A No Commercial Interruption

Tuesday May 18, 2004

Experts on communication have noted with approval the increasing number and variety of public channels of information—media without a commercial message, open to almost anyone. 

A lovely idea, but step by slithery step, one that seems to have disappeared as quickly as it did not quite arrive. 

Chief exemplar of the new media is the Internet which nobody pays for (well somebody put those satellites up and all that stuff, the army or somebody, but that doesn’t really count). A free gateway to all sorts of knowledge. 

But a user who has expressed curiosity about a variety of topics (for example, dating), and has a mortgage, might be greeted with a message like this: 

“This is not spam enlarge your penis/bust and keep it hard, lasts three weeks makes you happy all the time and in your area you can refinance at only 1.25 percent and build that solarium you’ve always dreamed of and remember if you click here, exclusively for you, Paul Paula Paulette Pauline Pavel Pavlovic Paw, you will be whisked details of an unbeatable opportunity to earn up to $1,400 a day while sitting in front of your monitor this is not spam you gave your name to someone or a friend gave your name to someone who offered to supply information on great deals enlarging mortgages working at home or allied topics and we respect your privacy if you do not wish to receive these messages simply click on the link below and leave your name and correct e-mail address and answer a few brief questions and we promise you will never receive anything from us or any other affiliated ever again.” 

(No one ever asks what SPAM has to say, but for the record, SPAM is a registered trademark of Hormel Foods Corporation, which reminds us to remember that a trademark is a formal adjective and as such, should always be followed by a noun. So there.) 

Another rich source of information and entertainment is public broadcasting, but here, too, the promise seems to have dissolved. A recent edition of Desert Smokehouse Friends ran only 57 minutes, giving the announcer time to say: 

“This program has been brought to you with the support of the Playtex Foundation, uplifting women for more than 75 years; MAC (the Multinational Agribusiness Consortium) devoted to providing food produced by the poorest 20 percent of the world’s population at the lowest cost to the richest one percent; by the Sinistra L. Gauche Fund for the support of left-handed flat-picking mandolinists; by the Lucky Strike Foundation, dedicated to alleviating guilt among tobacco producers; and by Glut, the world’s greatest merchandiser on the web at www glut dot com, by you the listeners and/or viewers, and by my mom and dad who thought I should move out of the house once they retired. Local assistance was provided too, but we can’t tell you about that at the moment because the next noncommercial has to run on time.” 

And lastly, though it may have led the way, consider the university, where the ivory tower is ever more clearly being sold off piece by piece. One day soon, we expect a press release like this: 

“The University of California, a state-owned institution, invites you to a lecture-conversation featuring Roderic Pringlefeather and Felicia Verbatim.  

“Professor Pringlefeather holds the Pacific Blotter Company Chair in Graphology in the University’s new Department of Penmanship, which occupies the Royal Ink. Ltd. Mezzanine in Parker Hall. Before coming to Berkeley, Professor Pringlefeather was a Montblanc Fountain Fellow, one of only 24 people ever awarded that honor. 

“Ms. Verbatim, the Dictaphone Distinguished Scholar who heads the Transcription Studies Program at Bic Hall, was recently given the NAM Award for establishing the greatest number of corporate backers per student enrolled in the entire University system. 

“The subject of their conversazione, presented with the support of the Italian consulate in San Francisco and San Marzano Tomatoes, has not yet been announced. 

“The event will be held at Profiteer Hall, in the Warren Arthur Rogers, Jr. Auditorium.” 

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