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Monday, December 12, 2005

The Unexamined Consumer: America’s Lost Voice

An unexamined product isn’t worth buying.

To answer why a local NBA star would go through the trouble to get a new type of mobile phone sent to him from one of only five cities that sell it, the Seattle Times replied, “If you have to ask, you probably aren’t cool enough.” The piece goes on to say just how cool the new $400 phone is and how many celebrities are using it. I would rather grade the spelling tests of a group of special education third graders than read the quasi-literate text messages sent by the high-profile morons featured in the article. I guess this means I’m not “cool.” I’m definitely not “cool” enough to wear one of those retarded cell phones that clip to your ear and look like a hearing aid from about 1952.

This same paper had a four column, half page article about the new version of King Kong which never once mentioned the fact that the $200 million movie is almost assuredly a complete piece of shit. I heard Kong’s director talking on NPR about the movie in such reverential tones that you would think that he had written a sequel to The Iliad in ancient Greek. I was waiting for the radio host to stop Mr. Jackson and ask, “But isn’t this movie just a remake about a big, horny monkey?”

The automobile section of every American paper supposedly gives consumers an unbiased view of the product for sale but I have never read a review that questions whether or not this country really needs another over-priced, gas-guzzling leviathan on the streets. The auto section is supposed to provide consumer information but all that I see is advertising.

The New Yorker magazine has a weekly movie review section that almost always reviews the big, shitty Hollywood blockbusters, even though I hardly think that readers of that magazine would bother to see a film like Charlie’s Angels. The magazine will often ignore smaller budget movies that are geared towards intelligent adults. It’s most critical reviews are often of small budget independent films. That’s like picking on the smallest kid in the class who doesn’t have a big brother. Once again you have to ask yourself if this is consumer education or product cheerleading.

A casual glance at the bigger, high-gloss magazines and it becomes pretty obvious that they are about 90% devoted to advertising. It’s not that I have anything against a magazine making money, but if marketing drives its content then it becomes not much more than a shopping flyer.

TV is the worst offender in keeping the public uninformed about consumer choices. Television’s message seems to be, “Buy it and shut the fuck up.” “But…what about…” “We said buy it and shut your pie hole.” OK, we got it.

If newspapers, magazines, radio (even ad-free NPR), and television all seem to be too heavily influenced by marketing to give the public an objective view of contemporary America, where do we go to find the truth? Beats the shit out of me. Modern American fiction seems to be fairly hopeless from what I have read. Most writers don’t seem to know much about anything except writing. I don’t want to read anything by someone who just spent two years in a writer’s workshop. I’d rather read a book by someone who just spent two years in prison in Guatemala or two years working in a Nigerian diamond mine. If you are writing about the life of a writer you have already failed as far as I’m concerned.

America is in desperate need of voices. Product hawkers and naval gazers we got in spades. We need witnesses, not parrots. I have nothing against buying stuff, but it isn’t an end in itself.

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