I worked briefly for Sears Roebuck as a credit collector. It was the absolute worst job I ever had. I remember one lady in particular who answered her door and told me point blank that Sears had been stupid enough to let her have merchandize on credit and deserved not to collect for it. As far as I know, the company never did.

Television advertising didn’t create that attitude, but an increasing number of companies pander to it and other baser instincts, and shame on them for doing so.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is