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It’s not a spider. October 20, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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“There’s a sucker born every minute.” This quote, usually attributed to P.T. Barnum, but actually devised by the cynical comic W.C. Fields, seems especially applicable to today’s advertising industry.

Why wouldn’t the admongers believe it, when they can sell a gullible, status-obsessed public hideous witch shoes or ugly, gargantuan watches (or knockoffs thereof) for massive chunks of the biweekly paycheck, and all in the name of fashion? If an ad shows a sexy model leaning suggestively against a car, will buying said car really turn the balding, flabby midlevel manager who purchases it into James Bond, with gorgeous women clawing each other to be his chosen partner?

Not bloody likely. But that never seems to keep these nerdy creeps from buying cars that proclaim them to be everything the buyers aren’t, or from flaunting hideous 50-pound Rolexes, or keep their wives from providing free advertising to Louis Vuitton by carrying their blatantly branded purses and luggage, or cramming their expensively manicured feet into unspeakably unflattering Manolos. All for the sake of so-called status, telling the world one simple message: “I can afford this.” 

Business as usual, or so our friend Ben thought, until Silence Dogood pointed out a full-page ad in one of her favorite magazines, Vegetarian Times. Silence had picked up the October issue of the mag when we were in scenic Nashville recently to visit family, and was dissecting it with her usual enthusiasm (“This recipe would be great if only…”) when she came upon the ad, on page 51. It showed a photo of a large black spider with the caption “Think of our environment as a deadly spider… And Flor-Essence as your antidote.”

Flor-Essence appears to be a bottle of herbal drops that you administer as a “gentle detox” and dietary supplement to keep environmental toxins at bay. Okay, okay. Our friend Ben is not about to deny the impact of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, GMO crops, pollutants, and the pervasive use of antibiotics on livestock, not to mention extensive chemical adulteration of food products, on our health. But Silence and I were taken aback by an asterisk placed after the statement “Think of our environment as a deadly spider… And Flor-Essence as your antidote.” What the bleep?!

Turns out, the advertisers apparently think we’re even stupider than we think we are. Stupider than a stale convenience-store doughnut. Scanning down the page, Silence and I finally found a very tiny, pale asterisk beside the following very tiny, pale type, which read: ” *Please note the environment is not actually a poisonous spider. Flor-Essence is not actually a spider bite antidote. And if you get bitten by a poisonous spider you should see a doctor (fast).”

Gee. And here our friend Ben had “actually” thought the environment was a poisonous spider. This explains why I haven’t set foot outside the door of Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home I share with Silence Dogood in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, for 15 years. What if I took a breath of fresh air and found myself attacked by a poisonous spider?! Even gulping down a whole bottle of herbal detox might not save me, despite my faith in a product that made such daring claims.

Yeesh. Please, people, fight back against this ludicrous, offensive, outrageous attack on our supposed stupidity. Buy only what you need, make sure you need only what you buy, and buy local, regional, handmade, and owner-operated whenever you can. Knowing who makes or raises the supplies and produce you need creates community, and community creates a buffer against hard times. You may find that those connections make all the difference if times get even harder.

Until then, try to see ads for what they are, well-paid efforts to manipulate public and consumer opinion. Forget the Rolexes and try to put your money where it will do the most good for your family and community.

Bankruptcy ain’t cheap. August 11, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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It should have been in The Onion. But unfortunately, it was for real. There was the ad, featuring an attractive, happily smiling older couple:

“Let BANKRUPTCY help you get a FRESH START debt-free! STOP foreclosures! STOP repossessions! STOP creditor calls! STOP lawsuits! STOP sheriff sales! STOP wage garnishments! Eliminate your credit card debt!”


Well, unbelievable to our friend Ben, anyway. I cannot for the life of me imagine what sort of person would declare bankruptcy when they still have a job and are earning money (“STOP wage garnishments!”). Or default on the agreements they voluntarily entered into to pay people for services rendered (“STOP lawsuits! Eliminate your credit card debt!”). No wonder the economy’s tanking.

In the good old days, defaulting on loans and agreements entered into in good faith was cause for humiliation and shame at best and debtors’ prison at worst, not for cheerful smiles in gloating ads. It’s certainly a comment both on our declining national values and on the situation so many people have found themselves in when they’re bombarded with encouragement to buy, buy, buy and reassured of cheap credit on every side. (But as our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, warned, “Creditors have better memories than debtors.” Or as the comedian Steven Wright so memorably put it, “If you think nobody cares that you’re alive, try missing a payment.”)

I read recently that the average American homeowner carries roughly $300,000 in debt. At first, I found this unbelievable. How could someone rack up this much debt? Then I thought about it, and realized I was being clueless. A family carrying a mortgage, two (or more) monthly car payments, credit-card debt, perhaps a home equity loan, maybe college loans…. $300,000 begins to look small. And that, my friends, is damned scary. 

Getting back to the bankruptcy ad, the best part was that it included a coupon for “$500 off any bankruptcy! Restrictions apply.” If the law firm that placed this delightful ad is offering $500 off, what on earth must it cost to file for bankruptcy through them?! Yow. Yes, there certainly are pro bono lawyers, but something tells me these guys aren’t among them.

Our friend Ben says: If you happen to have $500 lying around, you might be better off applying that money to your legitimate creditors. And giving some serious thought to finding ways to live within your means.