I finished studying another chapter for my CMT exam tonight and decided to “reward” myself by watching some TV. As usual, I had my pick of two channels, and since the ABC show 20/20 was airing a show called “Promises, Promises,” I watched that. They were exposing deceptive marketing techniques of today’s product promotions. Promises of weight loss, “genuine” designer handbags at 90% off, fine print in car ads and other commercials on TV (print so small that you can’t even read it as it flashes across the screen), dubious claims from Suzanne Somers that her brand of hormone pills will guarantee eternal youth, off-label uses (not FDA approved) for prescription medications, encouraged in ads (paid for by the pharmaceutical companies) made to look like medical research papers - and on and on. Of course, the show itself was supported by commercials, all well versed in the latest marketing techniques.
We are a consumer-driven culture, certainly. We also are apparently a gullible group of consumers. The expression “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” just falls on our deaf ears - deaf, that is, to common sense, but very much intact to empty promises. In the end, we can blame the deceptive practices of corporate America, the naivete of the average American, or, put in a more flattering light, the endless supply of hope in the human soul. We want desperately for something to work, to keep us young, to get rid of the weight, to be an incredible bargain, so much so that we accept the questionable product claims and ignore the fine print and warnings. The whole thing made me rather sad.
That 20/20 program, plus the countless commercials I sat through to watch it, reminded me again how entrenched our culture is in acquisition and how corporations and individuals take advantage of that. The advertisers know how to catch us - by encouraging our greed and by zoning in on our tiny glimmers of hope, knowing that we expect that this product or that product will be the key to our happiness in one way or another.
Another way the culture imposes its values on us is by its definitions. Take, for instance, the word “Christian.” There are groups of people in the world now whose idea of what it means to be Christian is diametrically opposed to mine. The word “patriotic” means something different to me than to many other people. Our environment (including but not limited to the advertising industry) has strongly suggested one definition over another time and time again.
I was listening to the radio this week when they aired a commercial for Donald Trump’s latest “success” kit. I’m not sure if it was a book and/or CDs and/or DVDs, but whatever it was, Donald Trump said that if you bought it, it would make you “successful.” He kept saying that everyone wants to be successful like he has been successful, and he would graciously show you the way there.
Well, Mr. Trump, there are many definitions of success, and financial success is only one. According to your standards, Mr. Trump, my dad was a total loser, because he never made much money. You would consider him unsuccessful, in spite of the fact that he had a wonderful, lasting marriage and gave his two girls a happy childhood, worked for peace and justice, wrote many letters of encouragement, and shared his love of music with his choirs for decades. I don’t really want to go into your personal life, Mr. Trump, but if you represent success, I think I’ll pass.
If there’s one thing I want to teach my kids and their kids, it’s this: Scrutinize the message society sends, because it is often a furtive, devious message that distorts the higher meaning of life. It can accumulate in your brains for a long enough time that it soon becomes the only message you can perceive. Don’t accept everything you hear as truth. Listen to your spirit for your innate wisdom. Ask questions about sources of information. Don’t assume a self-appointed “authority” really knows what’s best. And most important - create your own definitions and live with integrity. You too can become a success...just like my dad.