HGTV: A Running Documentary on (Sponsored) American Narcissism

As the kids say, OMFG!

Spent an hour in my apartment exercise room watching HGTV on the idiot box above the gym machines. It would be impossible to make a better documentary on the profound mental illness of the quasi-privileged sector of the American population at this ripe moment in our imperial history. Every second and every image — the appalling commercials very distinctly included — transmitted by HGTV is both an encouragement and a reflection of the stunning narcissism, vapidity, and ultra-petty acquisitiveness that pervades our greatly flattered and over-counted middle class. If you want to diagnose the cultural train wreck that un-checked corporate capitalism has made in its #1 citadel, this truly is must-see-TV.

This amazing TV channel is also powerful evidence of the inflexibility of our money-first social order. Thanks to Peak Oil and imperial decline, the logic of “home ownership” is now radically different than what middle-classers have been taught for the past 60+ years. Will paying a mortgage on a suburban casita ever again be a smart economic move? Perhaps, but this rote “dream” is now very far from being the no-brainer it’s been.

Nevertheless, just as the car corporations continue to advertise their rolling boondoggles as if it were 1987, so do the realtors, financiers, and house-equippers evidently lack any ability to deal with a future in which long-denied ecological limits are coming home to roost. HGTV trundling its way along the same old road confirms the Ceauşescuan bankruptcy of our played-out overclass. Their well is running very dry indeed…

Junk Mail on Steroids

Big business marketing and advertising are much more Pavlovian and much less magical and postmodern than most critics have claimed.

If you doubt this, consider how television advertising, the endeavor that funds and delimits almost all the program “content” on US television, actually functions. Here is long-time marketing consultant Erwin Ephron describing it:

For example, a shampoo brand buys daytime TV at $10.00 for a thousand 30-second exposures.

Since each incremental unit of shampoo sold makes a $2.00 contribution to profit (i.e. wholesale price minus marginal cost), then fewer than five incremental sales can cover the cost of the advertising.

And also the cost of talking to 994 other potential customers who may be in the market next week!

Micro-marketers who argue that exposures not resulting in a sale are wasted, are as wrong-headed as people who argue that advertising shouldn’t be expected to sell at all. Some exposures sell, but all exposures build broad market awareness, shift attitudes and help create the brand value, which is the foundation for the next sale. These are the hard and soft effects of TV advertising.

The economics of network television for a super-upscale brand like Mercedes are even more remarkable. For Mercedes, one incremental sale can pay the costs of network messages to a million men and women.

True, most of them will never buy the car, but those messages are not wasted, either. They help to create the broad-market perception that Mercedes is special, which makes owning a Mercedes one so attractive to the small group of consumers who have the money.

For super-upscale products, value to the purchaser is often in the eye of all those millions of non-purchasers.

In other words, considered from the point of view of its sponsors, television is junk mail on steroids.

And we’ve long since surrendered our civil society to this inherently discombobulating and addictive force.

This great surrender, of course, remains completely “off the table” of mainstream politics and media coverage, despite its extreme threat to us, our democracy, and the world our rampaging sponsoring class is still bullying.