Dogs and dancers dominate the imaginary world created by TV commercials

About nine years ago, I wrote an OpEdge article that in the idealized world of television commercials people care about their pets as much as they do about their children. At the time it seemed as if every other commercial featured dogs or cats, and in most, the animal was a best friend, family member, or even life guide. The article went on to analyze several commercials featuring pets.

Since then, I have never lost the feeling that pets dominate televisions commercials, but the post-pandemic increase in the popularity of pets makes me wonder if instead of being a major creative motif in communicating about products that pets have become a given, like furniture, family, and cars, in an idealized commercial world to which the viewers can only find entry through the purchase of the advertised goods and services. Recently I have noticed a new trend in television commercials related to the creation of an ideal world dominated by the unrequited longing for consumption and the warm emotional release of making a purchase: dancing.

Damn, doesn’t it seem as if every commercial that doesn’t have pets shows someone dancing, ecstatically happy because of the purchase and use of whatever is being advertised?

Unlike my article of nine years ago, I decided to test out my hypothesis that dogs and dancers dominate TV commercials by watching not just commercials with dogs or dancing, but every TV commercial I could see over a week. I turned the normal TV watching experience on its head, channel flipping towards the commercials instead of away from them. I watched at several times of day, focusing my attention on broadcast and cable news and entertainment stations. No sports channels, for a highly personal reason: the preponderance of ads touting gambling and online gambling sites on sports channels disgusts and depresses me. I know that there are plenty of beer and car commercials on sports channels, too, but I figured I would pick those ads up on other stations.

I saw and made a note of 305 television commercials over the period of a week that aired on 22 broadcast and cable channels. I did not count or make a note of public service announcements or promotions for televisions shows or networks, the latter representing a curious combination of cross-marketing and cannibalization. Of the 305 commercials, I removed 42 from the discussion because they were obviously made on shoestring budgets, and to feature either a pet or dancing requires a good budget. You need to pay either an animal trainer and the owner of the animals or the choreographer and dancers.

That left me with 263 commercials of which:

  • 39 featured pets (14.8%)
  • 24 featured dancing (9.1%)

Much less than I thought, but still substantial use of these motifs considering the enormous number of themes, images, situations, locations, times, plotlines, interpersonal relationships and dynamics, facial and body expressions, and emotions from which to choice when creating a 15- or 30-second televisions commercial.

Of the 39 commercials featuring pets, 10 were for pet food and other pet products. If we net those 10 out, the battle between dancing and dogs suddenly becomes very close, with each represented in about 10% of all commercials (excluding the ultra-cheapies).

But it does say a lot about our society that the category of commercials for pet products comes in tenth in companies advertising, ahead of hospitals, home and furniture stores, department stores, supermarkets, clothing, cosmetics, attorneys, computer services, toilet paper, liquor, delivery services, and travel. Here are the top 10:

1. Junk food and candy (27)
2. Financial products, including insurance (26)
3. Cars and car products (24)
4. Prescription drugs (20)
5. Soap and cleaning for people and homes (18)
6. Telecom (16)
7. Over the counter healthcare products (13)
8. Fast food restaurants (12)
8. Food products not junk (12)
10. Pet products (10)


To the degree that advertising reflects reality, we have become a nation of clean people living in clean houses addicted to junk and fast food that we eat while on the phone in our cars headed to the pharmacy to fill a prescription.

Besides pet products, dogs and cats appear in ads for prescription drugs, crafts, junk food, banks, department stores, hospitals, and cars. Sometimes pets are the center of these commercials, but just as often, they are part of the scenery, like furniture, wall hangings, paved streets, buildings, computers, and children.

We can see dancing in a similar mix of products as those containing dogs: cars, telecom, financial services, hospitals, food, fast food restaurants, prescription drugs, department stores, and delivery services. In all these commercials, though, dancing represents one thing and one thing only: the ecstatic joy at improving one’s life and achieving happiness through the purchase and use of a product or service.

These people are so happy they could dance.  And how did they get this happy?

By buying something.

Be it that wonderful feeling of a fresh mouth that gum gives you, or the infinite happiness that fills you when you buy a fashionable top on sale, or the addictive buzz in the brain that a piece of candy drills into you, or the sheer exhilaration of knowing that your basement and closets won’t collect moisture anymore, or the sudden burst of joyful energy that your skin has cleared up (despite the diarrhea, constipation, liver damage, and hot flashes you may suffer)—whatever the problem and product, it’s solved now and that means we can dance our booties off. Dancing means you are happy in CommercialLand, and happy means you have bought something.





Minyan Magazine has published “Eve Offers Adam a Cyclamen”

Minyan Magazine has just published my poem, “Eve Offers Adam a Cyclamen,” my take on the Adam and Eve myth.

Eve Offers Adam a Cyclamen

Some say it’s an apple, some say an orange

or fig—hanging at arm’s length

from one branch of a tree of life,

the product of action, not action itself,


which would be the cyclamen bloom,

thin stem twisted and bowed in prayer,

petals of deep velvet folded back

exposing anthers and stigma,


which remain hidden under leaves, each a still

photo of an exotic fan dance, appearing

to reveal what it conceals: a red spot of sorrow

the heart carries years after consummation.

For more, go to Minyan magazine:


Free To Be Whatever You Want To Be As Long As You Consume

The “Barbie” movie completes the conversion of Barbie from a symbol of paternalistic sexism to a hero of feminism.
Nobody but old Boomers will remember that when Barbie first came out in 1959, it quickly became a symbol of women’ subjugation to traditional paternalism—her oversized breasts alone seemed to fulfill a man’s fantasy more than a woman’s and certainly served as a terrible image model for preteens, who could never hope to have the fantasy figure that Barbie showed. Criticism of Barbie focused on concerns that girls considered Barbie a role model and might emulate her, leading to anorexia and bulimia, an epidemic of which started sometime in the 1970s among teenaged girls. Some research connected the unrealistic body proportions in Barbie dolls to this increase in eating disorders in children.
Moreover, Barbie was interested only in fashion clothes, and then in boys when Ken came along. A perfect doll living in a pre-Nora doll’s house. I remember in the late 1960s and early 1970s hearing people call women who cared about nothing but consumerism or who dressed as fashionable teases “Barbie Dolls.” It was not a compliment.
Barbie always had careers, but at the beginning they were traditional female service or allurement professions. She started as a fashion model, but quickly added fashion designer, singer, ballerina, flight attendant in the day when only women had that job, cheerleader, candy striper, and student teacher. Note that Barbie did not get to be a real nurse or real teacher, professions known for their intellectualism, not for their subservience to a male idea of beauty.
Oh yes, one of Barbie’s early careers was as a businesswoman, and that was what the Barbie collection was always about. Business. But somewhere along the line, Mattel, out of the desire to extend the brand and sell more merchandise (it was before the days when we simply called branded junk “merch”), decided to fight the criticism and turn Barbie into a modern, liberated woman. By 1973, there was a surgeon Barbie, but the start of the new Barbie did not really come until the 1990s, when Mattel started 10-20 new careers for Barbie every year. In 2012 alone, Mattel issued versions of Barbie, clothes, and accessories for thirty professions, including actress, arctic animal rescuer, artist, astronaut, ballerina, doctor, fashion designer, fashion model, fashion photographer, figure skater, flight attendant, floral designer, gymnast, marine biologist, martial artist, music teacher, nurse, paleontologist, pancake chef, pilot, preschool teacher, skier, snowboarder, swimmer, tennis player, track-and-field runner, United States presidential candidate, veterinarian, waiter, and yoga teacher.
In the 21st century Barbie is free to do anything and therefore represents the feminist ideal.
Barbie can now also be anyone and have any shape. While Barbie had a Black friend Christie as early as 1968, it was not until 1980 that there were Black and Hispanic Barbies. Only in the past few years has Barbie—or should I say Mattel—embraced true diversity. Since 2015, Mattel has introduced heavy-set, petite, and tall versions of Barbie, Kens with different body dimensions, Barbies with disabilities, and a transgender Barbie.
It is this new icon of feminism that Greta Gerwig’s summer spectacular Barbie movie celebrates. A Barbie who represents not the constraints of paternalism, but the possibilities open to all women (and men and those identifying as both or neither) in today’s free society.
No wonder right-wingers. White nationalists, and cultural troglodytes hate the Barbie movie. They liked the original Barbie—enormous breasts, sexy clothes, subservience to men. They feel threatened by the new, “woke” Barbie, who by being allowed to do anything and be anyone represents both an emotional and an economic threat to these so-called believers in tradition. Fox News and other right-wing watering holes (or should I say, Kool-Aid watercoolers) are full of accusations that because one of the characters is transgendered, the Barbie movie advocates a “trans agenda,” a non-existent entity that can serve as effectively as a punching bag for the cultural right wing as the equally non-existent Antifa organization.
But the argument between those who love what the woke Barbie represents and those who hate and feel threatened by new Barbie conceals what both sides have in common: a dedication to conspicuous consumption, consumerism, and the celebrity culture that both exemplifies and fuels consumerism. The modus operandi of the Barbie business is to sell ever more Barbie merch—more Barbies, more clothes, more accessories, more, more, more.
We can see the underlying consumerism that animates Barbie by its fixation with celebrity. Many Barbies through the decades have been celebrities like the Black “Julia” Barbie, which first came out in 1969 and was named after the nurse whom Diahann Carroll played on TV. The “trans” Barbie is based on a trans celebrity, Laverne Cox. Beyonce, Tina Turner, David Bowie, Grace Kelly, Cher, Cyndi Lauper, Elvis and Pricilla Presley, Audrey Hepburn, and Joan Jett are a few of the dozens of celebrities with Barbies modeled after them. I have, however, scoured several lists of celebrity Barbies and have found only three who were not actors, singers, or entertainers—Jane Goodall, Eleanor Roosevelt, and J. K. Rawlings.
The right wing has expressed messianic thoughts about a billionaire celebrity who failed at everything he ever did except for self-promotion. His initial fame derived not from being a businessperson, but being a celebrity who played a businessperson on TV. And what does this celebrity offer his adoring audience other than his dissociated spew of angry racism and self-serving economic lies and the opportunity to contribute to his defense fund?—merch: Trump and MAGA posters, hats, tee-shirts, mugs, NTFs, action toys, photographs, stickers, beach towels, buttons, doormats, cards, flags, candles, refrigerator magnets, pens, aprons, and stuff for pets.
Merch. Just like the Barbie movie. Just like Barbie. Celebrities sell merch, and that is what Barbie has always been about and will always be about—peddling cheap products to assuage the consumer lust that the mass media inculcates into us and is partly responsible for the environmental mess we are in. Whether pursuing Fast Fashion and the latest phone or fetishizing private ownership of cars, most Americans worship daily at the alter of consumerism.