First, the loud commercials:
When the government tells someone to shut up, we call it censorship and the First Amendment requires the government to defend its regulation. But what if the government just says, “Shhhh… could you please turn that down?” Rep. Anna Eshoo’s Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (”CALM Act” – HR 1084) would do just that: require the FCC to issue rules that broadcast and cable TV ads:
(1) … shall not be excessively noisy or strident;
(2) … shall not be presented at modulation levels substantially higher than the program material that such advertisements accompany; and
(3) [their] average maximum loudness… shall not be substantially higher than the average maximum loudness of the program material that such advertisements accompany.
Now, I understand where Ms. Eshoo is coming from: I have a very low tolerance for noise in general and for television in particular—and it’s not just about commercials. (I find TV news at least as “noisy” and “strident” as commercials. That’s why I opted-out from the whole TV thing in about 2000. Yup, that’s right: I found better things to do with my time and the supposedly all-powerful “gatekeepers” of Hollywood couldn’t do a damn thing about it. You should try it if you don’t like what’s on TV! To paraphrase Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say watch, but I will defend to the death your right to say watch it! You can get most of what’s worth watching on DVD or online anyway.) But do we really need bureaucrats in Washington micromanaging volume levels? Maybe Congressmen would have a little more time to read the bills they vote for if they they weren’t so busy fiddling with everyone else’s remote!
Peter Suderman at Reason:
First of all, it’s not necessary. It’s easy enough to turn your TV off (or even live without one, as Szoka does). And if that’s too arduous, there are various technological solutions from companies like Dolby and SRS that help keep TV volumes on a more even keel. And if you’re so enraged at the offending advertisement, it’s pretty easy to just quit buying from the company behind. Granted, this is usually less effective in the short run. But reputation matters, and companies can be shamed (or deprived of profit) into behavior that aligns better with their customers’ expectations.
But the larger problem is the assumption this grows out of — that government’s job is to regulate every minor annoyance out the lives of its citizens. That’s bad for government, because it gives it unnecessary power and distracts it from legitimate government activity. It’s also worse for citizens, who develop an implicit sense that, when problems arise, the way to fix them is to beg Congress, pass a law, wait for new irritations to arise, then wash, rinse, repeat. And in the end, I think that’s far more grating and obnoxious than a little volume manipulation from advertisers on the idiot box.
You see, blaring TV commercials have been an obvious and fixable problem for several decades and no “basic harmony of interests” has yet manifested itself.1 This suggests to me that it never will unless the industry is pressured into doing it. Plus there’s this: the industry has been promising to enact voluntary standards off and on for years, but oddly enough, they never seem to make any progress unless Congress starts making threatening noises about doing it for them. Since I expect this state of affairs to last approximately forever, I would be delighted to see Congress call their bluff and just pass a bill setting out some reasonable standards.
This comes via Peter Suderman, who agrees with Szoka and is therefore now my sworn enemy.2 Nothing personal, of course, just business. However, I did learn something new from him. Namely that “there are various technological solutions from companies like Dolby and SRS that help keep TV volumes on a more even keel.” Really? I didn’t know that. But click the links and judge for yourself. This technology doesn’t appear to be very widespread yet, and I suspect that managing volume at the source is a better approach anyway (especially since the most annoying ads are deliberately engineered to be annoying). Still, it’s better than nothing since neither the industry nor Congress has made much progress over the years.
But does it work? Does anyone out there have one of these wonder devices? What’s the skinny?
1A shortcoming, by the way, that’s made worse by the artistic decisions of certain shows. The worst for me is 24, which I have to crank up in order to hear the hoarse stage whisper that Kiefer Sutherland affects in his Jack Bauer role. The ads are loud even at the best of times, but they’re really loud when you’ve already turned up the volume just to hear the show itself.
2This is an issue, like the Do Not Call registry, that transcends politics. I don’t really care whether volume regulations are liberal or conservative or trample the Bill of Rights or whatever. I just want the noise to stop. If it takes jackboots to stop it, then so be it.
While I’m naturally in the Suderman-Szoka camp on the issue of Nanny Statism, Drum has persuaded me on this one with the strength of his footnotes.
The fact of the matter is that the federal government has regulated the manner in which television has been broadcast since before we were broadcasting television. (The Radio Commission, the forebear of the FCC, predates television.) They regulate the spectrum on which broadcasters operate, require a certain amount of “public interest” programming as a condition of licensing, require a certain amount of “truth in advertising,” restrict the use of coarse language and images in over-the-air broadcasts, and otherwise oversee many aspects of what’s shown on television. Why shouldn’t they set parameters on something that genuinely annoys most of us?
This isn’t a free speech issue. It doesn’t impinge on speech in any way. It merely requires that broadcasters refrain from blaring the ads.
Government already regulates the content of commercial speech, which has long been less protected than political speech. Indeed, those of us over a certain age can recall the days when those advertising ladies’ undergarments had to use mannequins to demonstrate their wares. Or that it took the AIDS epidemic to get the FCC to allow advertising for condoms — or, hell, the use of the word “condom.”
Yes, I suppose consumers could invest in sophisticated technology to solve this annoyance. But why should we have to do that?
Eleanor Barkhorn at The Atlantic:
Last week’s New York Times article about the prevalence of E. coli in ground beef–and the failure of food companies to keep the pathogen out of the food system–has led experts to wonder: Is there any safe way to eat a hamburger?
Nestle’s take on this strategy:
I view irradiation as a late stage techno-fix. It zaps dirty meat and lets this industry get away with producing dirty meat in the first place.
Nobody ever explained the problem with irradiation better than Carol Tucker Foreman, now at Consumers Federation of America: “sterilized poop is still poop.”Another solution, from the opposite end of the spectrum, was proposed on Larry King Live last night: stop eating ground beef altogether.
Bill Marler, a lawyer who represents victims of foodborne illness explains his decision to eliminate hamburgers from his diet:
What happens in hamburger is the E. coli bacteria is in the guts of cows. And during the slaughtering process, those guts are nicked or there’s fecal material on the hides. It gets on the red meat…
And when you cook a steak, assuming that steak hasn’t been penetrated, you can kill the bacteria that’s on the outside of the meat. It’s not on the inside of the meat. But when you ground that meat up, that E. coli is in there.
What do you think? Have fears about food safety caused you to cut back on your consumption of ground beef, or are you holding out for another solution?
Basically, CNN is sneering at viewers over what they eat. The network is elitist, statist and smug. Who needs Larry King to tell them what to eat?
The Big Nanny bureaucrats will have to pry the Sonic Bacon Cheeseburger from my cold, dead hands…