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Television and Culture: A SUV Runs Through It.

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 29, 1999


Last Sunday morning while watching pundit prime-time on television, I was totally appalled by the recent installment of the Archer Daniels Midland "Supermarket to the world" commercial campaign. It was then I decided I needed to conduct a research project. Systematically watching television commercials, the goal was to analyze the environmental messages being subtly transmitted.

The first thing that I noticed was that nature is completely under siege, whether it was weeds mourning the loss of a friend to Round-up, or an actor, doing his best concerned farmer routine, explaining how technology is making it easier to apply pesticides with pinpoint accuracy. Perfectly grotesque was the commercial with the cadaver of David Brinkly promoting over-population  through grain handouts, and even more satellite technology.

To be honest the type of commercial that irritates me the most are the ones for sport utility vehicles that show people driving up mountains and through creeks and river beds as if such behavior had no impact on the biotic communities they were invading. Over the past decade I have seen automobiles placed in every known terrestrial environment. Madison Avenue sells people vehicles with the promise that they too can conquer the world.

Then there are the commercials that promote an automobile's sound proofing features. Usually these ads feature a luxury car, but now even sport utility vehicles are using this as a marketing tool. Basically what they are telling us is that we can drive through any fragile ecosystem without having to hear the sounds of the environment dying. According to television advertising, no place is sacred, or free from the destructive influence of America's codependent love affair with the automobile.

Regardless of what you are watching on television, odds are that the commercial break will feature one automobile spot. Even Saturday morning children's programming has commercials for battery operated mini jeeps for the pre-school set. You've seen the commercial, a little blond girl driving down the sidewalk in her Barbie Jeep to be met by her friends in vehicles of their own. This is a clear attempt by industry to brain wash children into auto dependence at an early age.

Of course I'm not surprised by the media's saturation of everything automobile. On July 1st, 1941 commercial television was born when Sonoco Oil produced Sonoco News. After it's debut, with the news anchor sharing the desk with cans of Sonoco oil, a review in Variety Magazine correctly prophesied that "TV is destined to be the mechanized Fuller Brush man of the future." For those of you to young to remember, the Fuller Brush man was the guy who came to your home, trying to sell you things you didn't need.

How many remember the Chevron commercials that were not about selling oil or gasoline, but instead focused on greenwashing the Chevron corporate image. The "People Do" campaign highlighted how Chevron had created a bird sanctuary in Hawaii, and a kit fox refuge in Arizona. What these commercial spots did not tell consumers was that the bird sanctuary was in the middle of an oil refinery, or that the the foxes were now forced to share their habitat with the oil companies hardware.

Another thing that the oil and auto industries won't tell you is that the largest single contributor to greenhouse gases is emissions from automobiles in the United States. Ironically the global warming now being experienced, is being fueled by American commuters, and this is with all the smog checks. But then again this is probably why President Bush refused, in 1992, to sign the Agenda 21 Agreement along with 182 other nations at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

When watching the news and all the talking heads, rarely is the connection between automobiles and environmental degradation ever covered in detail. Any news reporting in the mainstream media is superficial at best. So when an American president thumbs his nose at international environmental concerns, to protect American corporate interests, it is no surprise that the broadcast media fails to criticize such an action. The network news is highly subsidized by the industries that produce the greenhouse gases, so any real discussion regarding their effect would cut into profits, and that, as we all know, is un-American.

I invite everybody to look at who is sponsoring the nightly news, and ask yourself how that shapes what is not being reported. Once that is done you can tackle what is being discussed. Considering that the number one advertiser on television are pharmaceutical companies, it will come as no surprise that every newscast has some report on the latest medical breakthrough, or wonder drug.

John, a holistic masseur, made a very wise comment while watching these commercials with me. In between Bob Dole rambling on about erectile disfunction and some soccer moms discussing lactose intolerance, John shook his head and muttered "America's sick." We both laughed as I turned off the television.

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