Another dispatch from the Monkey See infomercial desk:
In my house, we call Billy Mays "the yelling guy." In that, I don't believe that we are all that unique. Billy Mays is a guy who yells on television. He yells about Orange Glo, the Big City Slider Station, OxyClean, iCan health insurance, and various other products with practical uses, some of which have capital letters in the middle of their single-word names.
My nine year old son likes to imitate Billy Mays, probably because Billy Mays is ridiculously easy to imitate. His does his research while watching his favorite TV channels, all of which are prime Billy Mays territory: Discovery Channel, The Science Channel and The Military Channel.
The Yelling Guy gets big news and a big new opportunity, after the jump...
When my son was four, he graduated from the ostensibly commercial-free TV zone of PBS Kids. My concern was not that he would be watching inappropriate programming, but that he would be watching too many commercials. I sat him down and explained to him that commercials are tricks that are trying to get you to buy something you don't really need. I let him watch The Food Network, not Nickelodeon. I figured that at least the commercials on The Food Network were not aimed at him. Preschoolers aren't interested in buying paper towels and frozen food.
A couple of years ago he lost interest in cooking. He wanted to watch explosions, bug-eating, big machines and car crashes. Discovery Channel is pretty much your one-stop-shop for all of that boy stuff. It's also chock-full of commercials for things that aren't toys but that can seem like toys to boys. Billy Mays does his level best to make them seem like toys for boys, including doing something boys love to do: he yells. My son loves Billy Mays. He also loves to imitate Billy Mays by yelling.
Now The Yelling Guy is getting his own show. The Discovery Channel press release enthuses, "Go behind the curtain and peek into the world of the clever inventors and the equally clever men who sell their products." The guy who makes the commercials is going to have a show about making commercials and how great the guys are who make the things in the commercials he makes. It's not just that there are commercials, but there is going to be a show about the commercials that itself will have commercials.
I am trying to work up some shred of indignation about this, but I just can't. The circular logic of programming and promotion has looped back on itself so many times it seems like a Mobius strip.
My kids watch Padma Lakshmi shill the Glad family of products during Top Chef — while
the chefs pack their food into Glad storage containers. They devoted 5 minutes of All Things Considered to the Public Radio Tuner iPhone app - on which you can hear All Things Considered. It makes that little speech I made to my son — the one about how it's the commercials that are the tricks — seem so lame and dated.