Film and TV

The Art of Truncated Commercials

This picture is blurry because the meat comes at you so fast.
This picture is blurry because the meat comes at you so fast. Screengrab from Butcherbox TV Spot
I still have cable because I come from a generation where disaster was always managed by turning on the live news and listening to talking heads explain what is going on. That may seem archaic in this day and age, but it’s served me pretty well over the last several months. I was watching the news as the drama around the election unfolded, when Senator and fake Star Wars fanboy Ted Cruz was stoking the conspiracy theory that led to the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and as the snowpocalypse bore down on us.

One thing you get when you watch the news on live television that isn’t present on most internet platforms is the truncated commercial. That’s when a commercial will start, but only run for a few seconds before being overtaken by another commercial or the program returning. The technical term is commercial insertion. Basically, what happens is that a commercial intended for a local audience is swapped out over one that is approved for a national audience. Sometimes the edges of these commercials don’t line up very well, so you’ll get these flashing glimpses of products and services.

I am completely fascinated by the way these turn into unintentional collage art. If you pay close attention, they make avant garde short films about capitalism.

Here are some of my favorites, most of which I caught this fall During the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.

A pretty brunette woman faces the camera. She opens a box, and without warning just shoves a huge chunk of red bloody red meat directly at the audience. She is smiling, clearly so happy with her meat. Out of the sudden darkness, noted conspiracy theorist and fascism aficionado Mike Lindell appears to tell you about his passion for pillows. His voice is soothing as he narrates over footage of other woman putting bedding into boxes. The whole thing comes off like a GG Allin ringtone. Pillows go in the box, meat comes out. Everyone is for some reason very happy with the outcome.

In another, a pretty blond woman and an older white man are sitting in an office (I never did figure out the origin of this commercial). The man says, “Hey, did you -“ and the woman interrupts him with “Yep, all done.” Suddenly, a man points at the camera and lets you know that the IRS is coming after you for the money you owe. Is he the conscience of the other two? Has he appeared with a warning from their future? We don’t know because the couple are never seen again. Whatever it was, it’s clearly all done.

This set up is also fun because for years I have been theorizing that Optima Tax Relief commercials are actually a complicated sting operation by the federal government meant to trick Donald Trump into desperately calling them handing over his tax records.

My favorite, though is a combination between Stamps.com and Allerlife. A man and a woman are hard at work over a set of blueprints. The narrator says, “these folks? They don’t have time to go to the post office!” As if to illustrate just how little time these folks don’t have, the scene ends and is replaced by a cartoon woman who is so burdened with allergies that her entire world has become a gray mass of sickness and depression. Her new drugs energize her and make her world bright. The question remains, though… did they give her time? For the post office? For existence and meaning? Can drugs help her build herself a better world or is this cartoon just a dream to escape from her drudgery.

Look, none of this probably justifies still paying money for cable, but it has been a fun method to enjoy the news during a very dark time. If you look hard enough, even the most mundane things can become art. It’s one way to recontextualize an increasingly terrifying world.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner