I'm on a plane at 7 a.m., the golden sun breaking over the California mountains, watching a lengthy advertisement about a serial killer. This ad is for a show starring Kevin Bacon, and it features the the routine litany of visual cues associated with television dramas — the dank visuals, idiotic strobe effects and broken mirrors (METAPHORS for his MIND, you know) that indicate this show will entertain you while also doing a deep and permanent psychological trauma.
I'm on a plane at 7 a.m., the golden sun breaking over the California mountains, watching a lengthy advertisement about a serial killer. This ad is for a show starring Kevin Bacon, and it features the the routine litany of visual cues associated with television dramas — the dank visuals, idiotic strobe effects and broken mirrors (METAPHORS for his MIND, you know) that indicate this show will entertain you while also doing a deep and permanent psychological trauma. At one point the show's title appears on the screen, scrawled on a basement wall in drippy blood. A few moments later there's a girl's naked back, covered in frightening, occult-lookings tattoos. There's at least one corpse, and one guy swinging a 2X4 at another guy's head, though the next jump-cut happens before impact. When they show the bad guy, the screen goes all sketchy and jittery, so everyone's all caught up that he's, you know, the bad guy, the stubbly serial killer on whom the camera is gazing dreamily.
Whatever, it looks stupid. But it also just … looks. It looks something, because it's unavoidable. There is no switch to turn off the serial killer, no way to shut down this insistent, effervescent ad parade. The screen on my flight out west — carved and embedded, like this one, into every single seat on the airplane — was at least under my control, albeit only after I figured out the unpublicized Easter egg that turning the screen's brightness all the way down completed the deeply discouraged task of turning the screen off. This flight doesn't afford me that choice.
I'm not watching the screen, and in fact at this point I'm agitated enough to want to smash it with my copy of SkyMall (which, I'd remind you, is mine to keep!), but it's always there, it's never off, it's demanding your attention constantly, in your forced field of vision, the net effect being that I — and all of, everyone on the plane, vacationers and business travelers and children — cannot turn off Kevin Bacon, the smoldering serial killer, the scary bloody walls or the corpse. We're all registering it every few minutes. We're actually registering it more profoundly thanks to whatever marketing PowerPoints revealed in the past few years that people internalize commercials for inane television more when those commercials include the actual words on the screen, so if the show's about a murderer, you put the word HE'S A MURDERER up there in 400-pt. bold. in large bold type, moving if possible. This way, even if the subtlety of the nefarious glances and skittish jump-cuts and people pointing guns at the cameraman is missed by you, you don't have to be in the dark about what's going on. This ad for the the Kevin Bacon show includes two that read, in order:
Even serial killers
Aw, good for them. Wonder if they have to discard their 3-ounce shampoo bottles?
This morning I've been rerouted twice, due to what the airline called "mechanical trouble," resulting initially in a 4.5-hour delay of my original plane. Prior to that I ran the gauntlet of taking my shoes off, unpacking my laptop. I'm unallowed to power up my phone on because of how it will irrevocably scramble the plane's compass systems and cause all the plane's navigational screens to be replaced with my "Words With Friends" games. Once before boarding a flight I had my Starbucks mocha tested with a litmus paper, coffee I purchased literally 60 feet removed from the chemical engineers now staffing the gates. Earlier I paid extra money for the privilege of bringing home my suitcase. All of which are apparently the cost of sitting jammed in an Altoids tin two feet away from an advertisement for a show about a serial killer that currently involves an interview with a child actor who can't be more than third grade, and a brief video peeking behind the scenes of the time a photographer took pictures of the actors, including such memorable moments as Kevin Bacon Walking Toward The Photographer, and The Guy With His Head Tilted Down Looking Up Menacingly. A few minutes later there's an ad encouraging me my family to enjoy "Wreck-It Ralph."
This is followed immediately by an ad for "Taken 2," starring Liam Neeson and a lot of people who have black bags thrust over their heads in drippy subways. "TRAVELING WITH FAMILY OR FRIENDS?" the screen asks insistently shortly thereafter. "TAKE $2 OFF!" I'm not traveling with family, but if I were, this would easily be the most convenient way I could let them watch a motivated Liam Neeson execute people.
It's not all excitement on the screens; there are occasional pleas from the airborne advertisement people that say things like "Let your brand be seen by the MILLIONS OF PASSENGERS who view these screens each year," or, loosely translated, "Let your brand be shoved into the face of brains that have a natural tendency to respond to blinking popping stimuli that are jammed in their fields of vision, because there's nowhere left on Earth you can go to escape advertising screens."
Jeff Vrabel usually loses his "Words With Friends" games. He can be reached at http://jeffvrabel.com and followed at http://twitter.com/jeffvrabel.