Being fairly unconventional in my youth, I have some exciting stories. One time I spent my birthday money on “Subliminal Tapes”. The theory was that they had hidden recordings that played directly into your subconscious.
That sounded like it made sense to me (being about 12), so I purchased a few. Two that I recall were one to improve my bowling game (I was in a kid’s league at the time), and one titled “Do It Now!”. Even at 12, I knew I was a procrastinator. It was a harmless purchase, even if a naive one.
At that point I clearly had the idea that I was spending my money, and what it meant. A few years earlier, not so much. I had previously fallen victim to a much more insidious scheme. In the later case, “Subliminal Tapes” were intended to play upon the naivety or curiosity of adults–people who should know better. People who would know to read the fine print.
Here’s the scenario. Being a 10-year-old, I heard a commercial on the radio for a phone number that would get me a message from Santa Claus. How could I resist? I mean, I wasn’t so certain about his existence at the time, but I thought it sounded like it was worth calling. Of course, there was some boilerplate about having your parents’ permission, but it obviously didn’t (and wouldn’t) have a huge impact on a 10-year-old. So I called this number. I’ll give you a hint, it started with 900.
That’s right, instead of a 900 number being used as God intended, for audio porn and hookup lines, it was instead being used to drain the wallets of unsuspecting parents. So, after about ten calls to a repeating automated message, my parents figured it out, talked to me about it, and I learned that I had been a party to their fleecing; and that Santa Claus doesn’t have a phone.
Not cool. In fact, later, these people were pretty much categorically sued into the ground by various States’ Attorneys General. It stands under the some very old, and very sound, legal reasoning–i.e. if you put a cookie in a bear trap in your front lawn, you are liable when a child gets caught in it.
These days, I’m a recent parent. I think it’s important to supervise my son and my step-daughter. A kid can’t raise itself. Television is not a substitute for supervision. That said, I don’t need some greedy schmuck making parenting more difficult either. As an analogy, just because I don’t let my kids smoke doesn’t mean that I’d be thrilled about Mickey-Mouse-themed cigarettes (note, Mickey Mouse is wholly owned by the Disney Military-Industrial Complex).
You can imagine my dismay when I saw a certain commercial on television. Was what I saw an attractive nuisance? No. Was it designed to prey upon parents who raise their children with a television? Yes, it was. In fact, being shown on the “Teen Network” was direct, if brazen, targeting.
What was it, you ask? It was so simple, and yet unoriginal, that it must be the work of some sort of greedy idiot savant. Imagine the Magic 8-Ball accessed via a cellphone text message. That’s right, you text your “question” to “Ask The Phone”, and you get cryptic, generic responses back.
If you read the fine print, it says you must be 18+, or 13+ with the “wireless subscriber’s permission”. Oh, and it’s $9 per month for 5 questions, plus $2 each additional question (with varying differences for different carriers). Wow.
Should this be outlawed? No. Should these people be shut down? Not directly. Should it be possible for a small, determined group of parents to make these people suffer in court until they closed down? Very probably.