Thursday, December 15, 2011

B-5 and the Attack of the Ads

Possibly the best part about re-watching Babylyon 5. has been not just immersing my the story, and reveling in the pure space opera, but reliving part of the consumer culture of the era.

The time was 1996.  Clinton was in office. We were disentangling ourselves with Reaganomics after Bush began our climb out, and Bill Clinton was battling Congressional Republicans on near every detail of policy.  Babylon 5 was begun as an independent project, out of the channel studio system, with a low budget, but writing that looked ahead in arcs previously unthought of. Brisco County Jr. gave us a young and brash Bruce Campbell. The X-Files were going strong. Deeps Space Nine was half way through its run. It was a heady time for science fiction on TV, there were cartoons galore still on TV that weren't just kid's content, MTV even showed videos on occasion.

And the ads...

The reveling for me is not the slick commercials of the major players.  Not the cereal commercials, the McDonalds ads, the cologne and perfume or clothing ads, though, to be fair, I am remembering the very pale Werther's ads, and chocolate Reisen ads, and the Mentos ads as well that just can't be done today. The hair, the colors, the Mom jeans, those are all there, but for me, it's the local cable ads that are killing me the most. The DragonCon ads. The local electricians and plumbers who threw up advertisements on cable, with the most basic of electronic signage, the furniture warehouses that pulled stunts and tried so damn hard to funny. The tech schools that did put real graduates and not actors up on their ads with an earnestness that just can't be found today.

To be fair, you can't find them like that anymore, because, they are awful. Just terrible production values, not terribly effective, and embarrassing acting. But that was the age. When your local cable companies were exactly that: local. Ran locally, pulling in ads from businesses based in the community and not just from industry giants, and produced not in package deals with a bunch of other industry giants, but your local plumber said, "Hey, you know what we need? An ad here, right after the dating service girl. Damn, she's cute..." Music cued up from some guy down the street who had a keyboard and a cheap mixer, and edited in by a community college student doing his internship, and it was that very earnestness in advertising that I kind of miss.

I have pretty much sliced off my cable today. Netflix. Hulu. I don't pipe in TV the same way I did back in those days. My news comes in on the computer, I get my movies and shows directly from the source, and while I am exposed to a few ads, I limit that by making my X-Box and Mac my prime entertainment sources. It is a very different consumer entertainment environment today, but going through the tapes, I have to smile. Not just at having to run the cleaner tape, laden with alcohol, not just sheer clunkiness of the tapes--the reassuring sound as the motor slams them into overdrive to fast forward or rewind--but the knowledge that THIS was the high tech of the day.  No giant flatscreens, but full size tubes on TVs that could actually kill you if they fell on you. And despite myself, sitting here with my own flatscreen TV, piping in TV on the wireless, I sort of miss those days, where your local car dealership went CRAZY with ads and DEALS!

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