I have never cried so much over paper towels.
Set me in front of the Olympics for a few minutes during the commercials, and I am an emotional mess.
There is something about the Olympics that brings out the best in advertisers. Most advertisers, anyway.
Procter & Gamble has stepped up its game. I have never felt such a strong, overwhelming urge to call my mother as during their ads. “Thank you!” I sob into the phone. “Thank you for supporting me on the parallel rings!”
“What parallel rings?” she asks. “Are you drunk? Who is this?”
The Super Bowl is for experimentation and flair. But the Olympics are for sturdy-yet-poignant commercials about the triumph of the human spirit. There is soft piano. There are children having dreams. There are people swimming entire oceans. Morgan Freeman is narrating something. It is perfect. You feel proud to be an American, alive on this earth in this time.
And then come the political ads.
I am not saying that every ad has to be soupy to the nth degree.
I have tremendously enjoyed the McDonald’s ads, which feature Americans eating fast food as they tell Olympians what to do. I like the general attitude behind this. “Hey,” they say. “Good job there with the years of rigorous training. We are going to sit on the couch and enjoy some cholesterol, but first, we have some advice for you.”
I don’t know why Subway is so adamant that we need to coat everything in avocado, but now that it gives me the option, I will certainly not tell it no.
But suddenly ominous music is playing, and a hand-lettered sign is asking me what happened to President Obama’s stimulus money. “While Americans waited for help, billions were spent in foreign countries,” the narrator says.
Obama’s ads are not much better. I’m terrified to be a woman now.
This all feels wrong, somehow.
I understand that conventional wisdom has it that you are supposed to sway undecided voters, especially in media markets like swing-state Virginia, with negative advertising. But I have difficulty picturing these voters.
Who are they? Who are these people who say, “I don’t know, unless I hear something really ominous about one of these guys, I’m not going to the polls.”
Of course, that isn’t how it works. Studies have found that the difference made by negative advertising is so small as to be almost negligible. Almost. As Ken Goldstein, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group,told The Post’s Paul Farhi: “Ask Al Gore if a small advantage matters.”
“My opponent is the worst thing to happen to this planet since that meteor that killed the dinosaurs,” the ads insist.
“My opponent is the worst thing to happen to this planet since God buried the bones of dinosaurs in the earth sneakily, to trick us.”
The end result of all this is not to make you want to dash to the polls and start voting willy-nilly. At best, you say, “Ugh,” and shudder a little. At worst, you crave a shower.
“Do I elect the man who has made the economy worse?” you ask yourself. “Or the man who will make the economy worse?”
Somehow you never see anyone genuinely excited to be voting for the lesser of two evils. Americans, by and large, are sick of the volume of negative ads that is dumped on us every day. A poll found that 78 percent of Americans were frustrated by the negative tone the campaign has taken. It is frustrating. I don’t like to feel that the people running for president of this great nation are like mountain goats grappling on a ledge for the tiniest possible advantage. Certainly not during the Olympics, when I should be weeping over absorbent towels.
The Olympic ads are enough to reduce you to tears. But when the political ads come on, that’s the time I feel most like crying.
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog at washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost.