Sunday, March 18, 1990
by DAVE BARRY
There comes a time in the life of every American citizen when
"Hey! YOU!!" are Duty's exact words, and unless
you're some kind of flag-desecrating pervert, you're
going to stand up, as Americans have stood up for more
than 200 years, and you're going to say, "Yes,
I will participate in the Arbitron television-ratings
I answered The Call one recent afternoon. The phone
rang, and it was a person informing me that I had been
selected to be an Arbitron household based on an exhaustive
screening process consisting of being home when my number
was dialed at random. As you can imagine, I was deeply
"Do I get money?" I asked.
The reason I asked this is that a couple of years ago
I was a Nielsen ratings household, and all they paid
me was two lousy dollars, yet they wanted me to write
down every program I watched, which was virtually impossible
because I'm a guy and therefore I generally watch 40
programs at once. Guys are biologically capable of keeping
track of huge numbers of programs simultaneously by
changing the channel the instant something boring happens,
such as dialogue. Whereas women, because of a tragic
genetic flaw, feel compelled to watch only one program
at a time, the way people did back in the Middle Ages,
before the invention of remote control.
Anyway, it turns out that $2 is also all you get for
being an Arbitron household. But I agreed to be one
anyway, because, let's face it, when anybody connected
with the television industry asks you to do something,
no matter how stupid or degrading it is, you do it.
This is why people are willing to openly discuss their
secret bodily problems in commercials that are seen
by the entire nation. These people become famous for
having secret bodily problems. When they go out to dinner,
large celebrity-worshiping crowds gather to stare and
point and whisper excitedly to each other, "Look!
It's Elston V. Quadrant, Hemorrhoid Sufferer!"
At least these people get paid, which is more than
you can say for the people who go on the syndicated
TV talk shows and seek to enhance public understanding
of various tragic psychological disorders by candidly
revealing that they are total wackmobiles ("I'm
Geraldo Rivera, and these men are commercial-airline
pilots with live trout in their shorts").
So I figured the least I could do, for television,
was be an Arbitron household. This involves two major
1. Keeping track of what you watch on TV.
2. Lying about it.
At least that's what I did. I imagine most people do.
Because let's face it: Just because you watch a certain
show on television, that doesn't mean you want to admit
it. Let's say you're flipping through your 8,479 cable
channels, and you come across a program called Eat
Bugs For Money, wherein they bring out a large live
insect, and the contestants secretly write down the
minimum amount of money they would have to be given
to eat it, and whichever one has the lowest bid has
to actually do it. Admit it: YOU would watch this program.
In fact, right now you're saying to yourself, "Hey,
I wonder what channel that's on." Unfortunately,
at present it's still in the conceptual stage. It's
based on an idea from my editor, Gene Weingarten, who
has publicly stated that he would eat a live adult South
Florida cockroach (average weight: 11 pounds) for $20,000.
My point is that you'd watch this program, but you
wouldn't tell Arbitron. You'd claim that you watched
a National Geographic special with a name like The Amazing
World of Beets. In my Arbitron diary, I wrote that our
entire household (including Earnest, who is, legally,
a dog) mainly watched the network news, whereas in fact
the only remotely educational programming we watched
that week was a commercial for oat bran, which by the
way is clearly no more intended for human consumption
than insects are.
© 1990 Dave Barry. The information
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