Steal This Rant!

July 5, 2002

Recently a top executive at a megalithic telecommunications company said that if people are watching a television show and leave the room during the commercials they’re "stealing" the program. He also said that people are "allowed" to go to the bathroom if they absolutely have to, but they shouldn’t take longer than necessary. (I’m not making this up, but I’m not going to name his name because that would be, well, advertising.)

Now, apart from the obvious conclusion that this guy’s an idiot, it raises the question: how does he, or anyone else, know when we’re watching and when we’re not? How are they going to force us to watch commercials, short of strapping us into Clockwork Orange-type chairs? Maybe the reason we’re leaving during the commercials in the first place is because, during a half-hour show, you get about fifteen minutes of commercials, and if you can spend half your time watching television and half your time, say, de-greasing the oven, you can get a lot done in an evening. If the commercial breaks were shorter, the oven would have to wait, but at least we’d have less time to contemplate ideas such as "Commercials are the mental equivalent of toxic waste".

But that’s going too far. I really don’t have anything against commercials. Without them, advertising executives would be standing out in the street holding handwritten signs that said, "Will describe a product and/or service for food." Advertising is, like the junk food it so frequently presses on us, fine in small doses. It’s the glut of advertising, caused by the gluttony of execs who don’t think three swimming pools are enough, that’s a problem. It’s greed that caused some slap-happy monkey in a suit to decide that the perfect place to advertise candy bars was on the handles of gasoline pumps. There’s nothing like the smell of gasoline to give you an appetite for chocolate and caramel. But what we’re really talking about is television commercials, which, according to a man who pads his salary with the pension funds of his drudge employees, we are obligated to watch. But what if I don’t need what they’re selling? I’m not likely to buy a car, fabric softener gives me a rash, and I’ve outgrown diapers. Am I "stealing" television because I don’t buy the products whose ad revenues help pay for the programs I watch? What about cable television? I pay for cable television, so theoretically they should get along without commercials–but there they are. In fact, the cable company gives me commercials advertising the cable company. The mind boggles. How about this hypothetical situation: you’re watching television and a commercial for Munchurian Candidate Microwaveable Eggrolls comes on. Their Szechuan-sour cream-onion-bacon-taco flavored eggrolls sound so delightful that you get up, run to the kitchen, and write them down on your shopping list. The commercial has done its work, but what about all those other commercials you missed? I guess what it comes down to is that commercials are already coercive enough without a corrupt executive trying to use guilt to cram them down our throats.

As for me, several years ago (May 1996, to be more precise) I suggested that people with videophones could use fake backgrounds to express their personalities, or simply make their apartments look bigger. About a year later I started seeing commercials in which a guy with a videophone puts up a fake background to impress people. They stole my idea, so I brought a $9 billion lawsuit against the company. Needless to say I lost, but I did win the right to go to the bathroom during commercials.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died.

Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.

Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured.

Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

What kind of men were they?

Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists.

Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.

John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart.

Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution.

These were not wild eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: "For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

They gave you and me a free and independent America.

The history books never told you a lot of what happened in the Revolutionary War. We didn’t just fight the British. We were British subjects at that time and we fought our own government! Some of us take these liberties so much for granted…We shouldn’t.

So, take a couple of minutes while enjoying your 4th of July holiday and silently thank these patriots. It’s not much to ask for the price they paid…………..

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