It’s not on TV any more, but to refresh your memory:
I’m usually a poor judge of the posts that attract controversy here. The Ethics Alarms commentary about the Jon Bon Jovi DirecTV ad showing the fading rock star singing the virtues of a “turn back time” feature that will allow subscribers to the satellite service to watch shows from the beginning after they have already run is now five weeks old, and it is still drawing traffic and–I also didn’t see this coming—abusive responses. I haven’t changed my mind about the ad being gratuitously and smugly callous and promoting societal indifference toward children, but I have learned some things from the responses to my pointing it out, especially the angry ones.
This blog isn’t called Ethics Alarms for nothing. Its objective is to help people be more sensitive to ethical issues and the right way to handle them, as well as to give them tools to keep their ethics alarms in working order. My ethics alarms were always unusually sensitive–being raised by my father will do that—and have become progressively more sensitive with attention, trial and error, and study. They aren’t perfect, but when they go off, they go off. If I can find out what they are ringing…training and experience help with that…then I will often write a post about the reason they rang out. My alarms went off every time that DirecTV ad came on, but it took me about four viewings to analyze why. Then I wrote the post.
The commercial has Bon Jovi explaining what’s so great about being able to “turn back time”: in addition to letting you watch the show you missed, he notes that you can have the mild salsa you turned down for a spicy variety, and retroactively decide not to have that second child you now regret. The child is shown drawing on the wall with crayons, and he vanishes as the crayons he was holding fall to the floor. The parents smile. Bon Jovi smirks.
“Why isn’t it immediately obvious that this shows antipathy to children, boys, and human beings generally? The human being who was made to go away because he was inconvenient and burdensome couldn’t have been a girl, because it would be a “war on women,” and the family couldn’t be Hispanic or black, because that wouldn’t have been funny, but a white couple erasing their son from existence because he misbehaves—now that’s comedy gold.”
The comments to the post made me realize that there is antipathy to children, and the concept of turning back time to eliminate an unwanted life is acceptable, and thus no big deal, to a large portion of our culture.
This is what abortion is, after all: turning back time so everything is as if that gestating human being was never conceived, and never existed. All gone! Problem solved! This is the attitude pushed by the pro-abortion establishment, which will brook no claim that a woman choosing to abort a fetus should feel anything negative about the act….you know, like the parents who no longer have to take care of that brat who keeps drawing on the wall. My position is that this attitude is unethical, and ultimately corrupting.
I see no practical or ethical way to force a woman to have a child she doesn’t want, but while it may make it easier for women to have abortions when they don’t bother to consider that what they are doing is ending a human life, such an attitude toward life ultimately corrupts the culture and humanity. We saw this effect in the horrible casualness of the Planned Parenthood employees as they blandly discussed the slicing and dicing of fetuses as if they were putting junk mail through the shredder. “Turning back time” to make a human life disappear should not be cause for smirking. It should be a decision undertaken with full understanding of what is involved, and the gravity of it. Shame? Guilt? No, these don’t have to be involved. Regret? Maybe. But certainly there should be a feeling that it is not nothing; that something has been lost, that in a desperate trade-off, a potential life and all that it could mean to that vanished individual, everyone he or she might have interacted with, and the society that would have been changed has been sacrificed to, one hopes, a greater good.
The DirecTV add is both, I think, a product of the increasingly accepted believe that a terminated child’s life is nothing, and contributes to it. It also bolsters this cultural belief by making viewers endorse it—by laughing at it, by watching it, bu becoming numb enough to the ugly values it represents to subscribe to DirecTV.
Back in the Forties and well into the Fifties, Hollywood censors insisted that movies had to show good conduct being rewarded and bad conduct being punished, This was a breach of artistic freedom, of course, but they had the right idea. Popular culture very powerfully influences cultural values in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. You can try to convince me that the casual treatment of promiscuous sex and pot use shown in movies and eventually television didn’t strongly reinforce these cultural trends and the breaking down of the one-time consensus that both were wrong and destructive, but the data is heavily on my side. Showing cigarette smoking by lead characters on TV shows is virtually unheard of now; banning TV tobacco ads came long before that, and was also an acknowledgment that TV commercials had the power to mold societal trends and taboos.
The frequent argument in the negative posts on my first DirecTV critique that “it’s only a commercial” is obtuse. Commercials are carefully designed to appeal to impulses and create positive feelings, while connecting the product being sold with good feelings. The presumed good feelings in the “turn back time” DirecTV ad came from humor, the presence of Bon Jovi (for some) , and the belief that making a child vanish forever wouldn’t create negative feelings. Nobody in the post comments rebutted my examples above that wouldn’t have been safe, and i mentioned others in the thread. The fact that DirecTV thought this content was safe tells us where our culture is heading. The fact that a large communications company thinks the concept of making children vanish is positive and saturates the media with such a “joke” also makes the company an active accessory in promoting the concept that wiping out kids is “nothing” in American society.
Maybe it is nothing, now.
It’s still nothing to be proud of.
Among the critics, which were disproportionately nasty ( I have seldom banned more commenters on a single post), and so nasty I wonder if the bitterness was fueled by the realization that maybe their ethics alarms were less sensitive than they should be, the fact that the ad was intended to be humorous appeared to constitute a full defense. In a comedy club or in a movie comedy indeed almost anything goes, with the only requirement be that it be funny. A commercial, however, is not a comedy act, and tougher standards apply. Many of the critical commenters accused me of having no sense of humor, though I never said that the ad wasn’t funny. Lots of jokes are funny that shouldn’t be made in broad public forums. Name the worst kind of joke you can think of, and if you really do have a sense of humor, I bet one of them can make you laugh. That doesn’t mean that such jokes will not do tangible harm if the culture decides to embrace them or tolerate them outside of specialized forums. And I must ask: you would object to a rape joke, a disabled joke, a racist joke, a Jewish joke, or a misogynist joke, so why is a joke about a family grinning while their son is sent to oblivion acceptable in a TV ad?
It is acceptable to those who do not find the idea of making a child retroactively vanish troubling enough to make them uncomfortable. They need to ask themselves why that is, not ask me if I understand time travel.
Aside: The ad itself does not appear to understand time travel. If the child was never born, then there would be no marks where he drew on the wall, and no crayons on the floor. Contrary to the furious rationalizing of the ad’s defenders, Bon Jovi doesn’t make a reality where the child never existed. The reality we see is one where a child was once there, and the evidence that of his existence remains.