When Kate and I first married, we lived in a tiny guest house that sat behind a bigger house in rural Delaware County.
When Kate and I first married, we lived in a tiny guest house that sat behind a bigger house in rural Delaware County. Bordered by the river on one side and cows on the other, it was essentially a two-room house: a first floor with a corner kitchen, stained-carpet living area and bathroom, and then a lofted bedroom. We paid $250 a month. It was perfect.
Back then we had few responsibilities other than paying down college loans and saving for a house. We didn't go out much. After work, we'd sit across from each other and eat green bean casserole or pasta, and after we ran out of things to say, we'd have ugly-face contests (I always won). After dinner, we'd walk two steps to the couch to watch Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.
Those game shows are inseparable from my first year of marriage, particularly because it also coincided with the Ken Jennings era of Jeopardy!. We nerded out nightly, rooting for Jennings like a sports team as he went on to win 74 games in a row.
Twelve years and two kids later, we revived the after-dinner game show tradition recently when the flu hit our house. We were looking for a low-key family activity, and the kids-Liam, 8, and Maggie, 6-liked trying to guess the answers on Jeopardy! and solve the puzzles on Wheel of Fortune. They were also convinced Pat Sajak and Vanna White should be married. But mostly they were enthralled by the commercials.
"Do you love your laxative?" the TV shouted during a commercial break.
"Daddy, what's a laxative?" Maggie asked.
"It's poop medicine," I said. "Medicine to help you poop."
They laughed for the remainder of the commercial break. They've also gotten into the habit of screaming "Nooooooooo!" whenever actor Tim Daly shows up to talk about pneumococcal pneumonia. During a constipation commercial, Maggie turned to her brother to let him know the animation was depicting "bottom guts."
We've opted for video-streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon over cable, and we rarely watch network TV, which means our kids' exposure to commercials has been limited mostly to hotel stays. So commercials are still a novelty, and it's fascinating to watch their reactions to everything from "Eggland's Best" ads to TV news promos by "Jerry Radish."
Sometimes the ads work exactly as intended. "I want some fries!" Liam exclaimed during a Red Robin commercial. Even mouthwash has evoked an "I want that!" Every tropical getaway on Wheel is followed by,"I wanna go there!"
Other times, though, they see through the ads, turning to me with cocked eyebrows and smirks. My wife and I even have to rein them in from time to time, when laughing at the messages morphs into making fun of people. But usually I'm happy to nurture a healthy incredulity toward companies attempting to tell us why we're unhappy and why their products are the solutions.
Game show time has also convinced me to keep the cable cord cut and stick to streaming, if nothing else, to limit the amount of ads my kids see every day. Maybe if commercials remain a novelty, Liam and Maggie will have fewer opportunities to be manipulated by consumerism-especially when they're not the targeted demographic. I don't expect poop medicine to show up on their birthday lists any time soon.
Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer who believes frequent vowel-buying is an underutilized strategy.