Thursday, February 23, 2006

President McCheese

Today’s New York Times features an editorial so ‘duh’ in its subject matter, the only reaction I had upon reading it was “Uh, right. And?”
Coming out against selling junk food to toddlers – hardly blowing the lid off misanthropic advertising – was the theme for the editorial that once again reiterates the message: healthy food, good… unhealthy food, well, bad.
“Many health professionals now fear that junk-food advertising to toddlers and pre-teenagers is contributing to soaring rates of obesity and diabetes among the young.”
Gee, ya think?
And if so, where were you last Wednesday?
Over a couple of weeks when the Vice President shot a man point blank in the face, when Brownie, the erstwhile Director of FEMA appeared to tesify at the senate hearings and took precisely no responsibility for the disaster that was the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina – even blamed his boss and the guy who hired him, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff – and when death by cartoon has reached an all-time high, perhaps it’s not so surprising that the President’s speech on health care delivered at the headquarters of one of nation's leading saturated, hydrogenated, and trans fatty acid-pushers went walkies as far as the media were concerned.
It’s come to this.
Where was the editorial breast beating and finger wagging?
Where was the sarcasm and amused horror emanating from Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich at the NYT?
Where (oh where) was Jon Stewart?
Out to lunch one suspects. How else to explain such a dropped donut.
The day: last Wednesday, February 15th.
The place: Dublin Ohio, headquarters of hamburger chain restaurant Wendy’s.
The agenda: President Bush’s speech unveiling the value for lower-income Americans in choosing ‘Health Savings Accounts’ (HSAs) over traditional health insurance in which employee and employer each contribute monthly co-payments.
The breathtaking irony seems to have escaped Bush, his handlers and even the media; either that, or they’ve simply become so deeply and everlastingly cynical, that the notion of promoting health care alongside one of the root causes of what is universally considered to be the nation’s biggest health challenge (sky-rocketing obesity rates linked to the consumption of unhealthy, processed fast foods) isn’t worth the trouble it takes to grimace and shake one’s head.
That same breathtaking irony is further stretched to near-suffocation when one attempts to tot up the product placement value of setting up the President of the United States as a shill not only for a new corporate health care dodge, but for hamburgers, fries and shakes.
Further, people were so caught up in salivating over the Vice President’s accidental shooting of a friend – a red herring if ever there was one; despite the wow factor of envisioning a gun-toting Cheney so transfixed by blood and murder he couldn’t even pause long enough to miss a human as he fired away at the penned quail, the real issue was when, how, and by whom the facts were disseminated – that other news items quickly fell by the wayside.
Much as I find the veep loathsome, corrupt and, frankly, simply terrifying to look at (I really don’t think life gives you a phiz like that unless you actually earn it) the shooting was clearly an accident; had Cheney owned up to it, apologized for it and reported it to the President and the country, why need anything more be said?
(The fact that the facts were immediately obscured, shrouded, laundered, spun-dry and rendered sanitized for our listening and viewing consumption was the angle that finally hoisted the correct outraged eyebrows some days later. It is in fact the real achilles heel of this administration; obsessing over the way in which information is delivered to conceal what is actually being delivered should be forever remembered as the hallmark of this presidency. That and the fact that they can actually make a wounded man apologize to his attacker; what, is he like, Canadian or something?)
But how on earth does the New York Times expect to rescue even a single babe innocently gumming a ribless McRib into submission when they allow such a patronizing exercise in contempt by the President to slip by?
To an audience full of Wendy’s employees, describing America’s health care system as “The best in the world” and pushing health savings accounts aimed at the poor and underemployed (and designed to remove the onus for making health care contributions from corporate America) the President took the well known, tried, true and trodden tact of setting himself alongside the average Joes – in direct opposition to the big-time, big hat, citified democrat critics who would likely oppose his plan – in encouraging minimum wage workers to sign on.
“It’s kind of basically saying ‘If you’re not making a lot of money you can’t make decisions for yourself,’ Bush told the Wendy’s staffers. “That’s kind of a Washington attitude, isn’t it? ‘We’ll decide for you if you can’t figure it out yourself.’ I think a lot of folks here at Wendy’s would argue that point of view is simply backwards and not true.”
I think the folks he’s talking about are the ones wearing the thousand dollar loafers – not the ones in the paper hats and hairnets.
The President went on to make the analogy that HSAs were really no different from the Wendy’s menu – that in the same way they offered choice: “At Wendy’s you can choose between a quarter-pounder and a salad” the President pointed out, (in one fell swoop both confusing Wendy’s with MacDonalds and making the single reference to healthy eating that was made that day) whereas the HSAs offered Americans the opportunity to purchase their own health care account.
The President chose not to mention that the high-deductible catastrophic coverage would require an individual to spend at least $1050 and a family at least $2,100 on medical expenses before the coverage actually kicks in.
The fact that such an initiative benefits Wendy’s more than its employees is apparently just so much more ketchup on the fries; since 2005, Wendy’s has already reduced its health care spending by inducing some 9000 of its 40,000 employees to sign on for the accounts.
Bush’s position is that the accounts will make people more conscious of the money they’re spending for health care, which will ultimately help drive down the nation’s health care costs through competition.
The trickle-down (ooze down?) theory designed to save the nation’s bacon (double cheeseburger) on the backs of those who can least afford it, once again.
The saddest fact is that in order for the poor to participate in a high-deductible plan like HSAs, they’ll need to carve even more off already stretched budgets, necessitating economies in spending, resulting in cheaper groceries, less fruits, vegetables and fresh – expensive – healthy foods, driving them back into the gaping maws of the cheap and fast junk food joints where accumulations of fat, salt, chemicals and empty calories will contribute to clogged arteries, heart attacks, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
I think the New York Times is wrong. I think advertisers and their agencies are pikers compared to the real danger threatening the wellbeing, health and lives of Americans – you’ll recognize him: he’s the one in the thousand dollar loafers selling hamburgers at Wendy’s.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pussy footing

Another red letter day for the forces of disinformation (uninformation?) as Toronto radio station CHFI (98.1 on your FM dial) announced they will not be running advertisements for breakthrough playwright Eve Ensler’s latest offering The Good Body.
It seems said advertisements in quite logically promoting the author as the creator or the much lauded The Vagina Monologues, necessarily makes mention of the word ‘vagina’.
Quoth station manager Julie Adam: nevermore.
Turning down some $20,000 in advertising revenue to guard the tender sensibilities of her listening audience, Adam, Program Director and General Manager of CHFI said that though she had heard the event was fabulous, and that she, herself, personally, was a woman who had no trouble saying “that word” (taking enormous care to not actually say ‘that word’) the mandate she claims she is charged with – family friendliness – makes it impossible for her to put anything on her radio station that parents might feel uncomfortable with.
“You use a word like that,” explained Adam, “and the next thing you know they’re asking, ‘Mommy or daddy, what’s that mean?’
“If you want safe,” she continued, “CHFI is your station.”
Really Ms Adam?
Safe from the danger of marauding sexual organs? Rampaging penises? Breasts set on taking over the world? Vicious vulgar vaginas?
As scandalous as a Victorian piano leg obscured by neither drape nor pantalette, it would seem that the mere mention of the word ‘vagina’ is enough to arouse unspeakable dread in the heart of a radio station manager circa 2006.
What nameless fears are aroused by the word vagina? Is it the word? Is it the vagina itself?
Is there something wrong with vaginas?
If we’ve learned little else in recent years, we must have at least grasped that children need to learn about their bodies to learn about themselves. Telling a little boy he has a penis or a little girl that she has a vagina is but the very first step in giving them the words they need to know themselves, their bodies and their boundaries.
Implying there’s nothing shameful or disgusting or embarrassing about their bodies by making the words acceptable empowers children to use those words, to tell anyone who might wish to touch them or hurt them or take advantage of their youth or their innocence or their ignorance that they know what they have – and they know it is fine and good and it is theirs.
Telling someone not to touch your wee wee or your pee pee or your hoo hoo carries somewhat less power than telling a molester to take their hands off your vagina.
Educators agree how important it is to teach children as young as toddlers – at whatever age they are able to say the word vagina – the appropriate names of their body parts; parents and children need to have a shared vocabulary, if for no other reason than that children will be able to explain exactly and explicitly whatever happened to them should such a tragedy take place.
If a child is too shy or ashamed or ignorant to even describe what happened to them, that’s not safe.
Using real words shows respect for a child – and for their body. Using the appropriate words distinguishes between sexuality and silliness and shame. Using the appropriate words is, what’s the word… appropriate.
I don’t expect CHFI to teach children about sex or sexuality or what they should know, or how they should be told or when. But neither do I expect them to take a stand that sends a message that has another meaning altogether. A message that essentially says that the word ‘vagina’ is unfit for public discourse.
It’s that constant message – the one that tells little girls that the most intimate parts of their body are something secret, something hidden, something wrong.
It’s not absence of message – as a vagina is not an absence. It’s a presence – as a vagina is a presence. But unlike a vagina, it’s a nasty, dirty presence – a message of shame.
Vagina, vagina, vagina.
Oh say it radio station manager. Or if you can’t say it, at least don’t take part in hiding it and implying there’s something wrong with the word by refusing to allow it to be said publically in an entirely appropriate context.
Go see The Vagina Monologues. Go see The Good Body. Learn something about the vagina. About the body. But quit suggesting you protect your audience by being part of what makes children unsafe.
There's something shameful here, but it's not a vagina.
Let’s make vaginas safe for everybody! Step one: say it.