Sometimes the truth hurts. Do you suppose people suffering from depression got worse the day they discovered this condition? That’s a pretty big downer. “I know that you’ve been really unhappy lately and clinging to the hope that someday that will change. Yeah…bad news. Your brain isn’t going to allow that. However, I do have a drug that will probably make you crap your pants repeatedly, but you’ll be happy doing it. How do you feel now ol’ Gloomy Pete?”
Despite the fact that mankind has come a long way in communicating, from cave drawings to multiple, complicated, spoken languages, we have never really mastered the art of saying the right thing. You always hear statistics about how many people are born, married, or murdered every minute, but one statistic that is truly amazing is how many people put their foot in their mouth every minute and truly miss the mark on knowing the audience.
As I watched my morning news one day, a commercial popped up for people suffering from anxiety. It showed testimonies from people with worst case scenarios. Everything from inability to leave the house to one woman who literally claimed to come close to purposefully driving her car into a telephone pole to end it all. The commercial was not intended for people with minor symptoms. This was calling out to people on the brink of disaster. It offered assistance, hope, and an end to their troubled days. To top it all off, it even offered a discount for the program which clearly suggested that the never mentioned price was probably quite high. This is where it would have been a great time to say “call now” and call it a day. Instead, in a whirlwind of its final three seconds, the calming voiceover that had soothingly offered a brighter world suddenly turned into an auctioneer, rushed out that the deal was only available for the next ten seconds, threw a countdown timer on the screen, and cut to black before the timer hit eight. Now I’ve never claimed to be a doctor, but isn’t rushing someone suffering from anxiety a bit counterproductive? Like a Jedi sensing a disturbance in the force, I had a sickening feeling as I pictured hundreds of anxiety sufferers screaming at the top of their lungs running through the house desperately searching for a telephone while rewinding their TiVos for the phone number. Of course they discover they all forgot to charge their phones and throw them against the wall in a fit of rage while torturing themselves by rewatching the commercial again and again until they can’t bear anymore and throw the TiVo remote against the same wall which consequently pauses the commercial right on the phone number and countdown timer. As their eyes pop out of their skull at the horrible coincidence, minor cases of turrets develop as they rock back and forth repeatedly counting down from ten but adding explosion noises where they should have been screaming zero. And as they break down in a flood of tears while pounding their fists on a floor smattered in broken electronics I realize two things: 1. Things are going to get real ugly in two minutes when they realize they’re late for work and 2. The thought of their situation has left me with anxiety and running for my phone.
Sometimes I wonder if people even try at all. We are often told to go with our gut instinct but often there are times where our gut should have been consulting with common sense. Advertising is the worst culprit when it comes to brainwashing our instinctive midsection. Are advertisers really that insensitive to assume we are too incompetent to be able to see through the smoke and mirrors of their trickery? Or are we really too incompetent? As a man thinking of leaving his job to become a writer, the last thing I need is someone feeding me another bad idea. Just like people with bad credit need to hear they can afford to buy something else. “But wait! You can! Bad credit? No credit? We’ll approve you…guaranteed!” Maybe it’s generosity during a bad economy or maybe it’s a trap to stick more people with a lifetime of interest payments. Either way, there is no such thing as “nothing to lose” anymore. Advertisers have found new ways to remind you of what you still have as they take that away, too.
My favorite ad is for a certain generic computer package available with all the extras like a printer and…well just the printer. After seeing it several times (during the same time slot as the other ad I mentioned which should tell me something about the type of morning programming I’m watching), I can’t help but laugh at the testimonies given by the grateful, credit impaired. The first woman with a personality of a potato was only a minor head trauma away from calling her computer a “magic picture box.”
The second woman demonstrated everyone’s need for a computer by telling her attention needing daughter “a few more minutes” as she continued to gaze at the monitor clearly developing an internet addiction which should really improve her employment opportunities. Sometimes I like to think about what it was this woman’s daughter needed. Maybe she and her baby sister were sitting at the dinner table waiting for a dinner that is currently on fire in the oven. (You would probably think she would be screaming for her mother if that were the case, but you might reconsider if you saw the acting ability of the people in this commercial. Think of the worst elementary school play you had to sit through but take away the adorability.) Maybe it was this girl’s birthday and she was trying to let her mother know that the clown she hired just passed out drunk on the birthday cake. The recycled Christmas banner hanging by one corner in the background saying “Merry Birthday” thanks to a black marker might explain the daughter’s lack of shock as if this were an unappreciated but expected tradition. Whatever this girl needed, I get the feeling that she’ll probably be packing her own lunch for school tomorrow morning before stepping over the clown and an extinguished meatloaf to catch her bus.
The best and most intelligence-insulting sales pitch came with the last generic testimony. This man exclaimed with a confident grin how he was now able to start his own home business now that he had his computer. Let’s think about this little equation. Bad credit. Struggling to buy a computer. Possibly employment challenged. What the hell does he plan on selling?! You thought my imagination went wild with the last woman? Clearly, a webcam and blazing dial-up internet is the solution to all of his problems. If you’re ever looking to see how he’s doing, go to eBay and look up “pipe cleaners shaped like animals.” I’m sure he’ll have a link if you’re interested in franchise possibilities.
In the end, who am I to complain about someone trying to make a quick buck. After all, here I am thinking I can sell these blog entries as a book full of random thoughts someday. But then again, clearly I’ll be selling this thing under no false pretenses considering the titles. My titles were chosen on purpose. They were designed to let you know that I’m a rambling fool with a slightly skewed view of what I see. We have always been taught since we were little that you are never supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make the thing look damn interesting anyway! In fact, title checking should be a big part of the editing process.
One of the most successful lines of self-help books is the “…for Dummies” series. You can literally find just about any topic from computer programming to quilt making. I own a few of them myself although I haven’t quite found a way of combining my newfound amateur skills of bartending and bathroom repair. The title itself is half the novelty. It adds a hint of humility and humor in your quest to become a better “you.” But calling yourself a “dummy” or “idiot” or some other knockoff self-slandering term, isn’t really acceptable for every topic. With the exception of maybe a book called “Reading for Dummies” (which I hope doesn’t exist), there was one that actually alarmed me when I saw it on the shelf at the bookstore… “Homeschooling for Dummies.” I have my issues with depriving kids of the sometimes cruel but important social experiences of school as it is, but I do have a certain amount of respect for a parent who chooses to take on the task of educating their own child. However, as a classroom teacher, I have to continually take classes, seek out “professional development,” and pay certification fees in order to remain a qualified teacher. I have to constantly prove myself to the state (and its treasury) that America’s future is in good hands. What about self-appointed “home” teachers? To be honest, I’m not really sure what hoops parents have to jump through to home-school their children, but I would think that no amount of paperwork is adequate if you had to buy this book. I mean you must really hate the public school system and/or maintain a hefty tab with your therapist if you’re willing to take on the job yourself without a clue where to begin. I strongly believe that oil companies are screwing us over with our ever-increasing gas prices, but that doesn’t mean I’m about to start drilling in my backyard and open a refinery in my spare bedroom. If the term “dummy” applies to you, you’re probably not the best candidate for teacher of the year. In fact, just give the book to your children; they’ll probably have just as much success teaching themselves.
There are a number of businesses, bands, automobiles, and other products that have gone the way of the dodo because people couldn’t get past the name. The coffee shop where I have done a good deal of writing had a name change when it turned out it was taken as slightly derogatory in certain communities. At least they had someone with a good business sense to advise the name change. Other businesses? Not so lucky.
In today’s working world, working parents need daycare. Of course, most parents would scrutinize over which one seemed the most trusting place to leave their infant loved ones. They want a place with compassion, love, creativity, and of course….cost effectiveness. The name can play a big part in that comfort parents seek. So how about naming this haven of baby-sitting compassion after a beloved nursery rhyme or classic fairytale? After all, they are a symbol of childhood innocence and family storytelling tradition. Clearly you don’t want to name it something like “Wicked Witch’s Flying Monkey Corral” but just about anything else should be safe, right? Not quite. I happen to pass by one on my way to work every day named after Little Bo Peep. On first glance, it seems perfectly harmless. The sign even has pictures of a cute, little shepherd girl, a handful of fluffy sheep, and an array of flowers and other frilly items. Does anyone remember that Peep had a little problem? That’s right! Our little beloved child labor violation lost her sheep! Not only that, she didn’t even “know where to find them.” The nursery rhyme isn’t so cute when it’s about your kid, now is it?
“Little Shepherd Girl Daycare lost your kids
And doesn’t know where they crawled off to
They left them alone
It’s 3pm and they’re supposed to go home
Didn’t check those credentials, Mom, did you?”
At least the wicked witch kept tabs on her simians. In fact, she had them all pretty well-trained. Then again, maybe she read “Homeschooling for Dummies.”
 *If you don’t own a TiVo yet, you should get one now! It ranks up there as one of the top three inventions of all time with ketchup and fire.