I’m starting to understand why some folks tend to eat dinner at four o’clock in the afternoon. I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not just because of early-bird, all-you-can-eat buffets, especially if they involve barbequed peel-and-eat shrimp and beer, although those can be interesting, We don’t tend to have enough of those buffets around here.
No, I think that many people are like my wife, who has a thing about bodily functions. Why, she says, are we designed the way we are? Who made the mistake of requiring the elimination of waste part of the equation? Why can’t we just eat and drink, and that’s the end of it?
I try to point out that there are billion-dollar-a-year industries and millions of jobs based on dealing with the byproducts of human existence, but she’ll have none of it. I’ll ask her, “How would those cute bears who do the advertising for Charmin bathroom tissue make a living if we didn’t need toilet paper?” I then get the “Apollo” argument. “If we can put a man on the moon,” she says, “why can’t we humans just avoid the bathroom altogether?
”I’ve never been quite sure of the logic of that argument, but I digress. The reason people eat early, if they tend to watch TV while they eat—like good, red-blooded Americans are supposed to do—is to avoid eating during the news hour on television. The news hour is an endless stream of advertisements for products that deal with all aspects of human nutrition and elimination interspersed with short, poorly-researched, and written news stories. (No offense, my TV news colleagues, but try to remember those pillars of good print journalism, the five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Whatever).
I do not think of myself as a wimp. I mean, I can handle the sight of large needles in the doctor’s office as long as they are being pointed at someone else, but sometimes, I must agree with my wife. These ads often cross over the edge of Too Much Information, better known in text speak as “TMI.
”Advertisers apparently decided that, based on the recent popularity of television crime dramas that also are known best by abbreviations, such as “CSI” and “NCIS,” we could handle TMI. These TV shows often feature scenes of gruesome autopsies and microscopic vignettes of bullets and knife blades piercing deep anatomic structures along with “grisly” sound effects. Since viewers seem unbothered by watching Grissom study how a body rots or “Duckie” Mallard sawing off the top of a victim’s skull to remove the brain, it only makes sense that TV ads would begin to feature more explicit information.
Now by TMI in advertising I’m not talking about things like an image of a person with their head in a vise to symbolize a headache or a foot with flames between the toes depicting athlete’s foot. No, I’m talking about images that, even in the abstract, are representative of more internal and therefore more intimate activity, especially for people like my wife, who find that whole waste elimination thing disgusting.
There is, for example, an ad for an over-the-counter laxative that features a diagram of a colon, which actually looks like a set of parentheses, ( ), rather than a colon. To demonstrate the harshness of other laxatives, pulsating and downward-facing arrows are shown forcing their way between these parentheses. According to my unnamed medical source, this is meant to represent, and I quote, “forceful medication-induced stimulation of natural peristaltic action.” I don’t know what that means, but it doesn’t sound good.
These arrows are then replaced with small droplets of liquid between the parentheses to show how the product the advertiser wants you to buy is more gentle because rather than forcing things to a conclusion, it draws water from the body to help things flow along.
It is at this point that my wife stops eating her mashed potatoes and gravy. The ad gives her the willies.