Alec in Huluwood

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm not what you'd call a sports fan. The only sports I watch at all are some of the Olympics, and then mostly for the great high-def images. The closest I've come to football was as the drum major of my high-school band, when I had to ask a clarinet player what was happening on the field so I could call up the appropriate music ("Yay, something good happened!" or "Boo, something bad happened!").

So it should come as no surprise that I didn't see the Super Bowl this year. Yes, I'm sure it was a beautiful high-def picture, and every year there are some kick-ass commercials made especially for the event. But for me, snoring through three hours of football for a total of three minutes of great commercials just ain't worth it.

However, it might have been worth it this year. If I had watched the game, I would have seen the Hulu commercial that much sooner. As it happens, I saw it for the first time just a few night ago in full high-def—and it totally blew me away. I've never seen such a scathing parody of the medium that carries the message to consume media.

For those few who might not have seen it, google "Hulu Super Bowl" and get ready to laugh your ass off. Alec Baldwin reveals himself to be part of an alien plot that uses television to turn human brains to mush so they can be scooped out with a melon baller and "gobbled right on up." But TV only goes so far, softening the brain to the consistency of a ripe banana.

To finish the job—think cottage cheese—the aliens have introduced Hulu, an online service that beams more of the cerebral-gelatinizing shows you want directly to your portable computing device any time, anywhere, for free. And there's nothing you can do to stop it—I mean, what are you going to do, turn off your TV and your computer?

The commercial works on many levels, almost like an Escher drawing. First, there's the self-referential element, creating what quantum physicists call a tangled hierarchy. Medium and message are intertwined, creating a cognitive feedback loop and bringing new meaning to Marshall McLuhan's assertion that the medium is the message.

Then there are the truths within the message. I don't believe that TV physically rots the brain—though I've seen claims to the contrary—but I'm not so sure about other, more subtle forms of damage. TV certainly has a hypnotic effect, and there are studies that indicate it puts the brain in a more passive, receptive state that's perfect for conveying emotional appeals to consume and fear whatever the producers want you to consume and fear.

This is especially effective with children, whose unfinished brains are particularly susceptible to such manipulation. Not only do they incessantly bug their parents for whatever strikes their fancy from commercials, but their behavior can actually be affected by the programs—for example, kids hurting themselves and each other by imitating TV wrestlers and superheros.

I'm also dismayed at the increasing banality of many TV programs. In particular, so-called "reality TV" and shows such as Jackass that highlight stupid human behavior do nothing more than give viewers a false sense of superiority over the people they see on the screen.

Of course, I watch TV, and I enjoy it. But I'm very selective about what I watch, and I also do many other things. As Marie Winn writes in her book The Plug-In Drug, "The primary danger of the television screen lies not so much in the behavior it produces—although there is danger there—as in the behavior it prevents: the talks, the games, the family festivities and arguments..."

I'm not saying don't watch TV or even Hulu—heck, I look forward to checking it out for myself. Just be aware of how it's affecting you. A simple shift of consciousness can help prevent your brain from getting to the stage that the aliens are waiting for—mmm, mushy mush!

If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sorc.com.

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