[personal profile] starwatcher_fic
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Title: A Word from Our Sponsor
Summary: Blair snarks, but Jim is amused.
Style: Gen
Size: 2,525 words, about 5 pages in MS Word
Warnings: None
Notes: March, 2003. Self-beta'd.
Feedback: Not necessary, but every comment is treasured.
Email: If you prefer not to post a note that everybody can see, you can reach me at starwatcher -at- dreamwidth.org





A Word from our Sponsor

by StarWatcher





"Hey, Jim, gotta question for you. When was the last time the tag of a T-shirt irritated your neck?"

Jim looked up from the latest Robert Parker mystery he was reading. There was nothing on the tube this Saturday afternoon -- translation, no Jags game -- and, with all the chores finished, he had stretched out for a little escapist reading, resolutely ignoring the channel-flipping that Blair was engaged in from the other couch. He frowned over at his friend.

"What bee's gotten into your bonnet this time, Sandburg? I hardly think that my underwear is pertinent to your dissertation."

"No, no; nothing for the diss, man," Blair assured him earnestly. He was wedged comfortably in a corner between the couch back and the arm, a notepad perched on his knee, remote control in one hand and pen in the other. With a mug of tea on the coffee table in front of him and his glasses perched on his nose, he was almost a caricature of a 'scholarly grad student'. "I'm just helping out a friend in a Consumer Research class."

"Let me guess," he suggested wryly. "A female friend?"

Blair snorted. "That has no bearing on the question." Jim just looked at him. "Well, yeah, Tracy's a female, but it still has no bearing on the question. So just answer, man; do you get irritated by T-shirt tags?"

"Oh, yeah, Sandburg; I spend hours each day trying to escape the curse of the T-shirt tag. Can't tell you how many perps have escaped because it preyed so heavily on my mind."

The snort was louder this time, tinged with a mild irritation. "I'm serious, Jim. I'm working on a theory, and I need an honest answer."

"All right, don't get your shorts in a twist." He smirked at Blair, who merely rolled his eyes. "Well, if I remember rightly, I complained about it a couple of times, when I was -- oh, maybe six years old. After that, Mom cut the tags off all the new T-shirts before she washed them, and Sally kept it up after she was gone. When I did my own shopping and laundry in the Army, I learned to do it myself. It's a very simple process, requiring two seconds and a pair of sharp scissors. If you need, I'll teach you how."

"Yeah, that's what I thought. Thanks for the offer, but amazingly enough, I also figured out that solution many years ago. Go on back to your reading." Blair made a notation on the pad, then aimed the remote control at the TV.

Jim returned to Spenser as he prowled through Boston, but now his attention was split. Each time he glanced across the room, he noticed that Blair was paying rapt attention to the commercials and taking copious notes. Every time the program returned, the channel surfing resumed until another commercial was found. Strange. Very strange. He resolutely turned his attention away and immersed himself in 'Small Vices'. Until...

"Yo, Jim, ever had any trouble pouring your cooked pasta into a colander?" The gaze that met his was serious, but... wasn't that a twinkle of mirth hiding behind the glasses?

"No, Sandburg, I find the colander an exceptionally easy tool to use. Do you need some pointers?"

"Nah, man, just confirming an idea. Thanks."

Now Jim was noticing the commercials, too. Asthma medication, lipstick, dish soap, upcoming feature, toothpaste, Wendy's, body wash, pain relief, kitchen cleaner, mascara, upcoming feature, fabric softener, Red Lobster, shampoo, tooth whitener, cookies, upcoming feature, macaroni and cheese, insurance, dog food, upcoming feature...

"Say, man, I bet you could teach me how to fold towels without any expensive tools, right?"

"It might take a little time, but I think even you could master the technique after a couple of lessons, Sandburg," he replied solemnly. "Now, are you going to explain these silly questions any time soon?"

"Seriously?" Blair seemed surprised. "I didn't figure you'd be interested."

"Well, I'm not really, but now you've got my curiosity up," the bigger man reluctantly admitted. "It'd be easier to ignore what you're doing if I knew what you were doing. IF you can explain in something less than a ten-minute lecture."

"Well, Tracy's writing a paper trying to evaluate what commercials say about our society, and what the average person thinks of them. It's an interesting subject -- ours is a consumer-oriented society, and there are so many products that do the same thing... and every product has to claim that it's better than any of the similar products. I think people are so used to inflated claims that they barely notice the ads anymore, or pay much attention."

"No!" Jim feigned vast astonishment. "You mean the Oral B toothbrush won't get my teeth cleaner than any other toothbrush?"

Blair's lip twitched; trust Jim to help him see the humor intrinsic in the subject. "Anyway, Tracy wants each of us to evaluate the trends as we see them... and I gotta admit that some of the trends are almost scary."

Scary? This was getting interesting. Jim put his book aside and prepared to enjoy the show; the script would be as good as anything on TV. "What? Frizzy hair is going to bring about the downfall of Western civilization? I can see where you'd be frightened by that prospect."

Blair just grinned. "Yeah, man, helped along by shirts that are dingy white, with dirty spots." He snorted. "All right, all right, I understand that advertisers do have to sell things. And most of it is harmless, and some of it is even useful. Like the new medicines that are shown... if a person isn't finding the medical relief that he needs, the availability of a new medicine could lead him to a discuss a better treatment with his doctor."

Jim didn't even try to resist. "Sandburg, you're accepting commercials for medicine? I'd think you'd rather rant about the lack of ads for herbal natural remedies. You're certainly ready to foist your nasty concoctions on me whenever you think you can get away with it."

"Bottom line, no money in it." Blair shrugged. "The drug companies can't charge big bucks for something that they didn't develop, so they ignore the low-tech methods. I'm talking about what I see, here, not what I wish I could see."

Jim raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"Ah, man, you know what I mean. At any rate, between the Internet and health-food stores, people can find information about natural remedies if that's the way they want to go. You don't think I pull that stuff out of thin air, do you?"

"I wouldn't be surprised -- your brain inhabits a rarefied atmosphere, Sandburg." Jim ignored Blair's mock-glare and got up to head toward the refrigerator. "I think I need a beer to get me through the rest of this discussion; you want one?" Secretly, he didn't really want to stop Blair's exposition; it was an entertaining break in the quiet afternoon. Spenser could wait.

"Sure, Jim, thanks." He accepted the cold bottle from his friend, and watched him sit down again, seemingly prepared to listen to Blair's ramblings, even if he was playing a devil's advocate.

"So, what other fascinating facts have struck your fancy, Ben Franklin?"

Now it was Blair's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Oh, man! You planned that all the way back from the kitchen, didn't you?"

"Yep," Jim replied smugly. "But it doesn't change the fact that I'm willing to listen. Better take your chance and run with it."

"Yeah, well... One thing that strikes me is the outrageous number of products to improve our personal presentation. I guess it makes sense -- almost every species has some kind of preening displays to attract the opposite sex, and mankind is no exception. But geeze, over fifty percent of the ads are all about presenting a more attractive appearance. Whiter teeth, thicker eyelashes, softer skin, rippling muscles, fluffy hair -- with no gray, might I add -- all to improve the surface appearance in order to come closer to some artificial cultural ideal."

"Now wait a minute," Jim objected. "Commercials for the home body-building and exercise routines promote good health. There's nothing wrong with that."

"Not really. Uh, I mean they're not actually promoting health improvement. Take a good look at the ads sometime. Most of them are hyping a better-looking bod. Health benefits are pretty much ignored; the ads show gorgeous women falling all over the guy simply because he looks good with rippling abs and biceps of steel. They promote a firmer body, not a healthier body. The fact that the two usually go together is incidental."

"Isn't that a bit two-faced, Sandburg?" Jim suggested. "Seems to me that you've done your share of ignoring the plainer girls to go chasing after the prettier ones. You were the one who told me 'we're male animals'. So you can hardly fault a woman -- or a man -- for trying to make their 'package' more attractive!"

"Guilty, man, what can I say? I'm a product of my environment and culture, just like everyone else." Blair shrugged. "I can like the results; doesn't mean I have to approve of the underlying cultural pressure."

"But Chief, don't you think that if we tossed out all the products -- and all the advertising -- to promote a 'better-looking bod', there'd be lots of people out of work, and the economy would go bust?"

"I know, Jim, I know." Blair tapped his pen impatiently on the pad. "We can't change anything without changing the entire American psyche, and that's not gonna happen. But doesn't it strike you as just a tiny bit warped that women are expected to use layers of makeup to achieve a 'natural', un-made-up look?"

"Sandburg, until you're ready to cut your hair, I don't think you can point a finger -- 'preening displays', you know. And since you can't change society to suit you, why not just add it to your report and forget about it?" Jim swallowed the last of his beer and grabbed his book again; the subject seemed closed.

He should have known better.

"But that's not the scariest thing, Jim." Blair was flipping through his writing pad, checking his notes. "It seems that someone, somewhere, is using a lot of creative energy to develop inventions to solve problems that aren't problems. Take those 'Tagless T's. We have Jackie Chan going through amazing contortions because of T-shirt-tag irritation, while Michael Jordan stands around looking all-knowing and amused. Are we supposed to believe that neither of these men is smart enough to figure out how to take care of that oh-so-vexing problem?

"Or how about the oh-so-marvelous 'Flip-n-Fold'?" Blair's enthusiasm -- or was it irritation? -- could no longer be contained on the couch. He started to pace while Jim watched, slightly bemused. "The ad shows a sweater or towel lying on the board, perfectly smooth and wrinkleless, ready to be 'flipped' into a neat bundle. It doesn't show the time it takes to carefully lay the sweater or towel out in preparation for the fold -- time in which the item could already be folded up! Why would anybody design such a useless tool?"

"Well, some of those inventions are useful," Jim offered. "That mirror on the twisted wire so you can stand it up or hang it in odd places -- I can see where a lot of people could use that if the bathroom gets too crowded in the morning."

"Exactly!" Blair crowed. "Why aren't there more useful ideas, instead of things like..." he pounced on his notepad to scrabble through its pages, "...'Aroma Therapy Palmolive'! Does someone really think that adding lavender scent to dish soap will put housewives in a meditative state where they'll enjoy washing dishes? Not any woman I know!

"And get this -- someone is marketing a garbage deodorizer! Don't bother to take the trash out regularly, and clean the trashcan when necessary. Just use the spray to make your garbage smell better!" He shook his head, eloquently conveying his disgust.

Jim grinned; this was just too good. He couldn't resist giving a little push. "Sandburg, you've got it all wrong. Instead of complaining about stupid inventions, you should invent your own and start raking in the money. Think of something -- the more outrageous it is, the better it'll sell. How about..." he racked his brain, "...oh, an automatic candy-bag opener? You put the bag of candy in the device, press a button, and it tears open the package for you."

"What?" Blair paused, staring at his friend in astonishment. He noted the quirky grin, and his own sense of humor finally rose to meet Jim's. "Yeah," he conceded. "Yeah, man, I think you're on to something. Maybe..." He gazed into space. Jim waited to see what his fertile imagination would conjure up.

"Got it!" he exclaimed in satisfaction. "Pre-measured packets of bath salts. The bathers can avoid the horrors of using too much, and the company can charge three times as much for the same amount of product!"

"That's good," Jim agreed. "But we can do better. I'm thinking..." It was his turn to stare into space. "Right! Pre-soaped washcloths; use them once and toss them away. Not only can we charge more for the product, we can add to our overflowing landfills!"

Laughter was bubbling up, Blair's eyes dancing with delight. "Here you go -- a machine to remove the rubber band from your newspaper and open it up so that you can read. Every home should have one!" He collapsed onto the couch, chuckling happily.

"That's the spirit, Chief," Jim encouraged. "Before long you'll be an inventor to rival Ron Popeil himself, and cut yourself a large slice of the American pie."

"Thank you, thank you," he replied in his grandest manner. "When I receive all my awards, I'll be sure to mention your invaluable help." Blair used the remote control to turn off the TV and closed his pad with a snap; he seemed to be finished with his 'research'. "But you remember what I said earlier? Consumerism is the backbone of our economy, basically our whole society. We can't let all those advertising efforts go to waste, now can we?"

"What do you have in mind, Sandburg?"

"It's getting late and I'm getting hungry. Dinner at Red Lobster?"

"Sounds good. Never let it be said that I shirked my duty to society. Your treat?"

"In your dreams, man. I'll make an offering to the gods of consumerism, but you'll have to make your own contribution; there's only so much economic boosting I can do, you know?"

"Sad, Sandburg, very sad. Are you going to be this cheap when the big bucks start rolling in?"

"Jim, when the big bucks start rolling in, I'll open an unlimited expense account for you at the restaurant of your choice. Till then, you're on your own." He ducked the anticipated head-swat, grabbed his coat off the hook, and joined his friend as they headed for the truck, and the quest for dinner.



The End




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