The Bizarro-World of AFN Infomercials

AFN is a superb product that few people know about so I’m going to let you in on it. Bloggers and journalists are very unlikely to be in the military so consider this a treat. =P

About AFN

AFN stands for the American Forces Network. It’s basically a collection of cable channels broadcasted outside the United States for the military. Instead of offering hundreds of useless channels, it offers less than a dozen. Each channel is dedicated towards one demographic. One shows films, one shows sports, one shows family programming, and so on. 24 hour a day programming.

AFN takes the most popular shows on TV and blocks its timeslots that way. While NBC and CBS and the rest have maybe one or two good shows each, and the rest being experiments and craps and filler, AFN stuffs its AFN Spectrum channel with the latest episodes of The Apprentice, Survivor, The Biggest Loser, Desperate Housewives, Lost, etc. You lose out on the long tail of TV programming, missing some less popular shows, but being in Iraq, you’re mostly concerned with catching the major stuff. There are also repeats in case you were (gasp) working the first time.

AFN Sports claims to try to show all the major sporting events, both live (usually in the middle of the night for Iraq viewers watching American sports) and recorded for the day shift people. AFN Sports will show FOX football, TNT basketball, ESPN2 tennis. It follows the different sports incredibly well.

You can watch pretty much anything fairly popular that you want on AFN. It’s a huge morale booster to be able to get a touch of home. Imagine having to watch “As the Habibi Turns, In Sha’Allah” for seven months, or Um Kathoum doing her Arab whiny vocal cord earthquake in concert every night.

AFN and Public Service Announcements

The most interesting part of AFN is its advertisements. It doesn’t run corporate advertisements. It runs public and military and consumer advocacy ads instead. Remember that “Let’s go out to the kitchen, let’s go out to the kitchen, let’s go out to the kitchen and get ourselves a snack” spot? Yeah, they’re kinda like those. Only with worse acting!

Maybe other soldiers don’t blog about this because they don’t spend their nights sitting on their ass watching TV like I do in the transportation section of my unit. But AFN definitely digs itself into soldiers’ memories. We saw this comedian perform here one night and the biggest laughs he got were when he was making fun of AFN commercials. Untapped comedy gold.

And there is a lot to make fun of. The AFN commercials are cheesy, silly, laughable. Some are extremely well-done, as if the Air Force has a job description for CG animation artists and has to fill those slots by letting them create elaborate computer graphics ads for, say, eating a balanced meal. One ad has a CG tortoise and hare preparing for a race by losing weight. The rabbit prefers the fast route: starving himself. The tortoise is eating a balanced, reduced portion meal that was given to him at a diner by a tyrannosaurus rex in an apron. The hare takes off from the starting line but is quickly fatigued, with dark rolls under his eyes (THAT MEANS HE’S TIRED!!!!).

There’s a spot done in that cheesy Christian gaussian noise filter style with a bunch of kids talking about how having a kid when you’re too young ruins your ability to enjoy your childhood, and that abstinence is the answer. It’s hard not to laugh as little 15-year-olds talk about life as an adult, about how it’s “not fair for the kid because the parent will hold it against them the rest of their life”.

My favorite is probably this one where this father and son go camping. “Gosh, I sure wish Mom was here!” “Dinner’s almost ready, son!” “Gee swell Dad, do we get to eat MREs?” The ad shows a diagram of how MRE heaters work when magnesium and water create electricity and thusly heat. “Mmmm Dad, this MRE is better than Mom’s cooking!” Her cooking must be pretty fucking bad then! This commercial is fooling no one. MREs are disgusting.

One ad has two buddies drinking in a bar. One burps (with sound effect inserted post-production) and says, “Let’s get outta here.” When they get outside, the camera does a close-up on his face and holds for a few seconds while he looks in disbelief. Oh gnoes! The wheel to his Mustang has been jacked! He goes back inside and says, “Hey man, you’ll never believe it! Someone took my tire!” “Oh, I’ll get you a taxi,” his dutiful friend suggests. The drunkard burps and walks out. The friend then shakes hands with the bartender and the camera pans out to show the tire sitting against the bar counter. LOL!! HE OUT-SMARTED YOU!!!

Another series of ads features some poor black private always getting into trouble in a vehicle (THOSE DAMN KIDS!) as some grinchy old white sergeant witnesses her mistake and castigates her. The frames are sped up for the ad. In one, she’s backing up her HMMWV without a ground guide (OH NO!) and backs into another vehicle, driven by the sergeant. It shows his face grimacing and glaring at her, then having her get out and stand at parade rest while he yells at her and she nods quickly and repeatedly.

A reader of the Stars and Stripes recently sent in a letter complaining about how AFN ads are repeated far too often. He suggested that the ads should have more spots for Medal of Honor winners (it has a few which are interesting but are rare), but apparently he’s not aware that the problem of Class 1 dogs in Germany is so rampant! The reader is referring to an ad that has a military veterinarian explaining how you need to have your class 2 dog tested for temperament and how class 1 dogs (pit bulls, etc.) are forbidden. This ad is probably the most-played AFN ad right now. Watch out! EVIL CLASS 1 DOGS WILL KILL US ALL!

There’s one AFN ad where a male soldier is hitting on a female one. He’s like, “Baby, you’re really filling out that uniform.” Cracks me up, even for a sexual harassment/equal opportunity ad. Another EO ad has different people saying, “NOT IN MY ARMY.” Yet another one has two women playing racquetball, talking about a guy who’s sexually harassing one of them. It’s really unfortunate because you can’t help but look at one of the women’s tits bounce around. I mean, was this intentional?

Largely popular are the advocacy ads with a bunch of teens sitting on some bleachers talking about how abstinence will help you be able to live a full, happy teenagerhood. “IT’S OKAY TO RESPECT YOURSELF,” pontificates one 16-year-old, about life. Another one goes a step further and has teen mothers complaining about how they missed out on their teenage years. Yeah, like those are so great. You have a baby of your own, not terminal cancer.

One that gets a lot of groans is this ad where these two roommates are talking and one lists the ingredients of snuff to the other, mentioning industrial chemicals like benzine and strychnine and hydrochloric acid and anthrax and commie redness and god knows what else. “What’s your point dude?” “That’s what’s in a can of snuff! DON’T DO DRUGS SUCKA!” Considering any soldier worth his salt (i.e. not me) has a bunch of dip stuffed into his lip at any time, this one’s not real popular.

There’s a series of Air Force ads with this general who’s at a different air base in each one, praising the different jobs airmen have. This guy really gets around! He always has some silly sign-off slogan he says, along with a finger-pointing at the screen. “CHECK SIX!”

Huh? What?

Stockholm Syndrome

I think it’s great not seeing product advertisements all the time. I like learning a bit about Native American history, or about past inventions that didn’t make it, or about brave military heroes. I think it’s a productive use of time. I’ll actually miss AFN when I leave, although I won’t miss all the static that ruins the fine widescreen LCDs that the Army has seemingly purchased for every unit so that we can waste time in a combat zone. =P Most of all AFN’s infomercials are one of the many little quirks that I’ll miss as I leave Iraq and later, the military and its strange little world.

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