Cable TV as our salvation?

By Published on .

Advertiser: Tele-Communications Inc.
Agency: Red Ball Tiger, San Francisco
Rating: 1 star (out of 4)

The scene is vaguely Orwellian, but apparently set in the present: a brooding apartment dweller on his way home from work through the dusky, sullen city. The man is tense, anxious, preoccupied. Passing a giant telescreen filled with images and buzzwords of the digital age, he glances upward with contempt.

And what is he fretting about?


"I'm somebody," he says, in interior monologue, apparently directed at the cable industry. "I'm somebody. Have you thought about that when you're building this thing, this so-called superhighway? Have you thought about me? Listen to me. This revolution that's taking place, it's not about technology. It's about people. It's about us. Government, bureaucratic corporations--they're all alike, telling us what's right. Maybe that's what's wrong. You cable guys seem to march to a different drummer. Will your answers be better? Should be, because this is for us. This is our chance. Don't blow it."

Then the endframe from the sponsor, Tele-Communications Inc., the world's largest owner of cable systems. It's an ad from cable, ostensibly to cable, about cable. The tagline: "We're taking television into tomorrow."

What they should be taking is this fellow into therapy. Anxiety, depression and paranoia about cable? And TCI, where founder John Malone's absolute power dictates absolutely, is going to pull him out of it? This guy shouldn't be looking for help via co-ax. He should be looking for help via Prozac.

But if you think that spot from Red Ball Tiger, San Francisco, is overwrought and depressive, you should see the second one. The agonizing hero in that one pulls his truck up in front of his house, but instead of getting out, he tightly grips his steering wheel and stares into space.

"Used to be different. Used to be you had a job, you had security. You could work long, work hard, make something of yourself, of your family. It's different now. Work, life, everything. But maybe with this highway thing you cable guys are building, how you're paying to put it into our schools, giving our kids access to more information, more choices, maybe they've got a chance again. Maybe we've got a chance. Because it can't just be for the big shots. It's gotta be for all of us. Otherwise we all lose. And we can't afford that. Our kids deserve better. We all do. Are you listening?"

Yep, but we can't believe our ears: The kids deserve better, and cable is what they deserve. Would that be the Cartoon Channel portion of cable? The home shopping portion? The music video portion? The pornographic movie portion?

Like, give us a break.

The message here seems to be that technology is dehumanizing, and that only TCI has the insight and wherewithal to treat people with respect and to serve their needs--a message that, in addition to being ludicrously pretentious, is also hypocritical beyond belief.

For John Malone, a kingpin and power broker of mythic proportions, to portray politicians and bureaucrats as callous omnipotent puppet masters is like Mel Reynolds calling Bob Packwood a lecher.

Oh, don't get us wrong. We at Ad Review do understand what it is to fret about cable. We moved to a new home a couple of months ago, and we had to have our service switched. It took four phone calls before the installer showed up.

Tell Bob Garfield what you think. E-mail him at EFPB35A.

Copyright September 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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