Everyone is a cord cutter anymore. Being more selective about what you watch and how, or even paying a premium, means one can avoid television advertising a lot easier than before. Commercials, once a ubiquitous fixture for most people and likely the closest modern society got to a shared popular culture, are now skippable before they can even hook you or entirely absent if you’ve got a few dollars (or a generous friend) for subscriptions. A few avenues of media still remain on the failing model (it’s proven catastrophic for journalism in regards to papers and magazines) but if you want to watch sports or most news, you’ll be subjected to commercials trying to capture your attention.
Just as the collective labor of enduring through commercial breaks and the shared experience of watching all of the same marketing firms meticulously craft spots built a kind of pop culture in the age of audio/visual mass media, it also lends insight into what the firms have determined is most grabbing: an algorithm that’s determined where and what the largest portion of its target population is experiencing in the given epoch in an effort to meet that population’s “needs,” consumerist whims, or fleeting, impulsive desires with a more-than-likely ephemeral product. This kind of glimpse is something that’s lost when you’ve atomized and alienated yourself from the sales specters into a curated cycle of King of the Hill reruns and HBO releases, until you’re wolfing down half of a DiGiorno’s Rising Crust™ pizza 45 minutes before work, boot up the YouTube TV app you got from a colleague’s family plan for sports and the brain hemlock of cable news, and turn on Jumanji on AMC to avoid silence in your living room like I did yesterday evening. The lost art of settling during channel surfing uncovered in the unkempt jungle beard of the late Robin Williams while freeze-dried pepperoni burns the roof of your mouth.
Somewhere between the introduction of David Alan Grier’s policeman character and the small boy viewer-surrogate character gaining ape features, during the ad breaks I noticed a phenomenon that’s been remarked upon enough towards my age bracket. No less than three spots aired advertising premium dog food in a single flight of commercials. One even flaunted that it was food “tested on humans” as it featured a small boxer leaping in ecstatic joy as its “dog dad” carried a full dish of honestly delicious looking food to its designated spot on the kitchen floor.
Living in a city, I’ve observed far too many people and their dogs. Even under quarantine, they lap past my house while I smoke on the porch and shit in my little patch of grass before scooping it into a specialized, dog-shit-sized bag. I’m no monster: I say hello to the dogs and greet the people. I don’t see a lot of strollers, just as on the television, I didn’t see any diaper commercials or Gerber food advertisements. Ostensibly, Jumanji is a movie that was marketed to children like me when it came out, and the advertising could reflect that maybe it’s shared viewing between millennial parents and their offspring. Instead, there were ads seemingly targeted to my age group, but whose main concerns regarding any dependents were geared towards dogs.
In the 2006 speculative fiction film Children of Men, just in case you have been living under a rock and haven’t seen the most sociologically prescient film of the 21st century which is presently available for streaming on HBO, humanity has been infertile for 18 years in 2027 and one of the central aesthetics is the constant presence of dogs and cats in a world without children. While presented as a biological problem, the effect on society has been catastrophic: people shuffle through their meaningless functions knowing they’ll likely be the last to do so and the world is in a tumultuous funeral dirge; a constant wake for a species dying out for reasons nobody has any idea about. Civil unrest, terrorism, and immigration from failed states is rampant, and fascism has taken root in the strongholds of the first world as fierce revolutionaries connect with scientists to salvage the polluted ecosystem and avoid extinction.
It shouldn’t be any wonder we hardly see anyone but bright-eyed dogs looking to coax out the spring and masks hiding faces with premature weariness. The Atlantic made a strong case for why Millennials, facing a plague and the second “once-in-a-lifetime” collapse of the economy in their adult lifetimes, could hardly tread water long enough to consider reproducing. Shut out of the housing market by prospective retirees who voted against their own safe retirements and bet on selling their McMansions instead, saddled with student debt we were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt we had to accrue, given garbage wages in return, and consistently financially and politically infantalized by generational predecessors and class superiors who had run everything aground but desperately were trying to keep capitalism’s house of cards afloat for their own retirement. This is a generation abusively housebroken enough to keep trudging forward, fruitlessly, towards the now-unreachable goals set for us in 1994 somehow without collectively realizing the game board was overdue for a flipping before most of us grew pubes.
Smack any aspirational grandparent asking anyone under 40 when their babysitting duty is going to start. A corporate political stranglehold on any meaningful mitigation against climate change, a penchant for voting based on television presence no doubt due to widespread generational lead poisoning, and an unfathomable numerical electoral advantage mean the Boomers get to continue stomping the accelerator until we all collide with a very unforgiving wall at tremendous velocity. A hard lesson learned by Millennials that could be considering children, especially with collapsing birth rates, is that their offspring will likely constitute a very small voting bloc and have undersized political power. Optimistically, we don’t turn into self-interested, species-suicidal shitheels like the previously largest generational segment and don’t vote directly against the interests of our children and grandchildren, but the get-off-my-lawn cloistering “finally got mine” voting patterns of Gen-X’s latchkey children aren’t encouraging… not that you could blame them.
Curious still is what swath of demographics the pet food companies are trying to reach. Cable packages are by and large not being picked up by the 18-35 age group. Could it be that just as a kid seems more like a beach house or a boat for us financially, the Boomers still paying a Comcast bill find a dog more realistic than a grandkid anymore? Twilight shines on those that can’t imagine a world without them in it, and have seemingly resigned themselves to making sure that world won’t stand before they’re lowered into the grave; but apparently the natural order of wanting to spoil something little in your golden years still stands.