Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thank God and Zenith for 'mute'

     My wife expressed alarm that the mute on the TV remote is being unresponsive, or at least slow on the draw. I suggested that the problem is simply structural fatigue.

     A mopey mute is a serious matter right now. Put in personal terms: Through Nov. 2, if viewing TV — baseball and football most pertinently — the remote is my only protection from that one decisive political hammer that will cause my head to split apart like a jack-o-lantern flung from a horseman.     

     Doesn't matter the party. Doesn't matter the issue. The human brain can take only so many accusations.

      Zenith is credited with developing the first TV remote control in the 1950s. Sure, that was 60 years ago, but I must acknowledge this to be a relatively recent revelation from where I sit. Sure, throughout the '80s and '90s, we had a remote in our house, but for most of that time it was the VCR's, and therefore with no mute function.

      When the blessed mute became a way of life for us, I realized how effectively we were circumventing the misleading appeals any number of political thugs and merchandizers were purveying. (See: "War on Terror.")

      Now we are in the throes of a campaign stretch where unprecedented amounts of anonymous cash are directed at midterm elections. The claims are presented under the names of organizations we've never heard of and which one can assume are headquartered on the disk drives of party schemers. And their appeals — have they ever been more outlandish?

      Sadly, we know they work. In their incessancy, they drill their way into voters' crania.

      The result: People who are highly discriminatory consumers when choosing, say, margarine or bleach, become slobbering zombies at the polls, sawdust seeping from their ear canals.

      Now, in case you are saying, "I don't remember it being this bad before," and someone says, "Well, you just don't remember" — the fact is that you're mind isn't playing tricks on you.

       The tricks being played on your mind are coming from a swelling tide of anonymous corporate donors.

       The Supreme Court gets credit for this.

       Its ruling last year effectively equating money with free speech, lifting controls on corporate campaign contributions, bequeathed upon the land more loose campaign cash than ever before for an off-year election.

        The same anonymous and unchecked forms of untraceable campaign loot that gave us Watergate are back in currency. By review, the forces of Richard Nixon did their dirty tricks with $22 million in secret donations. One can only imagine what favors were exchanged, and to what political and public policy ends.

       So, the issue is on two planes: first, the plane of politics and policy; second, the plane at which messages intersect with the inner ear and render the human brain to the watery consistency of the Hawaiian finger dish known as poi.

       Against this, we have two chief allies. The first is Common Cause, the organization that sprang out of the Watergate era and committed itself to rooting out the corruption that comes with unrestrained campaign gifts. The second is the TV remote — principally "off" and "mute."

       Common Cause is pushing Congress to pass the DISCLOSE Act, requiring corporations and unions to publicly stand by the content in the ads themselves — "just as candidates for Congress must now stand by ads financed by their campaigns."

        After a round of unchecked, anonymous campaign dollars, policy makers must take the initiative and force companies to fess up.

        In the meantime, we, the consumers must protect and conserve our neural tissue. The impulse starts at the brain, channels through the wrist, and ends at the finger. The mute. Yes. Give these shameless barkers the finger.

        Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

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