Why TV Jingles Scare Me

And what I learned as a result

Here’s a strange confession, I’m kind of scared of TV jingles. The proper name for what I’m talking about is “vanity card.” These are short little clips that play after the credits of a show with the production company’s logo accompanied by a short burst of sound or a jingle.

Here’s a video with a few examples of what I’m talking about.

Okay, I know that last one for Williams Street is known for creeping out more kids who stayed up late to watch Adult Swim than just me, but what about the other ones? The normal ones? Even the cheerful ones? Why do I feel a lurching unease inside of me when the vanity card plays on the TV?

It wasn’t until recently, when laughing about this fact with my fiancee that I really started digging at why hearing these title card jingles still produces such a strong Pavlovian response of fear in me, and what I found out fascinates me.

When I say they scare me, I don’t mean that I’m harboring an irrational fear of the vanity card. I know it can’t hurt me. I’m not afraid of seeing it or even feel the need to look away or pause the credits before it comes up. It’s just that every time one of these jingles plays, I feel a rising sense of dread mixed with sadness. It’s like melancholy drenched in anxiety. The feeling itself is not powerful, but a little wave of discomfort passes through me almost every single time.

I began to think about why I have come to associate vanity cards with these feelings, so I tried to go back in time to recall the first instance of this. I could place myself in my bedroom, it’s dark, probably past 11 pm. The TV is playing and another show has just ended. I may have been watching it attentively, or maybe it was just humming in the background while I was trying to sleep or do something else. Back then, I could not sleep unless the TV was on. I could not sit in silence. This was too unnerving. The TV was a welcome distraction… but for what? Then in simply recalling these memories, I began to feel the rising wave of dread that would have been rippling through me as a show ended.

I’m not ready.

My homework is sitting untouched in my backpack. An important reminder I wrote for myself is probably waiting for me on today’s page of my school planner, but I know that I likely won’t see it until it’s too late. “Just one more show,” I’d probably say to myself, and I’d let myself become distracted from the pressures of the present for another half an hour. But then, the show would end, the credits would roll, and that little jungle would play.

It’s over.

My distraction was gone, a little jingle played, and the show faded to black. My fight or flight instinct was kicking in and telling me to act. Telling me to turn on the lights and pull out my homework. Telling me that the hour or two of sleep that I would sacrifice to complete the work would be worth it. But I always had excuses. “Well, if I fall asleep now, I can get a full night’s sleep and do my work in the morning when I feel better and am rested.” I pushed off work because I was great at procrastinating. I knew that if I had to, I could blaze through an assignment on the bus, or in the time between classes, or as students were trickling in and taking their seats, and even if I didn’t get an A+, it was good enough to avoid the certain disaster of a zero.

But here’s the thing. I could never get a full nights’ sleep. I’d toss and turn and feel the shame of the incomplete homework in my bag all while each episode that ended marked the passage of time and each jingle was a blow to my anxiety. I would miss the days when I could sit and watch cartoon after cartoon without a single care in the world and it made yearn for those carefree years of childhood, even when I was still in the cusp of it. With each show that ended, I knew I had lost another half an hour of sleep, and I’d start to resent the jingles and the uncomfortable closure they brought. Those little jingles became the harbingers of my failure.

There was an unnerving element to the jingle itself, too, even outside of hole I had dug for myself. They were so short and rushed. The melodies either played at a breakneck speed, or there was just a single familiar abrupt sound. It was sandwiched between the music of the credits and the sound of a commercial. It wasn’t long enough to say anything meaningful or to serve as a distraction. It was just a transition to mark the passage of time. There’s something uncanny, commercial, and unnatural about a jingle by itself.

At that age, I would not have thought of myself as an anxious person. A bit of a slacker and big-time procrastinator, for sure, but I still got A’s and B’s and found school to be easy (except for chemistry and calculus). I took my ability to half-ass something and still get an A on it with pride. If I could go back in time I would probably strangle this version of me. I would have forced myself to do the homework and to see how easy it is to fall asleep when you’ve exorcised the demon of anxiety from your brain. I think I was addicted to living in fight or flight mode as a teenager, but I’m glad I grew out of that phase.

Now, I can’t sleep unless I have near silence. Ironically enough, hearing a TV in the background while I’m trying to sleep only brings up these feelings of anxiety again. I’m happy to do without it, even though this was once the only way I could fall asleep.

I’ve learned that mastering the art of bullshit and being a quick learner can only get you so far after high school and even though I am now meticulous in how I structure my time and organize myself and my job as a teacher has forced me to become a type-A person when it comes to professional tasks, I still revert to my scared teenage self when I hear a vanity card play after a show’s credits.

And I try to remember this when I see one of my students grappling with irrational anxiety. I try to remember that despite our abilities and reason, we often act against our own best interests. I keep in mind that something as small as a jingle can grow to have enormous power over our psyche, not for what it is, but for what it comes to represent.

At least now I also understand where my own fear is coming from. It’s just a ripple from a time in my past where something as innocent as a vanity card could cause the very dread of running out of time, of failure, and of having lost another chunk of sleep to insomnia to come crashing down on me all at once.

Or maybe I’m just making up an excuse for how irrationally uncomfortable TV show jingles make me feel.


  • Lucie Corona

    Tu desde chiquito siempre fuiste jugueton, emprendedor, AMOROSO, divertido y artista con pluma papel. Tenias aspiraciones y metas desde muy joven, por eso, estoy muy orgullosa de ti por ser quien eres y lo que has logrado.
    Te quiero mucho, mucho, mucho.

  • Sandra Orozco

    😊 Aún así siempre te las ingeniaste para sobresalir y ser de los mejores.
    Me da gusto que seas tan organizado y hayas sabido sacar la mejor parte.
    Siempre te he admirado.

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