Sunday, February 3, 2008

Words as Weapons of Mass Deception

I was having cereal this morning, and having given the local newspapers the once-over at least twice (brilliant idea, btw, to make a puff piece on how Clinton, CT, is 'stuck' between the Giants' and Patriots' camps in terms of fan loyalty a-front-page-above-the-fold-story. The kind of newspapering that makes this local journal one of the gems of the Gatehouse media crown, I'm sure. Call the Pulitzer Committee NOW and tell them to call off the search for a winner), so I was working on the words on the cereal box.

I was especially taken by the big words on the box front "May help lower cholesterol." You need to go to the side of the box where the letters get a little tinier, to learn there's a bit more to lowering your cholesterol than just munching handfuls of this cereal, which you suspected and expected to be the case, but the folks making the cereal weren't in any real hurry to share with you.

Kind of like the TV commercials for this year's model of car, truck, van, crossover, pullover, turnover, roll over, fetch, lie down and whatever else we can come up with to describe a motor vehicle. There are always BIG numbers with low dollar-figures super-imposed on the TV screen while the announcer waxes poetic about the features that come with your vehicle to include, fold-away third seat, DVD player and entertainment center, a rodeo and the fountain of youth.
Meanwhile in little tiny letters practically falling off the bottom of your screen is the important stuff to include while the base price of the vehicle is thismuchdollars, the vehicle we are actually viewing in the TV commercial is THISMANYDOLLARS (usually another 10K). Yipes!

But, no reason to get excited, the thief he kindly spoke. We ran all this past our legal eagles before screening it for the FCC and everything is cool. Okay, you can't really buy this much vehicle for the price we show but we don't actually claim that can happen. Caveat Emptor especially when you're regarded as a mark by product advertisers. So we have unending, and, occasionally competing, claims that upon further review (as close to a football reference on Super Bowl Sunday as I dare get unless I live in Clinton) don't add up to anything. There are commercials for vitamins to assist in weight loss (but with an asterisk that explains NONE of the statements have ever been reviewed or proven correct by the Food and Drug Administration, but that means, when you live in the world through the looking glass, that NONE of the claims have been disproven.)

And round goes the gossip. Pick a product, good or service and carefully examine its advertising, print or electronic. The phrase 'your mileage may vary' covers a multitude of sins, real and/or imagined and since everyone uses these phrases and we don't really believe any of them, no one is truly harmed. After all, you should have known that hyperbole rules and wishful thinking is, after all, thinking, too. We wonder why we believe less and less of anything our elected leaders tell us.
We live in a culture of Carnies and Hucksters (It's the kingdom of the spiders), why should we believe anything said by anyone? We not only expect to get lied to, we practically demand it. We want to have 'energy independence' but we don't want to pay more than 35 cents a gallon for gasoline (when did the symbol for 'cents' disappear from the keyboard? I just went to use it and it was gone.).
We want to be able to eat seconds of tiramisu for dessert at every meal this week and still lose ten pounds by Saturday for the high school reunion and we'll buy the pill, or take out the membership in whatever product or weight loss plan than can make that happen.

Things don't seem to always work out for us the way we want, but as long as we believe there's a fix someplace, from someone, somehow, we can pretend we're fine. So warm up the TVs and pull the snack wagon closer. The pregame, preview before the four-hour special before the Super Bowl is just starting and none of us want to miss any of that. After all, what might we have to talk about at work tomorrow if that happened? Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
-bill kenny

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