By Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter 3/2008 and Boston City Paper 2/2008
Being a slow news month with absolutely nothing else going on, I thought today I’d turn our attention to television commercials and their warnings.
I’m talking about car commercials, and certain others advertisements, that feel the need to add “Do not attempt” to the commercial when the situation is obviously preposterous to anyone with a modicum of common sense. Example: If a guy gets a rush from a Mountain Dew and exuberantly skydives off the Eiffel Tower, do we really need a “Do not attempt” message? I mean, I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower, they don’t sell Mountain Dew there anyway, and even if they did, the French police (I believe they call them “Bobbies”) would stop you if you tried to skydive from it, right?
Now, I appreciate the need for a “Closed Course / Professional Driver / Do not attempt” message when I see the shiny car driving 200 miles per hour along the very edge of some steep canyon at heights that would make the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote say, “Forget it, man, that’s too high up for me.” Because it’s POSSIBLE — not likely, mind you, but POSSIBLE — that some Doofus will try to imitate the commercial and end up as the newest crater at the bottom of Mount Washington.
But … what about the commercials that show us blatantly obvious, preposterous, supernatural or otherwise “ain’t ever gonna happen” scenarios? For example, there’s the Toyota commercial where the truck gets hit by a meteor — A METEOR! — that explodes and nearly kills the camera crew and apparently vaporizes the truck — but wait! The truck is unharmed. The tag line reads, “Tundra — Meteor Proof.” Good to know, I suppose, but then they add, “Dramatization.” Wait, is the truck meteor proof or not? Given the number of meteor strikes on the roads these days, I need to know.
Another example. The truck commercial where they test the brakes by loading the car with two tons of concrete and race down a metal ramp, stopping inches from the abyss of the Grand Canyon. “Do not attempt.” You’ve seen the commercial, it’s impressive as hell if it’s real, but do you REALLY need to be told NOT TO TRY THIS? I’ve done some stupid things in my life but not once — even drunk, even in my crazy college days — did I ever think, “”Hey! Let’s test the truck brakes by seeing if they can stop ten tons of cargo free-falling off the Grand Canyon!” Nope, never thought that. And even without a “do not attempt” I know it’s not a good idea. Put another way: Well, duh.
To all those commercials showing SUV drivers careening thru the snow banks and forests of Endor at mach 3: No need to say “Do not attempt,” I understand that driving over the fallen trees, boulders, land mines and volcanic ash wrecks your axel, transmission, and of course makes the forest rangers really, really upset (not to mention demolishing my resale value). I also don’t need a “Do not attempt” for that commercial that shows the truck driving DOWN THE SNOWY MOUNTAIN. If I want to go down the mountain, I’ll take a SNOWMOBILE. Or ski.
There’s another commercial where people are getting rid of their cars. Forget a practical solution such as a donation, selling it, or having it towed to the scrap heap. Nope, these people PUSH THE CAR OFF A GARAGE ROOF where it PLUNGES eight stories and CRASHES into the street. As tons of concrete and lethal debris rain down on the (thankfully) empty street “Do not attempt” flashes across the screen. I realize two things: 1) I’m sure glad the street below was deserted and 2) to think I was worried about hitting someone when I pitched a penny off the Empire State Building in 1979. I also wonder if the person who pushed the car is surcharged by the insurance company — after all, it WAS a single car accident.
Speaking of getting rid of things, there is a commercial where people are trying to get rid of their refrigerator so they can get a new one. Again, since there’s just no way to legally dispose of a refrigerator anywhere in America these days (*cough* two trash stickers *cough*) alternative methods of disposal are demonstrated: In one, the solution is tying the refrigerator to the train tracks as a train approaches. “Do not attempt” appears on the screen.
Do not attempt? Really? So, I can’t take my refrigerator to the commuter train tracks and tie it there to be demolished by the high-speed express? Do not attempt? How about, “Do not attempt — Doing this will kill and injure hundreds when the train derails and explodes.” Or “Guarantees Federal Time after you’re convicted of domestic terrorism.”
In the same commercial, someone places the unwanted refrigerator atop a huge cliff (it looks like Acadia National Park) and uses a giant wrecking ball to demolish it. Again, “Do not attempt.” Assuming I could even get my old fridge atop Mount Cadillac, and assuming I could somehow rent a crane large enough to smash it, (are permits involved with this sort of thing?) I assume that the park rangers, tourists, conservationists and dozens of other federal agencies would have no problem with me smashing the cliff face until it crumbles and sends my unwanted appliance into the ocean?
OK, final commercial: Maytag dryers. They are DURABLE. So durable, in fact, that the Maytag guy sets up a baseball throwing machine, dials it to 50 miles per hours and fires dozens of baseballs at the Maytag’s window, and then cheerfully wipes the unbroken window clean. “Do not attempt” flashes at the bottom of the screen. Look, I may be crazy, but renting a super baseball machine to lob pitches at my DRYER just never occurred to me. Me: “Honey, I’m heading to the cellar to fire baseballs at the dryer with the new pitching machine!” / Her: “OK! Can you grab a few cans of salmon on the way back upstairs?”
Look, advertisers, if you really want to place a useful warning in your commercials, how about this: Every time you have someone eating at Burger King or McDonalds, just say, “Do not attempt.” Now THAT’s a warning worth heeding.