When I heard that a national law to ban loud TV commercials had taken force in December, I was skeptical.
Why did we need a Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM), I wondered, when more urgent issues demanded action? There were nations to invade, marriages to prohibit, guns to enshrine. Loud commercials were just an itch — to scratch it would be like trying to pay the mortgage and replace a burned-out light bulb. If we can ignore global warming, we can ignore loud commercials. In our sleep.
Like most people, though, I use TV as a sedative, so those eruptions advertising discount mattresses provoke substantial irritation, not to mention irony. I wouldn't have minded if the CALM act had let me snore.
Nope. More than four months after it took effect, much overloudness prevails.
But I deal with it. I boycott offending products, for instance. "Honey," I tell my phone, "remind me not to buy that loud truck." "Remind me not to sue over that loud disease I don't have." "Remind me not to enroll in that loud trade school."
Of course, now that I've used up my phone's digital memory, Honey ignores me. And there are other challenges. Since commercials have cost me sleep, how will I stay alert if I'm boycotting the energy drinks they shout about? If I renounce loud male enhancements, will my wife leave me?
Loud commercials do have their fans. A friend says that, without the jolt of transvaginal-mesh ads, he would no longer clean his house and write his blog at 3 a.m. And an aging relative exults that loud commercials continue to be a miraculous triumph over her increasing deafness.
Still not sold on the screeching, I grudgingly tried the new complaint option at fcc.gov/complaints. Broadcast complaint — check. Loud commercial — check. My name, address, telephone number, email address — check. Offending cable system, offending advertiser, date, time, offending station/channel, program in which the commercial was embedded — check.
Right, that took care of the first commercial; only 19 to go on the day's list. The form required me to start over for each instance, so I dug in, the way millions must surely be doing. (The FCC's first quarterly report hasn't yet been issued.) No sweat — I was awake anyway.
Now I'm just sitting back and waiting for action from the FCC, which has the task of sorting the complaints, identifying patterns of noncompliance and notifying violators. After that, the commission will proceed to punish violators.
Maybe. Since the CALM act, introduced by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Menlo Park), stipulates no mandatory penalties or enforcement mechanisms, I'm not betting that the scofflaws will face much more than all the stern disapproval the government can muster.
Extraction of this bill's fangs was what blazed its path to unanimous (yes, unanimous) Senate approval. Good politicians know how to serve strong public demand with enthusiastic lips and gums, and applying similar toothlessness to emissions standards, immigration reform and a host of other divisive issues can nurture the bipartisanship we all crave. You can display all the good intentions with none of the Big Brotherish meddling.
But this afternoon, I came up with a shortcut that could render all this bureaucracy moot. Slammed from my nap by the gunfire in a crime-drama station promo, I had a revelation about turning Washington's weak will to my advantage.
With Congress paralyzed on gun control, I can buy an assault rifle just like the one on the crime show. With five quick squeezes of the trigger, I could pump five 9-millimeter slugs into my television screen; I'd still have 25 more fully legal bullets in the clip, and only five more TVs.
Neighbors: I apologize in advance for the noise.
Greg Burk is an L.A. writer.