Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ye Olde Deluder Satan

From the Raleigh News & Observer:

As a lawyer, Mary Easley squared off with bad guys she sent to jail. As North Carolina's first lady, she is picking a fight with Captain Morgan and a buxom robot with a keg of Heineken stashed in her chest.

Easley intends to keep young people from drinking by pummeling the alcohol icons with straight talk. In a program she announced Wednesday, North Carolina teachers will tell middle schoolers that beer brewers are lying to them.

In coming years, middle school students will learn how to unravel the slick alcohol ads that inundate their televisions, computers and magazines. Can that woman really weigh 100 pounds if she is chugging 2,000 calories worth of rum and Coke a day? Will popping the top of a beer bottle really act as a cattle call for gorgeous men?

"We can't control how much they see," Easley said as she rolled out a lesson plan due to start arriving in middle schools by January. "Advertising is endemic in our culture."

Indeedy, advertising is endemic in American culture. More to the point, bullshit artistry is endemic to the United States of a Sucker Born Every Minute. As author and former advertising exec Earl Shorris noted, we are A Nation of Salesmen. I applaud any effort to stem a youngster's path towards alcoholism and I believe the First Lady of North Carolina has it right that middle school is precisely when the intervention will be most efficacious.

My concern is that the program's format calls for demonization of one particular substance and a focus on deconstructing the manipulative practices to peddle demon rum, Heineken, and wine coolers. And that lesson plan is in itself deeply and unnecessarily manipulative. Moreover, the lesson is silent on so many other messages which are manipulative. Like, how many women (or men) consume the 11 rum and Cokes a day, at a 182 calories per drink, necessary to come to the First Lady's hypothetical daily total of 2,000 calories? Moronic messages like that delivered to savvy middle schoolers (and they are savvy) will merely lead them to use Diet Coke as a mixer for the three or four drinks (at a 133 calories per, or 4 x 133 = 532, or 44 fewer calories than a Big Mac) they'll have to drink to get the desired buzz. Does that scare tactic have any traction at all in an nation of overweight youth? What about the abiding, enduring cynicism which will inevitably set in the minds of the students as the sharper ones dissect the manipulation inherent in the anti-alcohol curriculum? Is that psychological scar tissue worth the program's potential benefits?

Why not teach that ALL advertising is manipulative and teach the techniques employed? Why not teach that ALL political messages are manipulative and teach the techniques employed?

The answer is rather simple, of course. Puritanical targets are easy and nonthreatening -- tobacco, booze, and trans-fat are evil but learning how to think and evaluate marketing and political messages for oneself is inheritantly dangerous to the status quo.

And so what could be a broad, powerful unit for students on psychology and Machiavelli, with analytical skills which could be employed for a lifetime, is foregone for pushing what is ultimately state-sponsored propaganda.

This Bud's for you Mrs. Easley.