Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Absurdity of Advertising

The Absurdity of Advertising

The Modesto Bee had a lovely square coupon attached to the front of it. The coupon advertised by two and get one free caramel apples. You are thinking "so what?" The same newspaper had just warned readers the day before that there was an outbreak of a food borne pathogen that might be linked to eating caramel apples and that it was too early to identify specific brands to avoid. One day they issue a warning and the next day they accept money to advertise the product they warned against. Are you thinking that maybe in that twenty four hour period the caramel apple candy scare had passed? Think again. It is over a week later and they have now identified the culprit to be listeria and the source might be Happy Apple Brand caramel apples. Thirteen people at least have become ill and reported it. I wonder how many other people went bug eyed and started laughing when they saw the ironic coupon crowning the front page of the newspaper like I did. I saved the sticker to smile at when I need to recall how absurd and ironic our society can be.

Then Sony has their system hacked, possibly by North Korea after producing a movie making fun of it's government and leadership. Sony gets tired of having it's customers and relations but at the fingertips and mercy of long distance hackers and pulls the movie before it is released. People band together in an anti-terrorist stance to pressure Sony to release the movie and accept the targeting of hackers. The United States may or may not have hacked North Korea in response. Is this sounding like a grade school melodrama yet? "Joe made a Youtube video calling a principal at another school a potty-head. Joe's phone stops working right and so does his friends. Youtube pulls the video. Kids riot and pout. Even kids who think Joe is pretty stupid and that the video is moronic. Youtube puts the video access back. Now even more people HAVE to watch it because not doing so would be supporting terrorism. Do you realize how absurd that statement is? I like Seth Rogen, I enjoy laughing at some of his comedy. Some of it I find very juvenile and awkward-this is my opinion. It doesn't make me a patriot to see a moronic comedy. It doesn't have any impact at all on politics in North Korea any more than it would if a North Korean made a movie making fun of our political system and politicians. You think there isn't enough material for them to work with?! Come on.

Let's consider that at least five of the Senators WE elected to Senate faced criminal charges in 2014 ranging from bribery, DUI, corruption and conspiracy to sell guns, money laundering, as well as felonies. Let's also look at the number of ex-congressmen and women who turn into lobbyists boasting of making three and four times the income they did when they were in office by manipulating politics using tactics that legislators cannot but are legal for lobbyists to use. They brag about it! They represent whoever pays them well, a few actually go after the causes they tried to support for their constituents but the majority don't. The majority do not represent you in their actions or their votes, they spend their time fundraising and spin controlling against negative publicity. They spend their time listening to lobbyists and finding ways to make bad ideas sound reasonable to the general public. We persist on identifying ourselves with specific parties. Stop for a moment! The next time you watch a political debate between parties I want you to close your eyes and picture them preparing for a professional wrestling match. It may sound absurd, but it will remind you of a few essential facts.

One: if they are talking, it is all prearranged and carefully planned to appeal to certain viewers and listeners. Actors make excellent politicians. They PAY people to write for them who do not care what you actually think or feel. They care about where the money comes from. When they talk you should be focusing on what is motivating them to say what they are saying, what do they get out of their stance?  Remember the swine flu? Remember Joe Biden making a rash statement that was rather alarmist. Do you remember how much he and his friends made off the stock for Tamiflu, when they had had a surplus that was going to expire… until we all had a need to run out and get some to keep ourselves safe from the Swine Flu Terror! He apologized and retracted the statement but his dramatic advertisement worked. At the expense of your nerves, he counted his profits and sold his product. It should not be legal and it is so absurd that we choose to allow melodrama and hype to direct us to make choices.

Movie theaters that did not plan on showing The Interview had to pick it up and change their schedules because everyone has to watch it now. It's a classic because of the hype. Sony did the best advertising they could have by pulling the movie and building public outcry. The movie may end up making a profit because it's now a patriotic film. Wow. One woman was interviewed about going to see the movie, she identified that her relatives were afraid that North Korea would bomb them for seeing the movie. News flash, North Korea does not come to your small town and bomb your politically inactive family because you saw a movie. They MAY hack your account if you have one through Sony; they may screw with internet access and a wave of new viruses may come out to mess with our software. If there is violence it will be government versus government. If you aren't a decision maker in Washington with clout, you are just one of a multitude that doesn't even register on another country's radar. We really need to get over our over-inflated sense of self importance.

Arguments rage about fracking. Companies want to frack more. Gas prices drop drastically just before the holidays, and when you mention how happy it makes you they tell you that they let it happen because of fracking. They encourage you to support it more, and to be more dismissive of the problems that arise around it. Don't think about the earthquakes in the Dallas area which correlate to an increase in fracking there; contamination of ground water is not a big deal. I read someone justify the contamination of ground water through fracking 'because' it has been contaminated before. Do I have to say how absurd that rationale is? Really? I have hiked in the Adirondacks. One of the worst environmental embarrassments in that region is the acid rain that killed off life in many of the lakes there. Years later, they were pristine and lifeless with hikers and locals hoping that one day that would change and the ecosystem might bounce back. But hey, if they were contaminated before-why not more!

IT gets better, so they advertised for fracking by dropping gas prices for the holidays then just after Christmas they announce that they have to raise them to protect the environment. They need to make it more expensive to drive so we all drive less. We are going to drive when we have to drive, why not fund building more forms of alternate transportation that have lower impact on the environment? Why not put money toward funding the development and construction of more fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles? Why not offer incentives for people to car pool and ride share? Why not just be honest with us and stop using every single change to manipulate our sympathies and get us to stand behind stupid and reckless choices?

Before you argue against that I want you to consider how many times the FDA has approved pharmaceutical drugs ONLY to pull them within several years when they are discovered to have too many adverse or potentially lethal effects. Do you know the numbers or the names? There is a list on wikipedia; there are approximately 170 drugs on the list that may or may not have made it to the United States before being put on the list in Europe due to issues there.

Not front page news, but real and impacting real lives in the United States. Did you get a vote on how the pharmaceuticals are tested and regulated or categorized? No? But one of the big ticket hot items is cannabis legalization, which the pharmaceutical companies do NOT want as it jeopardizes their profits. Their stance has nothing to do with research, nothing to do with cannabis itself. Their stance has to do with controlling profits and making money.

On the other hand they are fighting a struggling economy, the demonstration that Colorado has not gone "insane" from legalization but instead has generated millions in tax revenue that it can use to address state needs without increasing taxes on individuals. Colorado created more jobs as well as decreasing prison populations with legalization. Other states are looking and changing their stances. Energy drinks are legal and have warnings on their labels, they have repeatedly caused harm yet they aren't all over the news and the source of controversy. Why can Red Bull give you wings and get in trouble for traces of cocaine in their product about ten years ago when you can't smoke a joint to take the edge off your anxiety or anger? On the other hand you could go get a prescription for zoloft and risk "homicidal ideation" as one of the adverse effects. Is zoloft going to go do the jail time for you when that doesn't fly as an excuse for an acquittal in the courtroom? I used to carry around a Baycol mug that I drank my coffee out of. Baycol was a heart medication that was pulled because people died using it.

When companies make electronic goods they send them for testing at independent laboratories before selling them, you know that "UL" tag on your lamps? It means an independent company tested the product and found it safe. WHY is there no independent lab testing on pharmaceuticals? The research companies do support their products, as grant writers have to demonstrate that their proposal will be successful and have a predicted impact-the research presented to the medical field often has holes in it. You aren't supposed to ask about those during the presentations when they are feeding you 'finger foods' because laws changed and prevented them from buying you meals as it was too much like bribery. So now the finger foods are the meal. I went to a few presentations at the VAMC. I was the one asking the awkward questions about research validity. I excelled at statistics and methods in both my undergraduate and graduate programs. The outcome of research is only as strong as the validity of techniques used to gather information and to monitor results; strong and valid research uses methods to decrease and prevent bias in outcomes and observations. It is hard to do that when you are the one that will profit off the results of your research. We COULD pressure the government to require independent testing of pharmaceuticals before they are approved. It seems absurd that we do not. It seems absurd that we have no problem with every pharmaceutical being approved without debate when we have to debate cannabis. We did not debate when the country spontaneously decided to legalize ABSINTHE several years ago- and absinthe is one of the most illegal drugs in the world with a terrible reputation for misuse. We legalized absinthe and everyone hasn't rushed out and cut off their ears or turned into derelicts begging on street corners. It is all about advertising and where the money goes. Decisions are arbitrary and often absurd, and we let the media shape our perceptions. Why?

Today, I ask you one thing. Please, the next commercial or news broadcast you see I ask you to watch it with one thought in mind. Who makes money because of what they are saying? What actual evidence other than the statements of someone being PAID to say what they are saying is offered to you? Note it. Start doing it as an exercise. See how often you find yourself resisting absurdity and digging for the truth. Empower yourself.