Have you seen that commercial?

I grew up knowing about the Battlestar Galactica suicide. I remember that this really disturbed my parents, who several years before had drawn straws late one night to determine which of them would break the news to me in the morning. My dad lost, and as I sat in the six-in-the-morning glow of our suburban living room, enjoying my morning ritual with Adam West and Burt Ward, my father informed me I was watching The Last Batman Episode. Ever.

“Why won’t there be any more?” I asked. He knew this was coming, but foreknowledge didn’t provide a satisfying answer. “Because not enough people watch it,” he replied.

My six-year-old eyes grabbed him in a serious gaze.

“I watch it,” I replied levelly.

I was young enough that the world’s refusal to revolve around me still frustrated me. I was learning that in the grand scheme of things, my preferences were of no consequence, but I didn’t like the lesson. I still don’t. I have had a long-standing mistrust of ratings institutions and statistical reports (especially when concerning demographics) ever since.

The cosmic irony is that I’ve been called to be a Nielson family three times. My favorite time was the third, when I lived in Pensacola, Florida. The poor lady on the phone didn’t seem to understand the first time I said, “I don’t own a television.” “Oh, we’ll pay for cable,” came the breezy reply.

“I don’t own a television,” I repeated. Minor frustration entered her voice as she assured me they would provide a converter box as well. I began to wonder if I had ceased to speak English.

I took a deep breath, relaxed, and slowly said, “I don’t own a television.”

Five second of eternity passed in silence. “Oh my,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.” Her tones were those reserved only for speaking of unimaginable tragedy or death, and then she was gone.

“Wait!” I wanted to yell back. “It’s okay! I don’t want one!”

These calls finally disturbed me enough that I disconnected the phone*.

Each time I have been contacted, I’m tempted to agree. I’ll fill out the forms and let them pay for cable and send their converter box and then send in the reports dutifully every week completely blank, reporting that I watched precisely nothing. Some people would call that culture jamming, but I think of it as a more accurate representation of the television habits of the American people. Of course, the Nielson Company isn’t interested in the television habits of the American people; they are interested in reporting the habits of the television-watching public. This information is how they make their money, for it is bought in turn by other companies who want to sell products to the television-watching public. I never cease to be amazed by acquaintances (usually at work around the fabled water cooler) discussing commercials. I inevitably get asked directly if I have seen commercial thus-and-such, to which I reply a truthfully concise “No.”

They then proceed to tell me about it.


Madison Avenue succeeded**.