The Ecphorizer

What am I Bid?
JoAnn Malina

Issue #31 (March 1984)

The heart is a lonely shopper

Why is it that every time... Actually, I don't want to ask why anything. But I do want to do a little carping and whining, and so I'll start off this essay with this Andy Rooney-type opening.

[quoteright]The question I do want to ask is this: am I the only person who is sick

The danger of reaching a state in which everything is for sale is that salability can become the only measure of worth.

of having their emotions played upon by people who want to sell me something? Am I the only one who resents Time magazine, for instance, for showing snippets of real life in their television commercials, implying that they have somehow cornered the market on it, and that the only way to get at it is by buying their magazine? ("Time...lets you care.") Or who resents the cabbage patch kids, designed to resemble real children and exploit our innate tendencies to care for small infants? There are commercials that I like; they tend to be funny without implying that we just can't be real people without their product.

Now, it is very nice to live in a country where you can see a need and make a living from filling it. If it's a big enough need, you can make a lot of money filling it. I don't begrudge an emergency room doctor a princely salary; he or she is doing something difficult, important, sometimes dangerous. The danger of reaching a state in which everything is for sale is that salability can become the only measure of worth. If rock stars and football players make $10 million for doing what they do, then that must be the most worthwhile thing to do. If being a day care worker doesn't pay enough to live on, it must not be very important. If buying and selling are the only things that count, then being free to buy and sell is all that matters. In fact, it defines freedom; and a lot of other things go by the boards.

It generally takes a lot of effort to fill big needs, such as those for food, shelter, medical care, relationship, safety and meaning; ask any farmer, contractor, or psychiatrist. One way to get around this is to sell things that fill little needs, that make us smile as we move through our days. But the rewards for these tend to be little, too. Another way is to peddle things that don't necessarily fill a big need but can briefly be made to look like they do with clever advertising. (You know the tools of the trade: beautiful models, 100-piece orchestras, cheering crowds, airbrushed photographs, "sincere" testimonials - whatever it takes.) Naturally the abstract needs, such as those for relationship and meaning, can be faked more easily than the concrete ones, but even the latter can be done: for instance, by selling chemicals disguised as food. It is even easier to disguise distraction or relief from boredom as joy, love, or a feeling of importance. By the time the sucker discovers that the bag they're holding has no bottom to it, their money is in someone else's bank account.

And another thing: can it be that I am the only person sick of hearing songs that were originally written about real emotions and real people at least on some level of abstraction - being used to sell, sell, sell? Even as silly a song as Carly Simon's "Anticipation" used to be about people and the strange mind games they play in relationships. Now it's about ketchup. One particular brand of ketchup. (Point for you if you remember which brand.) Songs about love, happiness, tenderness, are used to sell us rides on airplanes, magazines, food, makeup. All these objects are more or less fine in themselves. But I am tired of having my heart strings tugged at to improve some corporation's earning statements.

Am I the only one?

ECPHORIZER Staffer JoAnn Malina lives and works on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula, where media saturation is one of the hazards of life.

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