Random Observations

Random Observations

Recently, while flying to Rome, I was browsing through the Swiss Airline magazine and noticed how much European cigarette ads differ from ours. The ones I saw, whether for individual packs or cartons, prominently warned of the dangers of smoking. By prominently I mean three or four times larger and more pointedly phrased.

For example, whereas a U.S. Camel pack carries a barely noticeable message at the bottom of the page—“smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy”—the Swiss Camel pack uses a heavy black frame covering over a third of the page and more blunt language. (A Marlboro pack carries the words SMOKING KILLS in typeface as large as the brand name.)

What is curious about this is that, despite such blunt warnings, there seem to be far more smokers in Europe than in the U.S. Perhaps some cultural influence explains the difference in behavior. On the other hand, perhaps the more forceful the warning, the more likely people are to ignore it.

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Another interesting advertising phenomenon is the commercials for Nutrisystem. There’s nothing new about pitches for various weight loss products and programs, of course, but I can’t remember any other commercial making viewers drool the way this one does. In words and pictures, its emphasis is on the wonderful meals and snacks you can eat as you lose weight. And a steady stream of testimonials from former fatties who lost 10, 20, 50 and even more pounds underlines the message that eating Nutrisystem food sheds unwanted weight.

How explain Nutrisystem’s success? One reason is that company reportedly spends over $100 million annually on advertising, year after year. Another is that its commercials are so well crafted that viewers are distracted from asking a rather obvious question—Instead of spending money for Nutrisystem meals, why not just eat more modest amounts of one’s own food?

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Almost as ubiquitous as Nutrisystem commercials are MyPillow commercials. The company reportedly spends more than $45 million annually on advertising and produces 20,000 pillows a day to meet the demand. Total sales of the pillow reportedly top 10 million. Given that there are approximately 25 pillow manufacturers in the county, many of them much larger than MyPillow, I can’t help but wonder how many pillows are purchased every year, in total, and how many of the purchasers are motivated more by the power of suggestion rather than a real need for a replacement pillow.

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Another subject that I find fascinating is Americans’ dependence on the pharmaceutical industry. Americans spend over $300 billion on prescription drugs annually. Among the top earners are Lipitor, Crestor, and other statins, Nexium, Plavix, Viagra, Celebrex, and Seroquel.

The purpose of such drugs is to overcome illness and restore good health, but ironically, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, drug reactions are the fourth leading cause of death. The most dangerous reactions include hallucinations, fainting, coma, paralysis, persistent internal bleeding, blood clots, liver or kidney damage, acute muscle or nerve pain, congestive heart failure, and shingles.

What I find most disturbing about the prescription drug situation is that though every commercial for a prescription drug includes a voiceover explaining the most serious side effects, millions of people seem to be too absorbed in the fictional dramas extolling the drugs to hear or heed the warnings. Also, that those who are experience the dangerous side effects are too willing to accept their doctors’  casual dismissal of their reports.

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I continue to be amazed at the ease with which the clothing industry manipulates men. (I leave any such concern about women’s clothing to the more capable judgment of women.) For decades the standard length of men’s sports coats was to the fingertips with the arms resting at one’s side; the standard sleeve length was to the wrist bone just above the thumb; the standard lapel fit was flat against the chest with the jacket buttoned, without bulging on either side. Today the length is to mid-butt, the sleeves end 3 or 4 inches above the wrist, and the lapels bulge on both sides when the jacket is buttoned. Men who dress this way look as if they mistakenly shopped in the children’s department.

Similarly, men’s pants used to be designed to fit at the waist; now they often reach only to the hips. Pant legs used to be either the same width all the way down, or slightly wider in the seat and thighs, and to break slightly over the shoe tops. Now they are tight above the knee and very tight from knee to ankle, often extending only to several inches above the shoes. The overall appearance is ridiculous, particularly for men with ample derrieres.

The obvious reason for these changes in men’s fashions is for manufacturers to save money on material and, since pricing remains the same or higher, increasing profit. But the men who are manipulated to buy the fashions seem unaware and unoffended.

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A final observation: I’ve heard the song a thousand times. You surely have too. I’m talking about Lee Greenwood’s now famous “Proud to be an American,” the key line of which is And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.”

When this song is sung by a talented individual or group—such as the Texas Tenors—part of me is moved to tears, but the other part is annoyed to distraction. The latter reaction comes from having been a professor of English for many years. It makes me want to shout that the line is horribly ungrammatical, the second half being at odds with the first. An American is a person, whereas “where” refers to a place.

I’m sure Lee won’t read this, but if someone who knows him does, please convey this message to him for me. Please, Mr. Greenwood, re-write that line with this simple change: make it read, “And I’m proud to be IN AMERICA, where at least I know I’m free.” By doing so, you will enable me to shed my tears without simultaneously gnashing my teeth.

Copyright © 2017 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero