There are definitely things wrong with the global culture, especially for English language users.  Everywhere you look there are people telling you to do something, buy something (now!) watch something, say something, think something, be some way you aren’t.  Advertisements, journalists, politicians, and many others are using the imperative voice, demanding your obedience.

Why?  Not because they have any real authority, but because you live in a sick culture.  Madison Avenue advertising executives of the past have written dissertation-length white papers on “call for action” in ads, letters to customers, and other communications.  “Tell them what to do.”  If your message goes out without a call for action, it is a bad message, they will tell you.  The action is always written as a demand.  No time to ask nicely, no reason to make a request, simply bark the orders, you’ll be advised by your marketing experts.

Please consider the following exercise.  If you are out driving, consider looking at ten billboards and see how many of them make demands.  “See the zoo.”  “Visit Paris.” “Buy Loompanics.”  “Eat at Joe’s.”  Take a look, if you would, at any of those automated highway signs that have different messages and see how the message is worded.  “Don’t drink and drive.”  “Exit immediately.”  “Slow for congestion.”

My favourite is always “watch for stopped vehicles.”  Really?  I’m promised a watch in exchange for a set of stopped vehicles?  Cool.  Is it a really nice watch?

If you are at home, you might try giving a listen  to the radio or please consider watching commercial television for a few minutes.  You’ll most likely be told what to do ten or twelve times in the first set of commercial messages.  Your next visit to a mainstream commercial web site would most likely reveal the same thing.  You might check out a news broadcast and see how many times you are told “Stay tuned…” or “Join us next week…” or the most extraordinarily lame, “We’ll see you next time.”

No, that one isn’t in imperative voice, but, really, that’s not how television works.  I don’t know how many times I see a news caster look straight at the camera and talk about seeing the viewers next time, or being glad to see them this time.  Earth to news casters: you see a camera, not the viewers.  The viewers see you.  Or, at least, that’s the way most of us want television to continue to work.  Big brother may have other plans.

I’ve heard two people remark on this situation in recent years.  Some time back a friend of a friend from Montana mentioned an idea of buying stickers in full bleed red background with white lettering to exactly match the text and background of STOP signs with the word “OBEYING.”  His proposal was to print up thousands of these and send them out to friends who would paste them on STOP signs just below the word STOP, to re-purpose them as “STOP OBEYING” signs.  Can you imagine?  The wicked confusion at a four-way stop would obliterate travel times in some places.

Another friend will simply burst out with the statement, “Don’t tell me what to doooo” in this hilarious voice he does.  He’ll typically point both hands at whatever sign, billboard, the radio, the television, wherever the order is coming from.  It is one of those “half in jest” things.

Whatever happened to “please” would someone please let me know?

Saying please and thank you is an indication of courtesy and an indication of an underlying assumption.  The assumption is equality.  You don’t have authority over me to make demands, so you “ask nicely” by saying please.  And when I do something you wanted done, you say “thank you.”  These are not difficult, time consuming, or long words.

They are also not unpopular.  Marketers often say that the most popular words are short, one-syllable, often three or four letters.  Examples include “win” “free” “save” “you” “now.”  The words “please” and “thank you” get high marks for popularity.  People like hearing these words.  “Please join so you win free and save now. Thank you.”  It is easy, fun, and not at all demanding.

Imperative voice is everywhere, and it is not the voice you want to hear.  You should consider a different strategy.  Please consider disobeying, and breaking your chains, please.  The freedom you save may be your own.