WTTW's Curious Contradiction

Something about automobile commercials drives me to vexation. (I’ll get to PBS later).

In the polished TV commercials for –let’s say, using but one example– Lincoln, I hear the authoritative-toned voiceover (frequently an accomplished actor) address me –acting under the assumption that I am a reflective adult—with a healthy measure of respect for my powers of comprehension.

On the other hand, in the radio and TV spots produced by the prototypical Lincoln dealer ,the voice blasting from the announcer is coated in condescension. It is the nagging bleat one elects in speaking to a barely sentient nitwit. Yet, both potential Lincoln consumers–national and local– are one in the same, aren’t they?

So why aren’t their messages delivered similarly? My postulate on this: The marketing/ sales relationship between manufacturer and dealer is structured for collision. The dealer’s elastic pricing policy–cheered on by the manufacturer– ends up arranging an adversarial haggling duel, hence a climate of mutual distrust. The showroom salesperson’s aim is to earn the highest commission possible by squeezing out the highest price possible from the customer, thus certifying –as the dealer is convinced– that the customer is irretrievably dim. And so the system produces two different identities in the same human being.

And now to turn the page to PBS in the interests of uncovering a similar cognitive disconnect between viewer and station. As a teen ager I was weaned on the soothing, patriarchal presence of Alistair Cooke as he hosted Masterpiece Theater in his matchlessly courtly manner. After Cooke, there was professorial Russell Baker to make me want to turn out even half as learned as he. And who could forget the fetching vocal instrument of Masterpiece Mystery host, the surpassingly sophisticated Diana Rigg, who–even at middle age–revived my Emma Peel infatuation. And it’s easy or me to set in motion a crush on Masterpiece host Laura Linney with her rich melding of winsomeness and intellect. Other hosts as well have demonstrated a gift for making me feel I was being addressed as an intelligent grownup.

Contrast those extraordinary hosts with the ordinariness of those WTTW spokespersons who, as you probably recall, periodically break into programming , trying–with synthetic exuberance– to wheedle donation pledges from us. You say none of them exactly reminds you of any Masterpiece host, do you, eh? Yes, in a different manifestation of condescension, they persistently address their pleas to the below-average seven year old. Just as in the example of automobile advertising, WTTW all at once drives the dizzied audience in two opposite directions, first to sanctuary of adulthood, next to the sand box of morning TV. None of their patronizing blandishments, though, deter me from forking over my annual donations. But I do it as I imagine Alistair Cooke politely coaxing me to do so.

Oh, and if you’re looking to me for another illuminating postulate that untangles the twisted WTTW contradiction–sorry, I’m stumped for any kind of rational explanation.

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