11.11.2010

Advertising at its best, or one of "those" moments

I recently had the unpleasant experience of watching the following television commercial with my four-year-old son:



You might wonder why my preschooler was up late at night watching adult-oriented television shows and their correspondingly mature ads.

He wasn’t. We saw this commercial at 10:30 on a Sunday morning, while he and I were playing with Legos in the family room, where my husband was watching his weekly New England Patriots football game via DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket satellite feed. (OK, so local audiences on the East Coast would have seen it at 1:30pm. I guess no kids at all are watching TV with their parents at that hour, right?)

I know football itself is a barbaric sport, and the thought that anyone under the age of 80 might accidentally see that Cialis ad with the bathtubs is offensive to human dignity. But my four-year-old happens to find football on TV very boring (hence the Lego table in the family room). And he clearly isn't remotely intrigued by oldsters in bathtubs, because he’s never asked me what a four-hour erection is (for which I am grateful). The Call of Duty Black Ops commercial, however, captured all of our attention, and fast. Though I tried to jump for the remote and press pause, I wasn’t quick enough—he’d seen and absorbed the bulk of the mega-violent and ultra-realistic machine-gun fire, rocket launching, and handgun brandishing before I could do anything about it.

I understand that the Call of Duty series prides itself on mega-violence and ultra-realism. (In case you didn’t know, the last game in the series let you gun down innocent civilians as they crawled pathetically away trying to save themselves.) Generally, my track record on the whole “violence in video games” issue is clear and consistent. I’m not upset about violent video games, nor am I upset about violent ads for violent video games. I even went on live TV once upon a time to defend Grand Theft Auto in a “debate” (if you could really call it that) against Jack Thompson. (Remember that ambulance-chasing anti-video-game lawyer? Where is he now, anyway? Oh wait, I remember—nobody cares!)

But I was upset at being caught unaware by this visceral glorification of violence, and I was saddened that my little boy was suddenly and unexpectedly having to process images he is simply way too young and innocent to understand. And that is when I had one of "those" moments. The moment when you realize you’re getting older, and you’re no longer as blithely permissive as you once were. When you realize you’re a parent, and you have to be permanently vigilant to make sure your child only sees certain flavors of media when he is ready to see, discuss, and understand them. And when, for a second that lingers longer than you’d like, you understand on a very personal level all those people who do hate and fight against violent video games, who don't support their right to exist, who don't appreciate them as art or free speech.

I'm not against Call of Duty or violent video games, but I'm shocked and disappointed that this ill-placed ad campaign made me, a staunch video game supporter and advocate, briefly want to side with those who are.