The Commercial Media Detox


Ready to walk away from empire at home? Claim your personal power by unplugging your TV for a week.

Over the past two years, I have lived in Central America beyond the reach of American media and its persistent commercial cranial intrusions. Where I now work, my ears are filled with the sound of flowing water, the hum of crickets, and the chatter of farm workers. The audio track to my home-to-work commute consists mainly of the lowing of cows and birdsong, punctuated by the occasional hum of a passing motorbike or the rumble of a pickup truck.

Yet, I have also begun undergoing a kind of involuntary “commercial media detox program.” Drowning out this innocuous din at random, unpredictable times, I hear loudly and insistently inside my head the American pop songs that have become the soundtrack to a million of the most mundane moments of my life — relieving myself into restaurant urinals, purchasing thumbtacks at the pharmacy, and waiting to get my teeth (or something else) examined. Interspersed among these “hits” on my mental playlist are perennial commercial jingles — mainly for processed food products and kids’ breakfast cereals. These aural orphans from the consumer culture arrive unbidden even though meditation practice has otherwise pretty much quashed the backdrop din.

Why, suddenly, decades later and entirely out of the blue, are these commercial jingles and songs blaring unbidden at full blast in my brain, now that I am living outside of the culture that created them?

For the same reason, I’d venture, that the air bubbles in a vigorously-shaken bottle of salad oil will slowly, gradually, and inevitably rise to the surface in their own time. Something forced unnaturally into a space that has no natural support for being there will eventually work its way out of that space, given the opportunity.

Just as a political empire cannot exist without the physical violence of armed invasion and occupation, so a commercial empire cannot exist without the “armed invasion” of the psychic space in the head of the consumer.

Production capacity outpaced demand for consumer products in the United States in the early 20th century, creating the need to artificially stoke demand for manufactured products and giving rise to advertising as an institution.

Yet advertising is an unnatural intrusion into our mental space, a forced injection into the area of consciousness where we make basic decisions about what we need and want. Advertising, then, is a form of psychic violence — a vector of control without which industrial humans would not be impelled to purchase things they don’t actually want or need.

When I removed myself from the omnipresent outside influences of commercial advertising by choosing to live with no television or radio and confining my very slow home Internet connection to email, I noticed that those “air bubbles” — the many crass commercials and insipid songs from the past — have, like belches from a thankfully forgotten meal, started to rise to the surface of my consciousness and “pop”, vividly reminding me of their content — complete with all the original lyrics, tones, and visuals. From out of nowhere, for example, I see in my mind’s eye the faces of those poor actors — adults and children — gleefully shoveling processed goo into their smiling mouths or parading around on screen in their underwear, as I am laying out bananas on a drying rack, riding inside a crowded microbus, or collecting firewood.

It didn’t occur to me how invasive and violent that culture of commercials is until I began to live outside of it and then start “detoxing.”

Without the psychic violence of an incessant flow of commercials and commercial anthems, the very foundation of the infinite growth economy and the culture that serves it begins to crumble. No longer being influenced to buy or being told what and how much to buy, industrialized humans would begin to actually perceive their own needs — if they so chose — and the house of cards built upon their unbridled consumption, in the forms of never-ending credit and the issuance of more and more fiat currency based upon the same dwindling resource base, would begin to collapse.

Astute readers may have realized that this house of cards is indeed already collapsing. In the midst of this collapse, there is an opportunity to claim personal power, beginning in one’s own mind.

Such a shift away from the consumer culture’s siren song and toward one’s perception of one’s own actual needs is an essential step in becoming capable of proactively helping oneself, one’s family, and one’s community to prepare for transition.

You can get a running start on a “commercial media detox” by disengaging from commercial media in one single, simple step that you can take right now: If you are a habitué of any kind of television programming, take a week off from all of it. That’s right: Turn off your TV set and keep it off for the entire week. Even the supposedly “good” programming on television steals the precious moments of your private time in which you are otherwise able to collect your thoughts and start building your platform for what you wish to accomplish.

So, loan your remote to a good friend with instructions not to return it to you for one week. Even better, take the TV set out of your daily living space entirely.

In place of the programming sanctioned by the infinite growth economy, program yourself consciously instead — by cozying up with a book, articles, or other resources that will help you fortify your brain and move forward with, or clarify, your plans. Commit to an entire week sans television programming, put it on your calendar, and then go through with it. Enlist your good friend again (the one holding your remote) to pepper you with messages of encouragement throughout the week. Or, you might solicit sympathetic readers to offer you “TV dry-out support” by posting a comment below. Then, see how you feel by the end of the week!

I got a family friend to do this “just turn it off” exercise twenty years ago. Back then, he was an avid TV-watcher. In his new-found downtime, he studied a bit about transition. Eventually, he decided to move out of his suburban apartment in the United States, invest in off-grid food production, and relocate to a farm.

A couple years ago, as he was engaged in his new plans, he thanked me for showing him how to get off the TV habit and explained how big a difference that one change has made for him.

The results of your permanent vacation from television may surprise and delight you, too.

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