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Charlie Hatton
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That’s It! I’m Drawing the Line — Here! No, Here! Here? How About Here? No?

Blog — the choice of a new generation

I’m not very good with ‘principles’. I mean, the big ones, I can handle. I’ve never killed anyone, or drop-kicked my dog, for instance.

(Though I’ve been sorely tempted to do both, at one time or another.)

I try not to piss my wife off, I pay my taxes, and it’s been years since I’ve tied paper bags around a cat’s paws to amuse myself. Or at least months. I forget, really. But I’m working on it, okay?

So, anyhoo — I think I’ve pretty much got the major things covered. It’s developing principles for the little, day-to-day things that I have trouble with. Well, to be precise, I don’t have any trouble in developing those principles; it’s sticking to them that I can’t seem to get right. I come up with these grandiose, well-considered schemes, and they sound perfectly reasonable, but then they simply fail to fit into my lifestyle, and I end up chucking ’em out the window.

Here’s a recent example: over the past couple of years or so, I’ve become fed up with a lot of advertising, especially on television. Nothing surprising there, right? Everybody’s seen at least one ill-conceived, horrendous commercial that fails more or less completely to interest any rational person in the sponsor’s product. Sometimes, the product’s not really featured in the ad; other times, the concept is simply ludicrous or asanine, and leaves you wondering about the sanity of everyone involved in the production. In any case, it’s obvious that millions and millions of dollars were wasted, and you’re completely turned off.

My favorite personal examples are the recent Old Navy commercials. I get this twitch over my left eye when one of these spots comes on now. Even with a quick trigger on the remote, I end up seeing much more of these ads than any human should ever have to suffer through. They’re annoying, cloying, and nonsensical. I know they’re shooting for ‘camp’, but it’s not even good enough to qualify as campy. ‘Crampy’, maybe, or just plain ‘crappy’, but not ‘campy’.

Anyway, think about these ads from the company’s perspective, whose goal is to attract more business. Bringing back washed-up semi-stars from the past thirty years of television drivel and making them sing grating, sugary jingles doesn’t seem to me — now this is just me, mind you — like the best way to sell cargo pants, or rugby shirts, or whatever the hell they’re peddling. Look, I can understand bringing back an ‘A list’ actor or actress from the recent past to shill your shit. I really don’t have anything against that. Think of Bill Cosby — at the height of his popularity, you couldn’t think of the ‘Cos without a ‘puddin’ pop’ in his mouth.

(Which may say more about Cosby himself than it does about his Jell-o ads, but I’m gonna leave that one alone. This time. ‘Hey hey hey!‘)

But that was fine. His star faded, and he hung up the popsicle sticks, and now he stays largely in the background, as washed-up old celebrities are supposed to. These people they’ve been parading out to do the Old Navy bits, though? They’ve been out of it for years — decades, in some cases. Their careers have been dead, buried, and forgotten forever, so why cake makeup over their wrinkles and wheel ’em back out for this? Did their Social Security checks stop coming? Are they raising money for another facelift?

(Speaking of dead, did they bring Sherman Hemsley back from the grave? He doesn’t look so good, for one thing, but I thought he went the way of Redd Foxx back… well, back around the time Redd Foxx did, come to think of it. Didn’t they party together, back in the day?)

So, I made a Big Decision™. I decided to create an Inviolable Principle for myself, and the principle was this:

I shalt not frequenteth those places of business or buyeth those products whose advertisements annoyeth me or maketh me cringe.

(Yes, it’s best to use the Biblical vernacular when creating Inviolable Principles for yourself. For one thing, it makes it feel more like the voice of God, or Buddha, or Allah, or Nature, or whatver you follow, speaking to you directly. Or in my case, saying your new Inviolable Principle out loud will make you giggle. And it’s always good to start on such a solemn, important journey with a goofy grin on your face.)

So this should be a piece of cake, right? I made the rule, and I’m the only one who’s bound to follow it, so how could it possibly go wrong? Well, lots of ways, as it turns out. First, I realized more or less immediately that I wasn’t going to follow the inverse of the rule. That is, if a company makes a good, clever commercial, then I’m not going to run out the door and buy whatever they’re selling. I don’t buy Budweiser beer just because those frogs were a cute idea. Or if Massengill, for instance, or Tampax were to ever quit with the ‘not so fresh feeling’ crap and make a really good, entertaining commercial — well, I can honestly say that it wouldn’t affect my buying habits with respect to their products in the slightest. Oh, I’d still buy the panty liners — the ones with wings are great for wiping up spills in the kitchen — but I wouldn’t really change the way I shop. So that was a little disappointing; you always want an Inviolable Principle to be sound enough that you can use it from all angles, and this one already had holes poked all around it. Still, the rule itself was intact, so I soldiered on.

I made a list of all of the companies whose products I wasn’t going to support. Old Navy was at the top of the list, of course, followed by Dell Computers (‘Dude! You’re goin’ to Hell!‘), Mazda (that ‘Zoom zoom‘ kid needs a wedgie. Badly.), Enterprise Car Rental (they’re using Paige Davis from Trading Spaces in one of their ads. For the love of God, people, don’t encourage her! What the hell were they thinking?), and a whole host of others. And life was good. I never liked Old Navy anyway, I had my last two computers custom-built locally, and I already own a non-Mazda car, which kills two birds with one auto. Sweet!

That’s when it all came tumbling down, of course. I was minding my own business, watching some drivel or otheron television, when it happened. My show went off, and Britney Spears appeared and started prancing around my screen, mewling like a sick kitten about the ‘Joy of Pepsi’ and being generally rather annoying. And then I saw another of the ads, and another, and another. PepsiCo had gone and signed her to some multi-commercial deal, no doubt worth millions, with the money apparently contingent on emulating as many different American pop culture bimbos as possible. Wonderful.

Now look, friends — I’ve been around the block a few times, and I’ve seen many a blondie bimbo traipsing around onscreen. That’s fine — I honestly have no problem with these folks trying to make a buck or two, as long as they generally keep their mouths shut and stay out of the way of the real entertainers and entertaineresses. They can host an MTV special if they like, or cameo on a sitcom, and they can do Conan or Leno if they get enough ink, but otherwise, they should show up, wave to the nice people, and know when the hell to leave.

(See ‘McCarthy, Jenny’ for a good example of how to handle one’s bimbosity more or less correctly.)

The last thing I want one of these trashy tramps to do is to hawk my favorite non-beer beverage in a mega-series of commercials just after I’ve made a resolution to boycott any advertising that annoys me. Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch!

So now, I’ve got a dilemma. Stop drinking Pepsi, or violate my Inviolable Principle. Well, that was a no-brainer. You see, folks, when it comes down to fundamental values, I’m fundamentally weak. I chucked my resolution out the window and grabbed a can of my favorite cola. Oh, I avoided the commercials as best I could, and bitched about them when I failed to switch channels fast enough, but I continued to drink Pepsi, regardless. My rule lasted all of about a week, and even at that, it was one of my more successful Inviolable Principles.

(Come to think of it, I should really come up with a new name for those, seeing as how I’m always, um, violating them. Which makes it sound dirty, too, doesn’t it?)

Anyway, there you have it. I’m weak, and I play loose with my principles. When the going gets tough, I tend to err on the side of personal comfort and established routine. In short: I’m a man. All of my really inviolable rules these days get handed down from my wife.

(And occasionally from the dog, but I think it’s okay to do what she’s asking, because she hasn’t instructed me to kill anyone. Yet. I’ll have another dilemma when she does, I suppose.)

I think the best thing for me to do is just to give up trying to better myself on my own, and await instructions from whoever’s willing to give them. I may not end up doing the most noble or virtuous things that way, but at least I can tell myself that it’s no longer my fault. And really, at the end of the day, what more principle does any man need?

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