(This article was first published in Jordan’s Living Well magazine)
I’ve had it with the deceptions of the media. Perhaps my face doesn’t show it, but I am pissed-off angry. And here, for once, I’m not talking about the political side of things. I’m not talking about how docile news organizations in the West capitulated to their governments and, without a shred of resistance or an atom of intellectual integrity, accepted the barrage of blatant lies that linked Iraq to WMD’s and to Al-Qaida, thus facilitating the most unprovoked and unforgivable invasion in modern history. I’m not discussing how these misinformation organizations let their political leaders literally get away with murder of hundreds of thousands of people so that a few multinational corporations can add billions upon their trillions of ill-gotten wealth.
Let’s leave all that aside for now – along with the uncontainable mayhem coming out of the Pandora’s box that was irresponsibly opened in Iraq. In this episode of my road chronicles, I’m referring to other more mundane, yet equally irritating, aspects of the daily bombardment of lies and half-truths that I am subjected to every single day by an advertising industry gone berserk. Whether it’s when I’m out soaking up one billboard after the other, or sitting peacefully at home reading a magazine or watching TV, I am fed up with being taken for a ride.
Don’t get me wrong, I think advertising is a sacred right of every business. But what was supposed to have been a marketing vehicle to convey the qualities of products and services to otherwise not so well-informed consumers has mutated beyond recognition. Ever since Saatchi & Saatchi first handed Margaret Thatcher her 1979 landslide victory, the genie had been unleashed out of the bottle. Spin-doctoring was born, baptized by the high priests of logos and rationalized by the revered gurus of brands. The art of creating a parallel reality where truth is a marginal detail that has to be either ignored or avoided at all costs became one of the most lucrative supporting industries in the capitalist economy. This new world of make-believe and multi-purpose propaganda will soon rent out the space underneath our eyelids in order to keep us on message. George Orwell is already turning in his grave.
Gradually but consistently, the business of unashamed manipulation and distortion of facts has elevated itself to an absurd dimension that knows no bounds when it comes to misrepresentation of the truth. And the purpose is not always to actually sell; that takes place anyway thanks to the global cartels suffocating the market. The aim is now to make us see a compassionate face where none exists. When image has become paramount, the spin-doctors have turned into virtual plastic surgeons. Take the oil industry as an example. The richest polluters in the universe and the greediest usurpers of other nations’ natural resources have been granted the invaluable opportunity to portray themselves as the Mother Theresa of all money-making enterprises. A soft voice that would otherwise whisper a Christmas parable to your kids would now come out on CNN telling you that grabbing every last drop of oil from this earth is not as important to these companies as protecting that last cute Panda in the forests of China or saving that lonely whale off the coast of Japan. Sometimes you don’t even realize what is being advertised at first and imagine the ad to be for a charity helping lepers in Calcutta until you read the name of the giant war-mongering, tax-evading conglomerate at the end. Just keep repeating it and people would believe it, goes the motto. Just get Morgan Freeman to say it, and it will magically sound so humane and selfless. These obscenely profiteering empires are not actually trying to sell you, me or our governments anything in particular. They just want us to believe that the welfare of your little cat is what drives them, motivates their research and keeps them up burning the midnight candles. Now what kind of four legged morons do they take us for?
I have a different bone to pick with the advertising methods of the automobile industry. Actually, it is not the advertisers I have a problem with – the ads are usually very amusing works of art – but it is the hypocritical governments that allow them to run who drive me crazy. Most of these car ads should be against the law because they do not point out to the consumer that not only will driving the car in the same way they do in the ad will end the driver up in jail in every world jurisdiction (save for a few autobahns in Germany), but it will almost certainly result in a very violent and painful death for all the passengers – especially if you do actually race down that curvy, snowy mountain, blasting your car stereo with that stupid grin on your face. Hell, why do governments even allow cars to be manufactured with speedometers ranging from 200 to 400 km/hour if the highest speed limit in most countries does not exceed a lousy 120 km/hour? Isn’t this like allowing Airbus and Boeing to manufacture airplanes and then pass a law that prohibits all forms of aviation above two thousand feet? Think about it. Is this some sort of a trap to get our driver licenses revoked and generate more income for the government coffers in fines and penalties? Is there a secret understanding between car manufacturers and governments to continue making cars that break the speed limit once you switch to second gear so that a police patrol can wait for you around the corner to drag your ass in court?
And that’s not all. The dichotomy between the boundaries imposed by the law of the land and the exemptions allowed for ‘Big Business’ has definitely crossed the line of sanity in the fashion industry – with the not so fashionable insinuation that hard drugs can positively contribute to the way you look. Each time I hear the expression “heroin chic” I ask myself how on earth did a grossly unhealthy and skinny look for women that was evidently the result of needle abuse come to be so glamorous – and legal to promote? Can the words “heroin” and “chic” actually be used in the same sentence by the trendsetters and providers of garments to our spouses and daughters? Silly me, I always believed the intravenous taking of the serum derived from the opium poppy had health consequences beyond its dietary benefits. Perhaps lawmakers in the vice and drugs corridors of western governments could finally make up their minds about whether these substances are good to abuse or not? Is it going to be a “just say no” or “just do it” policy, can the sloganeers please explain?
These confusing contradictions between permissible reality and unattainable fantasy may have actually started in Hollywood, the guilty culprit we all love to hate. The movie industry, for example, has been the unchallenged pioneer in promoting the triviality of gun violence – despite the late emergence of a small trend within the industry calling for gun control and repenting by making movies in that vein. But it was not until Steven Spielberg spoiled the fun in Saving Private Ryan that we truly visualized what it means to be shot in the leg, arm or groin, screeching in fear as you watch your limbs depart your body. Until then, we all grew up watching digestible scenes of bullet wounds that were always dry, neat and perfectly sanitized, the recipients of which simply fold on the ground painlessly, silently, and spotlessly – if they were the bad guys, of course. As for the good guys, generations of kids were made to believe that dodging a salvo of close range bullets from an Uzi submachine gun was doable as long as you were moving, ducking, or screaming “let’s go”. Not only that, but if you happened to receive multiple gunshot wounds anywhere except between your eyes, then instead of bleeding profusely to death as you normally would, you could still continue to run, leap from rooftop to another, fall from the fourth floor on a hard surface, land on your back as you cushion the fall by the garbage container positioned by chance to receive you, get up again, fist-fight and overpower six other armed guys who shoot at everything but you, jump from a speeding car only to grab the rails of an airborne helicopter with one hand, bring it down, and then passionately kiss your lover while a small band-aid will take care of your wounds. OK, I agree, there’s nothing wrong with some harmless fairytale action; we all enjoy an adrenaline rush every once in a while, and we don’t always try to do the same at home. But to those well-meaning anti-gun Hollywood icons I say this: you should not take your grievances against companies like Colt or Smith & Wesson. These entities merely manufacture the guns, while it is the same Hollywood studios that are making you rich who have actually been doing all the free marketing for assault rifles and pistols throughout the years until these weapons have become household items today. Let’s see you boycotting these studios if you are serious, because they are the ones fuelling the demand for these deadly products ever since Dirty Harry glamorized the .44 Magnum with his classic one-liners back in 1971.
Apart from the frivolous use of guns in the movies, what really makes me laugh is the message against authority we have been indoctrinated to believe counts as the next best thing to actually being Robin Hood himself. Isn’t it a farce that in all these movies the good policeman is always the one who has absolutely no regard whatsoever for due process? You know what I’m talking about. The likeable hero is always that good Samaritan cop who is held back by the tedious restraints of that bureaucratic waste of time they call chain of command and protocol, the one who needs to hand over his weapon to his boss and lose his badge in order to do the right thing – before he is finally vindicated and decorated by his department after he operates outside the rules. Yes, you’re getting the picture. It’s that detective who has a stubborn allergy against arrest or search warrants who is the role model to follow because he believes the police code invariably works in favor of the bad guys. Ironically, in the gospel according to Hollywood, it is this protagonist that angers all his superiors up to the President himself who eventually ends up saving the world because breaking the rules is the only path to justice. So, here we are, saturated from an early age with all these quasi-educational narratives – the ones inspiring us to defend the underdog by resenting useless procedure, rolling up our sleeves and being the vigilantes and the whistle blowers of our respective environments – only to find out that it is not always he who rebels against authority who rides into the sunset with the pretty girl. On the contrary, we go out to the real world, and what do we discover? Just try smoking in a non-smoking area in New York. Worse even, try skidding your car in a London street or overtaking the cable car in Geneva – even if you were trying to save a life. Then try to explain to the judge that you saw the same thing happen in a car ad on TV or in a Mel Gibson movie. And by the way, if they do lock you up, the last thing you want to tell your cell mate is: “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”, unless you do have that same .44 Magnum Clint Eastwood was flashing stashed under your prison trousers. Otherwise, keep those trousers up and the belt tightly fastened. Trust me, there will be no Shoshank Redemption for your sorry ass if you don’t.
Take care, and if you ride, do it safely.