Talking Back to TV

EXCEPT for a couple of bank robbers before my time, our family has had little to be proud of, but now I learn with vast approval that a distant kin is making a name for himself as a vehement protester against banal and vapid video messages. When my kin sees a commercial that is ``the worst one yet,'' which is about every evening, he gets on the telephone and tries to track down the culpable source, and he will deliver a spirited message which he knows does no good, but Aristotle would call it a proper purgation, and he feels better and goes to bed to sleep that much more soundly.

I'm glad to learn about this. For a long time television commercials put me in mind of Hermanigilde Telesphore Vaillantcourt, who once offered profound advice to the United States Postal Service. When Hermanigilde came down from Kamarouska, Quebec, to become a loomfixer for the Pepperell cotton people, he told his folks that until he got a better address they could write to him in care of M. le G'en'eral Delivery at the Bureau de Poste at h'Augusta, Maine, Boston States.

After a few days he stepped into the post office at Augusta, Maine, and asked if they had ``some letter'' for Hermanigilde Telesphore Vaillantcourt, h'if you please, t'ank you. After four or five clerks had tried to understand him without success, he was told that he'd have to speak more plainly. Whereupon Hermanigilde, knowing well that his diction was adequate, spoke as follows:

``Hermanigilde Telesphore Vaillantcourt! Hermanigilde Telesphore Vaillantcourt! What's for trouble your h'ears? Why don't you sell your foolish post office and go buy yourself some school?''

So I have long felt that the television industry might dispose of some of its assets and set up a first- or second-grade school where advertising geniuses could study for 10 or 15 minutes once a month and acquire basic knowledge, plus respect for the intelligence of the public.

My kin says that in his effort to elevate the TV depths he began with a dairy that sponsored commercials voiced by ``an idiot who outraged me.'' After some shunting about, he was connected by telephone with a lady who admitted to being vice-president for advertising and public affairs.

He told her he wouldn't buy any products so long as they ran those ads. The lady thanked him and said she would make a note and pass this along to the proper authority - she had already said that she was the authority. His next effort, he told me, was with a bank that keeps saying, ``...we're always thinking!'' He told them there isn't a bank in the United States that has done any significant corporate thinking in 50 years, and he felt the repetition preposterous. Again, he was thanked and told that his message would be passed along to the proper officer, who was not at the moment at his desk.

I can say, to offset the negative aspects, that my kin also responds to advertising that pleases him, or at least that which offends him less. He called one business and said he enjoyed its effort and hoped it would accept his thanks. Then he was told he had reached an answering service and his message would be passed along to the proper officer. He has called all the snowmobile dealers to say that if they don't drive more prudently they'll kill somebody, and he calls the automobile dealers to say that if they can pay back $2,700, it means their price is $2,700 too high.

But he liked the commercial for a restaurant that offers menu specials at half price. As the woman tells this, a shadow falls across her face until she is only half there. My kin found that amusing and said so, although he surmises the servings have half as many scallops.

The reason my kin telephoned to give me a report has to do with the man in the kayak. The commercial is for a BIG bank, and it shows this gentleman passing with a double-ender paddle. He has a bit of a sea, but is not in snowmobile danger, and he is talking to himself about the bank - he uses the word ``relationship'' four times in one sentence. My kin felt that was hardly a cricket word for banking purposes, but he wondered more as to why a kayak is used to stress the availability of easy mortgages, safe deposit boxes, and deposits by mail.

This was indeed a BIG bank, because when he telephoned he was told nobody connected with the bank handles such things, but the advertising agency could be reached at this number. He dialed, to learn that the account executive was not available but would return the call. When the call was returned, my kin learned from a somewhat dismayed account executive that the man in the kayak was also the man who owned the kayak, and that he insisted on paddling the kayak in the commercial because he was also president of the bank.

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