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Natural Doesn’t Mean Safe, Unnatural Doesn’t Mean Dangerous: The Problem With Growing Trends in Alternative Medicine

September 30, 2012 Leave a comment

1.

A few days ago I was visiting a friend of mine.  She was putting her kids to bed, and I knew that if I wanted to actually get time with her that night I would have to help.  With that in mind I volunteered to assist with them brushing their teeth.

Before starting I asked if the two kids—ages 4 and 6—were able to do it themselves or if they needed help.  Both of them proudly told me they could do it themselves, so I left them to their tasks and merely stood back, supervising.  The older of the two—Andy—had no problem.  My heart raced however when I noticed that Amy—the younger—had swallowed a mouthful of toothpaste.

I began searching around to see what she had used and saw only Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, nothing meant for children.  I asked her which she used and she pointed to that tube.

Tom's of Maine

Tom’s of Maine Toothpaste: another way to spend more money to show people how awesome you are.

Keep in mind that I knew that a small amount of toothpaste probably wouldn’t kill anybody, even a young child like her.  Nonetheless, I couldn’t know that for sure and figured I had to let their mom know.  I ran out into the living room where my friend waited—sliding into the room as frazzled as Kramer—and told her what happened.  For all of my worry, I was astounded at the answer I received:

“She can swallow that stuff.  It’s all natural so it’s okay if she swallows it.”

The next statement to come out of my mouth came as a matter of reflex, not forethought.  I told my friend, and I quote, “I don’t think that means what you think it means.”

I began an explanation about the fact that many of the ingredients in normal, not-natural toothpaste were technically natural and probably also in this toothpaste.  Nonetheless, I kept being met with ardent denial that any harm would come to Amy, always because the toothpaste was natural.

Exasperated, I realized I was probably overreacting anyway.  (It was a small amount, after all.)  But I still couldn’t help but think about her statement.  Throughout the night I curiously asked her about the issue, soon beginning to discuss medicine in general.

What I found was that my friend—in matters of her own and her children’s health—was completely mistrustful of the medical discipline and ardently refused to take herself or give to her children any medicines that weren’t natural as anything but a matter of last resort.

I tend to have a problem keeping my opinion to myself, which meant that this discussion soon led into a debate of sorts.  I kept hearing arguments from her about how little she trusted doctors because, after all, they are know-it-alls who are wrong more often than not, who overprescribe medicine and, above all, are just another cog in the machinery that is “Big Pharmaceutical”.  The doctors we once trusted were now the enemy.

Perhaps I’ve kept myself in the dark on this to avoid facing the truth, but attitudes like those of my friend are more widespread than ever.  I can’t help but feel that a decade or two ago my friend would be looked at as nothing more than a conspiracy nut, an outlier.

Which led me to wonder, then, why thinks took such a sharp turn.  Why is it that doctors and medicine are taking a back seat to alternative treatments?  The kind of mind-body and herbal treatments that once laid on the fringe of medicine now find proponents in seemingly reputable places.  What is it that drives people away from medicine and into the arms of the alternative?

2.

Pictured: stress relief, the cure for cancer and how to prevent heart disease.

Perhaps I should first define my position on this topic and, more so, the reasons for that position.

I find myself of the mindset that doctors have trained themselves and honed their skills and that, for that reason, they are reputable sources of information.  Is every doctor going to be totally trustworthy? No. That is why there exist ethical review boards and second opinions.  But are some untrustworthy or incompetent doctors a reason to turn away from medicine?  I, personally, think that is a rash and potentially dangerous decision.  Let me be clear: if there isn’t a damn good, peer reviewed study that supports the claims of this treatment I don’t think people should be using it.

If people were seeking alternative treatments for only minor ailments and in conjunction with “traditional” medical treatment, I think that I would not be so opposed to this.  However, somehow people have gotten it into their heads that traditional medicine is less effective than these alternative treatments. Yet, every year Americans spend $27 billion on alternative treatments, especially herbal remedies.

Unfortunately, the FDA does little to regulate these alternative treatments and independent labs often come up with results that are inconclusive or show that alternative treatments are ineffective.  The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine continuously says that these treatments are effective, yet the contrary seems to be empirically true.  If they are ineffective, you’d hardly know it from the 48% of American adults who sought alternative treatments at least once in 2004.

3.

I should be clear about the reasons people seek alternative treatments.  The ones I’m focusing on are herbal remedies and certain holistic, mind-body methods as well as integrative medicine (mixing these bullshit procedures with traditional medicine.

Though I cited that kind of example at the start of this post, cases like that are actually the minority of people who eschew traditional medicine because of bad experience or mistrust. At least, that’s what “research” by the NCCAM and other entities suggest.  Instead, they say, people just find that alternative treatment methods fall more in line with their belief systems.

All doctors look like this to the proponents of alternative treatments.

Understandably, though, some people also wish to avoid the unpleasant and potentially life-threatening side-effects of traditional medicine.  What good does it do, the thinking goes, to fix one illness at the risk of other side-effects?

I would argue that despite the NCCAM claiming otherwise, mistrust Americans feel for doctors plays a significant role in seeking alternative medicines.  Doctors, like all people, are people.  (I know, you wouldn’t have thought that, right?)  Unfortunately, these people have our lives in their hands.  It’s no surprise, then, when some people don’t like it when doctors make mistakes, something that—being people and all—they are wont to do.

In the NY Times article I linked above about mistrust toward doctors, one Ms. Newman—who has moved toward alternative treatments—says, “I don’t hate doctors or anything, [. . .] I just know they can make mistakes, and so often they refer you on to see another doctor, and another.”

I can understand Ms. Newman’s frustration with being referred in a circle.  But she said it herself, doctors make mistakes.  Wouldn’t you prefer that your doctor ensures his opinion is well-founded before he goes on with treatment?

In the case of Ms. Newman—and the many others like her—it seems doctors can’t win.  If they make a mistake they will have undermined the fundamental trust they require from patients and thus drive her toward alternative treatments because, you know, how dare they make mistakes.  But when they refer her for second opinions to help ensure her safety, she is equally pushed toward alternative treatments.

Recently I was watching an episode of Warehouse 13 involving a woman who worked for a drug company.  When she was asked why she didn’t follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor, she responded with the entirely convincing: “Have you ever noticed that doctors seem to know everything already?”

Or like this. Just look at how self-satisfied she is. She probably gave her expensive sports car a name and lights cigars with your money.

To many, that would seem to be incredibly arrogant.  To me it just means he is a good doctor.  This is the man who diagnosed my appendicitis—before any diagnostic testing—by just looking at me.  Was it a hard diagnosis? Probably not.  Is it a good thing that my doctor can accurately diagnose me that quickly?  Yes, because any delays or wrong diagnosis could have cost me my life.  (My appendix was, after all, just shy of bursting.)

There is a concept called “systemic arrogance” within medicine, the idea that highly impersonal healthcare systems—such as our own—force doctors into seeing patients as objects, rather than people.  They are a mechanic and you are the vehicle.

To the doctor, treatment needs to happen quickly and efficiently, else that is wasted money and potentially loss of a job.  There are more patients than doctors by a large margin, and there is only so much time to see each one.

To the patient, the doctor comes off as a know-it-all who disregards the patient in favor of his own expertise.

I understand all of these things, but there are some reasons I regarded my doctor’s ability to diagnose me and finish the office visit in about five minutes with a sort of reverence, rather than considering him arrogant.  The first of those is that, despite his need to be efficient, I have been a part of his practice for a long time and he knows me well.  He has put his time in over years, five-to-ten minutes at a time.  Not all doctors have this luxury, though.

But the other thing I wish I could explain to people is that doctors have a ridiculous amount of education and, in most cases, actual experience.  He has a title in front of his name—doctor—that implies a certain level of expertise in medicine.  We, as patients, do not have that.

So while we may not like the doctor’s diagnosis, that doesn’t mean that we suddenly have the expertise to question it.  Doctors are there to treat us, not coddle us.  Just because your symptoms came up as cancer on webMD doesn’t mean that it’s not a far simpler disease.

So of course, what that also means is that when it comes to matters of health, that doctor is a much better source of information than you about anything medical.  When we feel condescended to it is unfortunate—and a sign, perhaps, that the doctor’s bedside manner could use some improvement—but it seems like the knee-jerk reaction lately is to ignore the knowledge behind that arrogance or, even worse, to avoid doctors.

I know it’s hard for people to accept, but doctors far outstrip the general population in that sense and the sooner we accept this fact the sooner we can improve our health.

4.

I can think of no person more representative of this shift toward alternative treatments than Dr. Oz.

He’s on TV! He must be more trustworthy than any other doctor. Television never lies to us!

As a general rule, many doctors don’t like him.) Why? Because Dr. Oz is a medical professional willing to step outside of the mainstream to push alternative methods to wellness that other doctors won’t.  This is important, so keep it in mind.

I believe I’ve discussed before the idea of the insider connection.  People, in my experience, seem more inclined to believe information when it is attached to someone within said establishment, regardless of actual expertise.  It makes some sense.  If you’re going to take advice on how to get the best deals at Wal-Mart, it makes sense to talk to a Wal-Mart employee.  Similarly, if you want medical answers you’re going to get them from a doctor, not the homeless guy on the corner.

Dr. Oz is not only an insider, but an insider that has a great personality and couchside manner (I call it that for hopefully obvious reasons) on his show.  So we are already more likely to trust him more than other doctors, and this is even more exaggerated when he tells us what we want to hear, like when he tells us something that disagrees with the rest of the medical profession.

When doctors agree that X is a good treatment for Y, some people resist it because they have an inherent mistrust for doctors.  But people love it when Dr. Oz comes along and says W is a great treatment for Y.  People eat that shit up.

When Dr. Oz says that stinging yourself with bees (to use the enzymes in the venom to do scientific shit) on purpose works to help arthritis, among other illnesses, we eat that shit up.  Never mind that there is literally not a single shred of peer-reviewed evidence that apitherapy does anything at all, because Dr. Oz says it works.  Never mind that it would typically be administered by an acupuncturist—someone whose main practice depends upon energy gates in our body being opened by needles (to be glib)—it must be safe and effective.

This is only one example, but how much nicer must it be to hear that there is a non-medicinal treatment for your arthritis?

Of course apitherapy is on the crazy end of the spectrum, really.  Most people wouldn’t want to be stung by bees, and definitely wouldn’t find it invigorating.  But people do rely on herbal treatments.

5.

Perhaps its unfair of me to focus so much of my effort on attacking alternative treatments and the proponents of those treatments while saying little of traditional doctors and medicines.

I can completely understand people’s reticence toward becoming overly reliant upon either traditional doctors or traditional medicine.  After all, seeing doctors as arrogant and not trusting them is one thing, but most people would say there is a reason for said lack of trust.  Often those people will point to traditional medicines.

After all, just listen to the last ten seconds of any medicine advertisement.  Listen to the side effects.  Terrifyingly, death is sometimes included among those side effects.

Is it really so shocking that people would want natural treatments?  These lab-born medicines may seem to do more harm than good.

Of course, I should not have to do much to defend these medicines, but I may as well do it anyway.

For one, many of us seem to see drug companies as big, heartless corporations intent upon making money on our illnesses.  We think of companies withholding cures, rushing medicines to market without regard for patient health and, most commonly, charging exorbitant prices for the medicines we so often need.

I could write many posts just about the process behind creating a drug.  Needless to say, the majority of costs from medicines come not from researching it, but from performing the studies required to get FDA approval.  Once the drug hits the markets—and if the company has a patent—they will charge an amount that helps them recoup some of the losses.  If they didn’t do this they would be out of business and we wouldn’t have any medicines to blame for society’s ills in the first place.

6.

But let’s go back to the all-natural piece.  Think of my friend’s daughter, Amy, eating her toothpaste.  It’s all natural, so it must be safe.  Right?

Clearly if these doctors say it’s safe, it must be!

While people have no illusions about the general dangers of taking any traditional medicine—because there are always some, even if the dangers are merely minor side-effects—they seem to shut off that part of their brains when it comes to herbal or natural remedies.

What people don’t seem to realize is that just about any combination of herbs can make its way to your store shelf, regardless of safety.

Medicines undergo years of testing to find out if they’re safe and what side effects are common.  In the cases where you hear “death” as a side effect, the FDA and drug company must determine the cause of such incidents.  Sometimes they are related to something like a drug interaction or are so isolated as to be statistically insignificant, other times the severe side effects are more common and, as a result, the drug must go back to the drawing board.

No such process exists for herbal remedies.  If you go to your vitamin section of your local store, you’ll see shelf after shelf of supposedly natural remedies.  The thing is, the company can take any plant or other natural substance, claim it does something and sell it to you without the FDA ever testing those claims.

Any company can put out a natural supplement and claim it helps something.  All they need is some supporting evidence, but it does not need to be independently verified.

It should be no surprise that there are unscrupulous doctors and researchers out there—as there are in any field—that will author a study with a certain result in mind.  These studies can then be used to support the claim on the bottle, so long as it has the familiar disclaimer that the FDA has not evaluated those claims.

Enzyte: because fancy cars don’t help once you get to the bedroom.

We often ignore that disclaimer, but it is important.  Consider, for example, Enzyte.  This pill is a remedy that claims male enhancement.  You’ll always see fine print on the bottles and the commercials stating that those claims ahven’t been evaluated by the FDA.  While some people ignore that and fall for it, the rest of us laugh because how would some stuff actually make a dude’s unit bigger.

Does it make sense that we dismiss those claims and yet equally believe that somehow a combination of herbs will actually reduce stress, help prevent heart disease or any number of other benefits?  In either case, though, people will often say that it can’t hurt, because it’s just natural remedies.

Though, that’s not really true.

Once the item is on the shelves, the FDA need only ensure that no safety issues arise from the supplement.  Only if someone reports an adverse reaction or illness is there a chance that said supplement is either removed from the shelf or the company sanctioned.

Next time you wander down that vitamin aisle, keep an eye on all the bottles.  Each one will say what it supposedly helps.  Typically those claims are beyond unclear, stating that they lead to the health of some organ, rather than claiming to reduce the chance of some disease or disorder.

You might see a supplement that claims to support “heart health”.   Planters has a line of nuts that come in various mixes that support heart, digestive and other organ health.  Some claims are even more nebulous, such as a “stress formula” that is claimed to reduce stress levels. There is little to no evidence that any of these claims are true, but there is no need for the companies to do anything other than furnish a single study that supports their claim.

Were the only concerns about herbal supplements the misleading nature of the packaging, I perhaps wouldn’t be writing this post.

In fact, vitamins and supplements can be just as dangerous as prescription drugs.  Even Dr. Oz admits that too much can be dangerous.

This is monkshood. It will kill you dead and never feel bad about it. It also happens to be natural. Therefore, it must also be safe.

The problem is that the FDA is also not really monitoring the amounts within supplements terribly closely.  While companies are expected to attempt to keep contaminants (such as other ingredients) out of and the right ingredients in the right doses in their supplements, there is still gross inconsistency with some supplements.  Often, the amount you think you’re taking and the amount you get are not the same.

One supplement that was recently recalled contained belladonna, an incredibly toxic plant.  In large doses belladonna can be lethal, and in smaller doses symptoms include tachycardia, blurred vision, rash, hallucinations, delirium and about ten other nasty-sounding health issues.

Just imagine if carelessness on the part of the company resulted in large doses making it into some batches. The problem is, that’s not too uncommon.

Beyond all of this, herbal supplements and vitamins, as with any drug, can interact with OTC and prescription drugs in potentially fatal ways.  Additionally, in the same vein as “too much of a good thing”, some of the supplements can be absolutely dangerous in large doses.

So does natural mean safe?  Absolutely not.

7.

As I’ve pointed out, I totally understand why people are tempted to shy away from traditional medicine—at least to an extent.  The reasons I pointed out above certainly are big ones, but there is a deeper reason that I didn’t touch on.

Ultimately, I think that the move toward traditional medicine comes because it is easy and it makes us feel good.  The general idea that people like Dr. Oz espouse is that if we love our bodies hard enough, if we eat healthy enough, take the right herbal supplements and buy the self-help book that Dr. Oz is pushing that week, we can be healthy enough to never need a doctor or traditional medicine again.

On one level, this provides us with control. We love control.  The idea of putting our lives in someone else’s hands is terrifying.  If we can avoid it, why wouldn’t we.

Sure he may have just ripped you off and convinced you that you needed $1000 in repairs you actually didn’t. But the joke is on him, because he’s just a working class schlub. He’s one of Romney’s 47%.

But I think there is an even deeper component to it than that.

It’s one thing when your car breaks down and you have to take it to a mechanic for a fix.  He may spew some words you don’t understand and leave you with a hefty bill, but at the end of the day his position in society is low enough that any arrogance we might see in him is undermined by the fact that society looks down on mechanics.  And not just because they’re blue-collar workers, but also because they are frequently stereotyped as trying to take advantage of customers.

Doctors, on the other hand, seem to stand above us both intellectually and socially.  We see doctors driving nice cars and then we go to their offices to be looked down on.  It is something wholly unsettling for the average person.

In the same way that looking down at the mechanic’s social standing is a way to retain control in that situation, moving toward alternative treatments is the means by which people can knock doctors down a peg.  If all it takes to get rid of your illness is a few herbs, a book Dr. Oz is shilling and some happy thoughts then it is well worth it.  Why?  Because that cure is common sense, and that takes the power away from the doctors and places it back in our hands.  Now doctors are just people with fancy degrees who rely on unnatural drugs to do the same job that herbs can do.  We have undermined them by making their field useless, and in the process made ourselves feel better.

Is this how every person thinks of the situation?  Probably not.  In those for whom this is true, is this a conscious thought process?  Probably not.  But it gets the job done.

Perhaps the best of all of this, though, is that alternative treatments are easy.  To treat your illness traditionally you have to make doctor visits, go to the pharmacy, take medicines and basically spend a lot of time and effort.

Conversely, if you eat right, think happy thoughts and take a few herbal supplements you can avoid all illness and in the end it’s even easier to do than going to the doctor.

8.

The market for alternative treatments is probably not going anywhere anytime soon.  As an industry it is seeing extreme growth across the globe.  People are increasingly wary of traditional medicine and traditional doctors, and until that is fixed people will flock toward alternative medicines.

I typically like to make things personal on my blog.  While I’ve certainly made clear my feelings, I have to say that this is something I have recently become passionate about.  The idea that natural means safe has recently become a part of American culture and it leaves a very sour taste in my mouth, all because it isn’t just my one friend that thinks this, it’s a great deal of Americans.

A lot of people seem to think that natural means something it doesn’t, and they think that wellness is something to be achieved through happy thoughts and watching a doctor on television.

I can’t see that being a good thing in the long term.

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What Conspiracy Theorists and Tea Partiers Have in Common

August 25, 2012 Leave a comment

I suppose it was only a matter of time before I gave in to the pressure and blogged about something political.

But before I start, let me first discuss my political beliefs, albeit briefly.  I think I can sum them up in one word: apathetic.  I certainly do my part and vote when the time comes, but I have grown utterly weary of dealing with all things political.  I’ll talk about this in a bit more detail shortly.

Anyway, back to my point.

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago.  My parents are split down the middle politically—my mother is apolitical and doesn’t vote, my father is a card-carrying member of the “Bill O’Reilly” fan club.  It is slightly surprising, then, that I’ve been staunchly liberal for as long as my brain could understand that concept.

Perhaps Bill should become a Juggalo. MAGNETS.

(One note, I do not really identify with the Democratic Party, nor the greater “liberal movement”.  I am liberal, but I do not consider myself a liberal.  At least, not in the sense of the word that ties me to a group of people with supposedly similar ideologies.  While that may seem a minor semantic difference, I do not derive my views from a party, but rather on my own and they just happen to be described well by the word liberal.)

But while I do my best to respect all peoples’ political beliefs, sometimes it becomes hard.  For example, I think George W. Bush was a horribly misguided President, but have never thought at any time that he wasn’t doing anything that he didn’t think was in our country’s best interest.

This, apparently, separates me from certain people within the political arena.  In the past I think most people viewed political affiliations besides their own as perhaps misguided, but still doing what they think is best.  Lately the rhetoric seems to indicate that there are a number of people who think that some politicians literally want to destroy our nation.  (The rhetoric surrounding Obama is a no holds barred example of this.  Detractors often assume Obama wants to destroy all things American.)

But I digress.  Recently I saw a sign for the “Northern Illinois Patriots”.  I have this unintentional reaction to the use of the word patriot—specifically that of revulsion—because often one only hears it as a means to define anybody who disagrees with them as unpatriotic.

So out of curiosity I looked up this organization.  Turns out that they are affiliated with the Tea Party.  Big surprise.  That’s what led me to this article.

Why I’m Apathetic, Just So We’re Clear

Before I go any further, I feel I should define my political standing so there is no misunderstanding about where I am coming from.  This post, as with everything I do related to politics, has an agenda.

As a teenager I found myself profoundly interested in becoming politically active and making my voice heard.  Perhaps it was the delusion that all teenagers hold—that I had an opinion that had to be heard—or perhaps the realities of college numbed me to that idea, but I no longer care so much about that.

I am liberal.  I am probably as socially liberal as they come, and I think that anything abridging anybody’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is wholly wrong.  That means I am, in fact, pro-choice and think it is despicable that there is even a debate as to whether or not homosexuals can marry.

Moses on the Supreme Court. His depiction is not religious, but rather of him as a lawgiver. An example of religion in government, but not defining government.

I think that religion has no place in how we govern, but I think that it is welcome in the government.  That is, I have no problem with people who wish to be sworn in on the Bible, nor do I oppose “In God We Trust” as a national motto.  What I do oppose is using religion as the basis for legislation, as in the case of every argument that has ever stood against gay marriage.

The 24-hour news cycle, the internet, the rise of blogging and numerous other factors have made it so every person can have his voice heard.  In general, this ends up creating a cacophony of voices, none of which are saying anything but all of whom refuse to stop speaking.  Pundits like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly cater to a subset of viewers who only wish to have their views confirmed.

(In case you’re wondering why I’m adding to this, I would respond that I feel I have something slightly different to say than most, otherwise I would just shut up and let other people do the work for me.)

If you’re Republican you watch FOX News.  If you’re liberal you watch CNN and bitch about it.  If you’re part of the Tea Party, you believe even FOX News is part of the “liberal media” and find your information in various e-mail forwards, rumors and blogs across the internet.  There is this neat little thing called the confirmation bias, a cognitive bias through which people filter out information that does not fit their hypothesis.

Each media source spews the kind of vitriol that would previously be unheard of, accusing the “others” of being the ones who are deluding themselves.  Liberals think they have no bias—CNN is totally balanced—but FOX News spins everything.  On the other hand, the extremely conservative are convinced that anybody who doesn’t agree with them is part of some diabolical “liberal media” out to destroy the American family.

The truth actually lies somewhere in the middle. Nobody wants to seem to admit this, but if we could then maybe we could actually start a dialogue.

That depends on what the definition of “diddle” is.

Beyond all of this, the person behind the policy has become such an obsession within the political arena that our politicians are subject to the same invasions of privacy that every celebrity faces with the paparazzi.  Is it any of my business if a politician decided to diddle a staffer?

Not really. Not as long as he hasn’t impacted his ability to hold the office and/or abused the powers of the office in doing so.  Yet we call for the modern day equivalents of putting politicians in stocks when they should happen to be less than the paragons of moral virtue that, for some reason, we want them to be.

In the “good old days” of politics (if there is any such thing), you got set news from set sources, so you could not just tune in to a channel that confirms what you want to hear.  Now we have that, and it should be no surprise that the partisan gap in the United States has become almost completely polarized.

If you haven’t gathered by now why I consider myself politically apathetic, you probably do not have a career in detective work.  That is to say, I cannot stand any of the above, and in the end I think it gets in the way of policy-making.  At a time when our candidates are too busy insulting each other to actually tell us what they’ll do for the country, I find it safe to say that we have hit perhaps the lowest possible point in the history of American politics.

Besides telling you about me so that you can make up your mind about what my agenda actually is, I think that everything I just said has a fair amount of relevance in this post.

About Conspiracy Theories and Otherness

It may seem strange to lump conspiracy theories in on this, unless you are prescient enough to know where I am planning to go with it.

We probably all know someone who thinks there was a second shooter that took out JFK, or who insists that the Moon landing never happened, or perhaps even someone deluded enough to believe that 9/11 was an inside job.

If you’ve ever dealt with a conspiracy theorist but weren’t, before this post anyway, aware of the confirmation bias, I would imagine that just this sentence can link those two concepts so inextricably together for you that you will never view their behavior in the same light again.

Go ahead and add “and Tea Partiers” to that caption. Plus, I think that “racist” and “are Jesse Ventura” are being underrepresented in this totally reliable pie chart.

What I’m saying is, conspiracy theorists only hear what they want to hear.  Anybody who disagrees is either in on the conspiracy or is part of some group of “others”, those who just haven’t opened their eyes to the truth yet.

Given that trifurcation of the world in the eyes of the conspiracy theorist, one might wonder why they are always so vocal about it.  After all, you’re either in on the conspiracy, you know the secret, or you are just oblivious.  Why bother telling the world about it, especially when the odds are you won’t convince anybody?

The simple-to-the-point-of-glib answer is to feel special or unique and, quite possibly, to give order to things.

Imagine how difficult a time some would have if our world truly were just completely random.  Events like 9/11 have no greater meaning or purpose, but are just random acts perpetrated by evil men.  There is, really, a sense of comfort in knowing that there is a reason or cause behind it.

More than that, there is something that people like about knowing secret information, we like when we are somehow “smarter” or more in-the-know than the masses.  We absolutely love being in that position that seats you with power, while everyone else is just outside of it.  We are the special ones, everyone else is the “others”.

Furthermore, by sharing their knowledge the conspiracy theorists are both bringing people into the fold as well as ensuring that there is an otherness to people who do not accept their ideas.  If the conspiracy theorist held his beliefs quietly, he would not be in defiance of any evil cabal organizing the events, nor would anybody know that he is not an “other”, but special in his knowledge.

The Northern Illinois Patriots and Otherness

What spurred this post is looking at the website of the Northern Illinois Patriots (NIP from here on out).  They are affiliated with the Tea Party, so it’s safe to say they share many core beliefs.  However, they may differ slightly in some aspects, so for that reason I’ll be referring mostly to NIP, with the occasional reference to the Tea Party.

There’s no racism in that at all. I take back my remarks about that pie chart. It should be 90% “racist” and 10% “Sell T-Shirts”. (From NIPatriots.org)

The core purpose of NIP is “to help protect our God-given rights as intended by the framers of the Constitution by being informed, getting involved, and making a difference in our great nation.” (As oen of my soon-to-be-trademarked completely irrelevant asides, I think it’s interesting that their abbreviation doubles as a racial slur.  I’m sure it’s entirely coincidental, but it still makes me slightly uncomfortable.)

At first glance this is a particularly innocuous goal.  But a further look at their “9 Principles” should help clarify their agenda.  I will not reproduce all of them here, but I will give you some of the highlights. (I will also ignore some of their egregious spelling and grammar errors instead of making light of them.  Because I’m just that nice. Also, nobody is perfect.)

The 9 Principles start innocuously enough, stating that America Is Good, God is the Center of My Life, and that we must always try to be more honest and that family is sacred and the spouses are the ultimate authority (not the government), plus some platitudes about not being above the law.

When things get interesting is on number eight, which states:

Good old American Values, like teaching your kids to attack someone’s race the second you disagree with him.

8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
On your right to disagree “In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude; every man will speak as he thinks, or more properly without thinking.” George Washington [Emphasis mine.]

I will not be so kind as to ignore the fact that the quote these people chose is actually a chastisement of the voice of the multitude.  Had they selectively cropped “or more properly without thinking” from this quote, perhaps the sentiment would be another cute touch to their website.  Instead what we get is a self-defeating quote, one that basically states that while the multitude will always try to be heard, those people will often do so without bothering to think about what they’re saying.

Certainly this is an unintentionally appropriate quote from avowed tea partiers, those who seem to so often make statements without vetting them as the truth.  However, I cannot imagine that NIP would have intended that interpretation of the quote.

But I promised a discussion of otherness, and I will deliver. On the website there exists an item called “The Patriot’s Pledge”, a pledge that all members (presumably) must take.  This is where NIP really begins to distance themselves from everyone.

One of the items that the member pledges to be aware of is “[u]nderstanding the infringement on my constitutional rights and the erosion of the American Dream that is currently taking place.”

While I may have poked fun at the lack of thought the NIP put into the Washington quote, let me be clear that I do not underestimate these people.  In this case, what the NIP have done is state clearly that the “American Dream” is eroding.  That part is not even remotely in question.  Rather, what is in question is whether or not you are aware of it.

Presumably if you are aware of it you are one of the selected, while if you are not aware of this you are just “other”.  Just as knowing that there was a shooter on the grassy knoll brings you into the fold, so does its denial make you one of the others.

I won’t bother going into terrifyingly deep detail with the rest of their points because we all know what Tea Partiers stand for, and NIP are nothing if not a part of that movement. Rather, I want to discuss why this otherness is so useful.

As I discussed earlier in the scope of my politics, it seems as though both political parties and most people engaged in politics are so affected by the confirmation bias and yet completely oblivious to it.  Groups like the NIP are, perhaps, the most oblivious of the bunch.

Pictured: Reasonable political discourse for the average Tea Party member.

Normal political discourse, if there is such a thing, may disagree on policy but they may also disagree and actually discuss the fundamental underpinnings of those ideologies.  While liberals and conservatives may disagree about government spending, most of them would agree that the government should spend money on at least certain things. The finer details of what those things might be is a part of what politicians discuss and compromise about.

The Tea Party, NIP and other groups have circumvented this process.  They have assured themselves that the underpinnings of their ideologies are non-negotiable, a feat they accomplish by claiming to believe in the Constitution.

Let’s look back to the example of the American Dream.

Some of us (hopefully most) would question if the dream is even eroding, the NIP has moved beyond that portion and thus made it so that the basic underpinnings of their beliefs are not in question.  The JFK conspiracy theorist doesn’t ask if there was a shooter on the knoll, but if it was a government agent, foreign national or what have you.  Those who deny the second shooter don’t bother with that question, because they do not accept the premise upon which it is based.

This is the same picture the NIP paints with the Constitution.  The question isn’t if its being ignored and circumvented, but rather how any by whom.  They ignore that most people who are not wildly conservative or liberal don’t consider that the truth, and instead just assume it is a fact.  In drawing the lines in this way, they allow their entire set of beliefs to go unchallenged.

Just as the conspiracy theorist also feels special for knowing what he knows and considers other people either complicit or ignorant, so too does the NIP member/tea partier.

If you disagree with these basic understandings you will find no compromise (as recent politics has shown us), but rather are just considered an “other”, a person who doesn’t get it.  You haven’t taken the oath.  You aren’t aware that the American Dream is being eroded by ignoring the constitution, so you couldn’t possibly understand what their beliefs are, but you are definitely wrong.

 

About the Constitution

I feel it would be unfair to go through this article without providing even a little justification for why I think the Tea Party and NIP are so wildly misguided.

See also: racism.

A premise that Tea Partiers refuse to accept is that the Constitution is necessarily a fluid document, the interpretation of which must change as the world changes in order to ensure our continued survival as a society.  To these people the Constitution is a one-shot, a document that must never be amended, reinterpreted or circumvented.  The idea that the Founding Fathers could not have predicted various aspects of the modern world is irrelevant, solely because to agree with this would be to undermine the basic premise of everything for which they fight.

To act like the Constitution is not a fluid document, one that must continually be reconsidered in light of technological and societal shifts, is a discredit to the Founding Fathers. While the Constitution (as well as the Bill of Rights, just to be clear) is an extraordinarily resilient document, it can only bend so much with the times before it becomes implausible to uphold it.

What NIP and Tea Partiers suggest is that there is no reinterpreting that document. What I suggest is that there is a way to do so that is in line with what, given access to society as it exists now, the Founding Fathers would have wanted.

A great example is gun control.  Tea Partiers often consider the Second Amendment to be absolute.  You either can bear arms or you can’t (which, besides being a pointless way to interpret it, is incredibly dangerous as I’ll explain near the end of this post).  If we strictly interpret the constitution, as the Founding Fathers intended it, would gun control be even remotely constitutional? No.

But the times change, and so does technology.  At the time of the drafting of the Constitution the average weapon—in the hands of a skilled soldier—could fire two, perhaps three, times per minute.  When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they did so with such arms in mind.  That Constitutional protection does not necessarily extend to assault rifles, a type of weapon that the Founding Fathers would likely never have conceived when they drafted our Constitution.

Totally what the Framers meant.

To consider this on an even more extreme level, grenades are an armament.  If one were to read the Second Amendment as the right to bear arms, clearly one must be allowed to have a hand grenade.  And  a jet fighter.  Also, since technically it’s an armament, probably a nuclear weapon.

In a hundred years when our wars are fought with giant mechanical exoskeletons with railguns capable of leveling an entire building, I can imagine that Second Amendment proponents will argue that such a weapon is constitutionally protected.  Plus, it’s only to hunt. Clearly.

I realize I’m creating a ridiculous example, but I have two points from that.  First, that a strict reading of the Constitution as just the words on the page, without considering current social context, is not totally appropriate.

We would have to assume that when drafting the Constitution they sat around and discussed every possible technological and societal change that could happen and, in response, drafted the Constitution with all of those possibilities in mind.

If the Founding Fathers had such foresight, why has a Constitutional amendment ever been necessary? Why, if they were so able to draft an infallible document, wasn’t slavery abolished within the Bill of Rights?  Thomas Jefferson held slaves, and if we are going to interpret the Constitution in the spirit that Founding Fathers such as Jefferson intended it, why have we not repealed the amendments abolishing slavery? If the Founding Fathers predicted (as they must have, if they had the foresight that the Tea Party ascribes to them) that abortion would be such a hot button issue, why does the Constitution remain silent on it?

While I am a huge admirer of the minds that founded our nation, I do not hold them in such high esteem that I consider them to have near omniscience.  To do so is the height of hubris, as well as the true depths of stupidity. If one is going to argue that we can interpret the Second Amendment to be so well crafted and have such foresight to extend to the devastating weaponry of today, we cannot selectively pretend that assumption doesn’t apply to the rest of the Constitution when it is not politically advantageous.

The second point I wanted to make was that even a staunch proponent of the Second Amendment would probably oppose allowing private citizens to own and use a military aircraft and/or nuclear weapons.  They might argue that the Founding Fathers were referring to the arms a single person could use.

What the logic that my straw man opponent reveals says is that the Founding Fathers had intentions, and that those intentions are relevant to how we read the Constitution.  Such an argument is self-defeating, then, as we have to consider what the Founding Fathers would have intended given today’s societal circumstances.

Conclusions

I’ve been hoping that you, my esteemed readers, have been able to draw your own conclusions about the (tenuous) connections I’m making in this post.  If you haven’t, though, allow me to connect the final dot: NIP (and on a larger scale the Tea Party) is a conspiracy theory.

Where conspiracy theorists feel in the know, so do the members of NIP.  These people believe they’re the only ones who are truly trying to uphold the Constitution, and anybody who disagrees is something wholly “other”.  These people may have the best of intentions, but their methodology is to ignore anything that disagrees with their preconceived world view and carry on as if it never existed in the first place.

The issue here is that NIP and the Tea Party are mired in inherent contradictions.  They insist that they have a right to their opinion (and, in theory, so would anybody who disagrees), yet cast crude Us vs. Them distinctions to demonize anybody who would stand against them.

The name “Northern Illinois Patriots” says it all.  You are either a patriot or you aren’t.  You either believe in the Constitution or you don’t.  You’re one of Us or you’re something other.  In the end their tactics are the same as the conspiracy theorist, except that for some reason people take them seriously.

The last part of that statement is what could do the most damage.  Conspiracy theorists never have the best interest of anybody but themselves at heart, despite their admonitions to the contrary.  Those who claim 9/11 was an inside job do not do so to inform the public, but to wield the power of knowledge over the rest.

In the same way, the Tea Party and local groups such as the Northern Illinois Patriots attempt to wield knowledge over the rest of us.  They know something the rest of us don’t and intend to use that to gain their own political advantage.

You may think I’m being extraordinarily harsh, especially for someone who claims to be apathetic about this whole political ordeal.  The fact of the matter is that I find the basic tenets of the NIP and Tea Party to be wholly offensive to Americans.

The world is not black and white, good and evil, etc.  There is no “us” and “them”.  You are not Tea Party or “other”.  To cast the world, and America, in such a light is to stand against everything the Founding Fathers would have wanted.  It is an affront to America and an affront to our Constitution.

Perhaps most of all, though, it is the ultimate irony that those who claim to best understand and want to most faithfully uphold that document are the ones who are the most ignorant the spirit in which it was drafted.

Infomercial Madness: 5 Infomercials Selling Insane Products

June 12, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m probably in the minority for this, but I absolutely love watching infomercials.  There is something charming about their over-the-top selling techniques, trying to convince you that the latest as seen on TV product is not only worth buying, but worth overpaying for.

In all of my time seeing infomercials I’ve noticed that they generally seem like the kind of thing some guy felt he had a need for and created—indeed this is likely where many of them spawn.  I can understand that there is a niche group for whom the Heel Dock might seem like a useful invention, so kudos to the guy who figured out he could charge people money for what is basically a smaller version of a bath mat.

But then there is that subgroup of items that, honestly, seem to have no use whatsoever to any human.  Some of these items are just ridiculous takes on already existing items, others are just outright insane items that nobody should ever feel necessary.

Today I’m presenting you with a collection of five infomercials that are selling what I think are some generally insane (and totally useless products).  Enjoy!

 

#5 – The Tiddy Bear

 

 

Whether or not you’re not familiar with the product and have never seen the infomercials I am still guessing you can figure out where I’m going with this just based off the name of the product.  But if you haven’t seen the infomercial before I urge you to do so, simply because it’s one of the better infomercials out there.

I’ll wait.  You done yet?

Tiddy Bear

What every woman wants on her breasts.

Yes, that’s “tiddy” pronounced similarly to “titty”.  Yes, it’s a small teddy bear that hugs the breasts of the woman using it.  In many ways I could probably leave this section here.  But I’m not some hipster news outlet that wants to make you do all the work.  So here goes:

The best part about the Tiddy Bear is the fact that it could have been shaped like absolutely anything.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

While they do show a man or two in the infomercial, I can only assume that seat belts digging into breasts or shoulders is a problem reserved for women with sizeable breasts or extremely obese men.  I base this assumption on two things: first, that I do not have breasts and have also never felt the pain from the seat belt described in the infomercial; second, that all of the women in the infomercial are fairly well endowed and are wearing low-cut shirts to make sure that we’re aware of that fact.

So it’s a problem almost exclusively for women and a the resulting product is likely advertised solely to them.  Which brings me back to the design of the product and that it could have been anything.  The whole point is that you just need padding that keeps the edge of the seat belt from causing discomfort, the shape of that padding is irrelevant to its functionality.

Tiddy Bear Couple

…And apparently every man.

I can just imagine some guy whose wife always complained about this issue and so he created the prototype—a pad that kept seat belts from digging into you.  I have to imagine that he proposed the idea to a manufacturer and that every person in the room was a man.  What other explanation is there for this product being advertised in a commercial that says “titty” so many times?

I mean, I know many women who aren’t offended outright by the use of the word “tits”, but it’s not something they usually say unless they are being purposely crass.  Advertising a product to women using a term that is on the more lewd side of the spectrum is insane in and of itself.

But beyond that, I have to imagine a man made this because only a man would think it’s a good idea to make women feel like they’re being constantly fondled by a little teddy bear.  I just cannot imagine a woman thinking to herself how great it would be to solve one problem by creating another.

After all, the Tiddy Bear in the commercial looks like it’s on the edge of a cliff holding on for dear life.

 

#4 – Ronco Smokeless Ashtray

 

 

Hailing from the early 1980s is this infomercial for the Ronco Smokeless Ashtray.  This is a product of an entirely different era, a magical time when Joe Camel still shilled his death sticks to kids, a time when Marlboro Country was a favored vacation retreat and not just the faded pipe dream of a bygone age.

Asshole Science

Pictured here: the science of being an asshole.

For something so short this commercial is just plain full of comedic gold.  Perhaps my favorite line is at the end when the spokesman tells us we should show we really care by giving a smokeless ashtray to our loved ones.  I’m not sure which part is more ridiculous: assuming my loved ones want a Ronco product in the first place, or that giving my family a way to smoke around me without having to open the car window is somehow a sign of love.

The entire premise of this commercial—and product—is based solely upon that idea: showing you really care.  We are introduced to a father who loves to smoke cigarettes and cigars and knows the bad smell and cancerous smoke irritates his family.  Thank god he decided to show he cares by getting a smokless ashtray, ensuring he can continue to destroy his lungs uninterrupted.

It’s at this point that I’m going to ditch the sarcasm and divulge that I’m a smoker.  I, too, am not inconsiderate and don’t like irritating my family and friends with the smell of cancer from my cigarettes.

I frequently smoke while driving and am just utterly baffled by why the need for this product would ever arise.  Let’s get serious for a moment: the only time I can imagine the need for the smokeless ashtray coming up is in a situation where the smoker is in a place that has no means of ventilation.

showyoucare

Anybody who gives me something from Ronco for Christmas is never getting invited to celebrate with me again.

But in the infomercial we see that this loving father is in a car. You may not know this, but the cool thing about cars is that they have these windows.  These windows—like most windows—can actually be opened in order to let fresh air into the car.

When I smoke in my car I roll down the windows and people who might happen to be riding with me don’t have to deal with nearly as much smoke as before.  The only situation this ashtray actually helps resolve is one in which that smoker is insisting on hotboxing his cigarette with his friends and/or family inside the car.

So, given that this father is so considerate of his family’s health and safety, I just cannot imagine that he’d actually ever use this product.  Unless, of course, he’s just putting on a show and in fact there is a darker side to that family.  I can only imagine that those children are thankful they live in an era where automatic windows and the ability to lock said windows doesn’t exist.  Otherwise, dad might decide to be a complete asshole and force them to inhale second-hand smoke for the duration of the car ride.

 

#3 – Germ Bloc

 

 

Anything that opens with a blaring siren and what sounds to be a B-Movie robot voice from the 60’s is just plain awesome.  When the infomercial does so while shouting “GERM ALERT! GERM ALERT!” repeatedly I have no choice but to declare my instant respect and admiration.

The “Anywhere you fear” caption describes their target audience perfectly.

Prior to seeing this advertisement I was often wondering what I was supposed to do when using a public restroom and needing to use the flush levers and door handles, or what to do when I was riding public transportation and could clearly see the layer of bodily fluids on the hand-holds.  Thankfully, the Germ Bloc is there for me.

At first glance the Germ Bloc doesn’t seem like too awful an idea.  Granted anybody who sees you using it is going to assume that you have an aversion to germs worse than Howie Mandel and Adrian Monk combined, but that’s a small price to pay to avoid dealing with the horrifying bacteria that exist—with the sole intent of killing us—in the world around us.

But then I realized something: you could—nay, should—always just wash your hands after you use the restroom or touch something nasty.  I mean when you use the restroom and don’t wash your hands you risk getting horrible bacteria all over everything you touch afterwards, so it won’t do you any good to take an enormous shit and then put your nasty, shit-covered hands on your germ bloc.  All you’ve done there is make things worse.

Above the ridiculous lack of real necessity here, though, is a deeper implication with the Germ Bloc.  Watch the infomercial again and see if you can figure out what I’m on to.

Did you notice anything awry in this video?  (Besides the germ alert, that is.)  If your answer is the part where the mom attached a Germ Bloc to the child’s backpack then congratulations, you’ve realized the terrifying implications of this product.

If your answer was anything other than that (or that nothing was wrong with it) then you should probably go ahead and dial the number at the end.  You might be the kind of person who needs one.

You see, you get a couple of Germ Blocs and some refill pads for $10.  That’s not a bad value at all, especially when you consider that you can attach it to your child’s backpack and instill a totally unhealthy fear of germs and public places.  Beyond that, you’ll also ensure that they’re mercilessly made fun of by other kids for using his Germ Bloc to touch every surface.

That double protection isn’t going to help at all when your child is getting his ass kicked–by both bullies and life.

Think about it for a second.  If your mom was so concerned with bacteria that she made you use a Germ Bloc in public places, probably telling you how if you don’t it’ll make you sick, you’d probably have turned out a little differently.  I mean in this case we’re talking the difference between a child playing around in dirt and dealing with that and creating a tiny little germophobe who refuses to pee at school because it might be dirty.

That kind of life-long emotional damage for so little money and effort is almost unheard of.  Normally it takes years and probably more than $10 to screw up your kids that badly, and now you can do it by clipping a Germ Bloc onto them and making sure they use it at all times.

 

#2 – Mobe Flask

https://www.buymobe.com/

First, sorry I don’t have a YouTube on this one.  You’ll have to go to their website and watch it there.  But while you’re there feel free to explore and enjoy the insanity.

Everything that is wrong with both flasks and hipsters.

I can say unequivocally and without the slightest bit of shame that anytime I see someone drinking from a flask I cannot help but wonder how sad that person’s life must be that he felt it necessary to sneak alcohol somewhere that it’s not allowed.  In other words, I think: “wow, what a damn alcoholic.”

The flask is the perfect solution for the person who thinks “drinking alcohol” is a perfectly legitimate answer to the question of how to make something more fun.   After all, flasks are an item of desperation; they are a means of admitting that you aren’t supposed to have alcohol where you are but that you’ll be damned if that’s going to stop you from getting sloshed.

There is a small segment of people who own flasks and use them regularly but are totally aware of how harshly society judges them for feeling the need to bring alcohol with them at all times.  No doubt these people often wish for a way to still bring alcohol with them, but without inviting the social stigma that flasks entail.

Search no further all you self-aware alcoholics, for the Mobe flask had you firmly in mind when developing their product.

The Mobe flask is a flask that is designed as a small pouch within a neoprene case.  The main way that Mobe advertises their product is that it is “so discreet nobody knows it’s a flask.”  When your main selling point is a bunch of fancy words for “nobody will notice you’re getting sloshed until it’s too late” then you know you’ve invented something truly terrifying.

Absurdly Discreet – Nobody will know about your life-crushing alcoholism.

I almost wish that I had never stumbled upon the Mobe flask, only because I feel I’m obligated to tell the American Psychiatric Association that they need to update the DSM’s diagnostic criteria for alcoholism to include “owns a Mobe”.  If you think I’m kidding then you haven’t watched the infomercial for this.

The infomercial opens by asking us, the prospective (or current) alcoholics if we’re ready to have more fun, so you have to know it’s only getting better from there.  After a few seconds we find out that the Mobe is the most discreet and convenient way to mobilize your beverage of choice.”  The word discreet is used so often I can rest assured that if I bought a Mobe nobody would know how I got drunk, just that I am.

If any of you were thinking of arguing that, perhaps, it wasn’t meant exclusively for alcohol then I again would like to tell you to actually watch the infomercial.  The only testimonials they include are from people at around the college-age, probably the number one demographic for flasks besides George Thorogood.

Everything is wrong with this.

Above all else I have to say my favorite part is their suggestion that they could, in fact, use the Mobe when you hit the slopes.  They show a picture—both on the website and in the video—of a family (with children) on top of a mountain.

What they apparently forgot to mention was that after dad downed his third Mobe full of whiskey he was too drunk to ski and slammed into a tree.  Because nothing says “good idea” like combining a flask, mountains, snow and high speeds.

The only solace I have is that I’m pretty sure nobody has actually bought the Mobe or we’d have heard of them going out of business after a rash of alcohol-related ski accidents.

 

#1 – The Magic Bullet

 

 

His parents decided they’d make him into an experiment to test the idea of “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

I’m going to start with the blatantly obvious observation here: do these people really have a friend named Bourbon whose entire role in this infomercial is to be the hung over guy?  I mean, I’m trying to figure out of that’s his nickname or his parents just decided to prove that alcoholism is a product of environmental factors? Regardless of how he got that name, I can’t help but to wonder if Bourbon is just an actor who got lost on the way from (or, maybe to) the shoot for the Mobe flask.

Since I’ve digressed here I might as well do it some more.  Am I the only person that titters like a pubescent boy who hears his teacher say “penis” when someone says the name of this product?  I’m going to assume that I am, but nonetheless every time I hear “magic bullet” my mind immediately goes to the similarly named Magic Bullet Vibrator (I would not suggest clicking that if you’re at work).

If I’m not the only person who thinks that then I can imagine cooking for someone using the Magic Bullet (the blender version) could get very awkward.  I can just picture telling dinner guests that you cooked the meal with your Magic Bullet.  That would probably be followed by immediate vomiting.

Of course, I’m probably on the immature side of the spectrum.

Anyway, back to the main point: the Magic Bullet is really a product that isn’t all that insane.  The prospect of doing away with blenders, cutting boards and about half of the other automated appliances in the kitchen is actually quite appealing.

He just looks so sad.

According to the infomercial it makes cooking fun (what As Seen On TV product doesn’t?) and you’ll be using it every day.  Hell, you’ll be having so much fun cooking that you’ll just leave it on your counter and cook breakfast for the other couples who joined your orgy on the previous night.

If you’re wondering why I assume all the people in the video had an orgy the night before then you have to ask yourself one very simple question: why the hell else would there be that many people in that kitchen, especially with one guy coming into the room clearly hung over and in the throes of deep, deep remorse?

The thing is that I don’t cook because I’m too lazy.  It has nothing to do with cooking not being fun.  I love cooking.  I’m just usually more interested in doing something else than preparing my meal, especially when it’s just for me.  So with that problem firmly in mind, why would the Magic Bullet change any of that?

I guess you could argue that it’s hard to be lazy when you only need one tool to do the job for you.  This means less mess and faster cleanup and prep times.  Certainly a meal that once took an hour could be produced within minutes!

That is, unless you’re one of those (silly) people who has some kind of aversion to food-borne illnesses.  After all, you wouldn’t want to make an omelet with raw eggs and then go grind your coffee.  You still have to clean that thing out after every use.  The only difference is that instead of doing all the dishes at one point you have to do them as you cook.

If I bought one of those I’d make an 8 second sorbet once and then it would sit on the shelf for the rest of my lifetime.

That, my dear readers, sounds like more work to me. When I cook I put the dishes off as long as possible, usually until after I’ve finished the meal. Sometimes I find a way to con someone elses into doing the dishes for me. (Again, I’m really lazy.) In this case I can’t do that, meaning I’ll have to actually do cleaning.  Given the epic scale of my laziness, one can only assume I should totally avoid the Magic Bullet.

In the end I have to conclude that if the Magic Bullet were even half as useful as it claims to be that most American households would have one.  Since I don’t know a single person who has ever purchased one I can only assume it’s a piece of trash like every other product sold via infomercial.

Of course, the other Magic Bullet has gotten rave reviews, so if you’re shopping for a new “personal massager” that might be a good way to go.

House Must Die – Why That Ending Is the Only Ending

May 15, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m going to say this once: there could possibly be spoilers all up in here.  You have been warned.  Don’t be pissed if I say something that you weren’t aware of.

I never liked House when it first started to air.  Actually, that’s a lie.  I never really found it that interesting, because the ads for it always played up the medical drama and played down House being House.  It wasn’t so much a matter of disliking it, but rather I just wasn’t into medical dramas.

The Cast of House

Had I seen the show before my surgery I might have been less willing to let them cut me open.

It wasn’t until I was facing a winter break with my then-girlfriend out of the country and a recovery from an unexpected appendectomy—aren’t they all unexpected, really—I ended up noticing USA airing endless House marathons.

I think I mention in every post that I have my degree in literature.  Usually it’s to warn you off from taking me too seriously or to tell you to do more research based upon what I’m talking about, but in this case—reading way too much into House—it’s what I do best.  I make no caveats.  These are merely evidence-supported arguments about a reading of House that I’ve always stood firmly behind,.

Anyway, in a post I haven’t put up because it’s crap, I talk about TV shows I have mixed feelings about, and House is undeniably one of those.  While I love the titular character and I think they do an awesome job handling House/Cuddy (most of the time), the shoehorning in of the medical cases sometimes undermined the generally great drama.

With House now ending—news of which only reached me a week or two ago via a timely Facebook update from the House page—I figured I’d get out my argument for the way the show should end.  I have, since I started watching the show around the end of 2008, always thought this is the only way for the show to end.  Recent developments only further convinced me of this.

I’ll put it my basic argument in the form of an easy-to-digest thesis statement (sup semi-academic writing, from which I’ve been absent for years), and give you some more explanation here shortly:

House must necessarily end with the titular character—Dr. Gregory House—dying; ending the show in any other way would be to do a disservice to the “tortured genius” character the writers have spent so much time developing.

Finally, I have not seen anything but a few episodes of the most recent season.  About as far as I got is that House is relapsed and his team is gone.  While I have an idea of what has been happening in the most general of senses, namely that his team is getting back together or something of the kind, I have to play catch-up quite soon.

I say this so that, if I happen to somehow predict correctly something that has happened (which I don’t really expect, but am just covering the eventuality) and I play it off as my own idea/creation, it’s probably because I had no idea that it happened.  So there is that.

 

Dr. House: Tortured Genius

Tortured Artist

You can tell he’s a tortured artist because of the serious expression and the hat.  Also the stock filters from Photoshop.

The idea of the tortured genius has followed us throughout history, but never have we really gotten to sit by and watch the torture inflicted upon him in such detail.  We hear stories about artists like Coleridge fighting a crippling opium addiction, Van Gogh cut his own ear off, and there are countless other examples of people of immense genius who faced some form of tragedy resulting from it, both real and fictional.

I think that there are people in this world that are always questioning the world around them.  These people—the ones always asking questions—do not always find themselves facing permanent happiness, in many ways due to that tendency.  Instead, they face the realization that there is something about them that will never allow them to just skate through life with a grin, but will be faced with periods of intense sadness and difficulty.

I do not want to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about those people.  In fact, I am only going to leave that mention above as the proof they exist.  I am not concerned with whether or not those people actually populate the world (they do, I’d say I am one of them), but with House and the reading too much into it.  So for the purpose of this, accept that those people exist.  I think we can definitely say they exist in fiction.

I don’t think it’s a leap to make that judgment, however, as anybody who has seen House can tell that Dr. House is very much one of those people.  Throughout the entire show House questions everything he can.  He tries to change other peoples’ beliefs, he challenges his own.  He electrocutes himself to try to force a near-death experience.  House is a show about a doctor who is constantly trying to realize his place in the world and realize a relationship with Cuddy—he just happens to practice medicine on the side.

No caption necessary.

That assertion may be a little less easy to swallow, but I think the later seasons definitely showed that, as the medicine took a back seat to all of the things happening to House.

Either way, House is a medical genius.  He has the ability to see problems and read people in manner of which others could only.  As such, he is masterful at everything he does.  (One could argue otherwise, since they always get it wrong about 10 times before finally curing the disease.  But that is, really, more an artifact of the fact that the show must remain entertaining for an hour.  If House were fixing everything early they’d have nothing else to show. Or they’d be forced to write more than 10 minutes of non-medical dialogue per episode.)

So House is a tortured genius archetype.  He has numerous demons: his leg pain, his vicodin addiction, what appears to be some pretty serious depression, etc.  All of these demons come to a head when he crashes into Cuddy’s house with his car.

 

What Happens If House Fixes Himself?

Consider, perhaps, that the best argument against House relapsing and dying is the speculating on what will happen if he doesn’t.

In some way, I have no doubt that this season (especially the series finale) will force House to evaluate himself and to face down all of the demons.

I’m sorry all these pictures are the same, but you try finding any pictures relevant to what I’m saying. Instead, I figured I’d just use shitty fake memes to say what I want.

Were house to remain clean he would be forced to actually face those demons and come to terms with them.  Much of House’s misanthropy is the result of various issues in his life, and this misanthropy has only been reinforced, to an extent, in the most recent seasons.  Nonetheless, everything House loves seems to be tainted, die or driven away by his own actions.  Those things in his life he can’t control seem to be shitty, even without him tainting them.

House coming to terms with these would mean that we would be left with a House that isn’t a misanthropist and; as far as the people who stick around despite the misanthropy, he would also have to avoid alienating them—among other things he’d fix.  Like not being dependent upon Vicodin, for one.

I know that misanthropy and alienating people really seem like the same function of his personality, but when you really consider it they manifest differently.  House alienates Wilson and Cuddy in any number of ways and, to play armchair psychologist, it seems more like it’s out of trust issues with his family than out of straight misanthropy.   The relationship between these two character traits is complex, but I think that even if House were to adopt a new attitude toward humanity he’d still alienate people, and I think that situation would apply in reverse order as well.

I would argue, however, that these two major features of his personality are key to his ability to perform medicine.  When House interacts with people his misanthropy causes an immediate mistrust (“Everybody lies”) and he treats those patients like shit.  Additionally, he isn’t afraid of alienating his subordinates, Wilson or Cuddy. He is all too willing to tell them to shove it if he thinks he’s right.

Were House to instantly solve his problems and become a nice guy (which, in reality, the process would probably be shown as one in progress at the last episode), I would argue he would lose his edge in medicine.  He would go into rooms and instead of immediately doubting the patient, believe their stories.  How often did House badger the patient into revealing that he/she was lying and, as such, found out that there was some piece of medical history that was ignored?

And if House creates lasting bonds he is afraid to lose, is he really going to bust into Cuddy’s office (or whomever the Dean of Medicine may be at the time/place) and badger her, too, into submission?  Probably not.

At it’s very core, House’s gift for medicine is dependent upon his being an enormous asshole.

So if you were to, then, end the series with House on the road to facing his addiction and putting it down permanently, then fixing the misanthropy, bolstering old relationships and rebuilding new ones, what of his gift?  To fix House you effectively doom him to mediocrity.  He will practice medicine, perhaps, but not have the same ability to fix every medical problem as he once did.

While we wouldn’t, likely, see the long-term aftermath, I can only imagine that this would be an incredibly difficult transition.  To go from a world-renowned doctor and asshole to being just like any other would be devastating.

So House Must Relapse (Hard) and Die

At his core, House is an addict.  I do not ascribe to the NA/AA belief that once you are an addict you’re always an addict.  But House is a fictional character, and he can exist as someone who is defined by his addiction.  That Vicodin was his fuel and his crutch.  He uses it to get past every struggle, as any addict would, except instead of taking away from the world he saves lives.

Dr. House

Seriously, House not on Vicodin would be like watching ER. At that point, why bother?

And while his misanthropy and ability to alienate anybody are pretty impressive, the fact is that without it he is not practicing medicine with the same expertise he once was.  This, alone, would set him up for future failure.  Consider House 10 years after fixing these issues, realizing he is an undistinguished doctor.  It’s totally feasible that he’d collapse back into addiction, then into his old asshole ways.

But that would not be suitable for television.  House cannot do it over the long-term.  Instead, this season needs to slowly build up tension while making it clear to the viewer that House is near the breaking point.  As he goes through his final days (which he won’t identify as such, necessarily) he needs to get gradually more desperate.  The demon inside of him that says “I need more drugs” must sound ever more appealing with each passing day.

In the series finale I envision a series of events similar to the following:

House, losing those around him begins to question whether or not he needs to really reevaluate his life, but realizes (as I suggest above) that if he does this he might become just another mediocre doctor. He begins to question what, exactly, he is going to do with himself.  The world around him has changed drastically and while things slowly return to normal, he knows it is not the same.  This pressure, along with the pressure to perform his job well and deal with his issues (pressure put on him by peers and friends) will drive him further and further into his addiction.

The season finale will be the climax of this, with little denouement.  Instead, House will be confronted with some kind of ultimatum or other device that turns into “you need to stop the drugs or I’m out”.  I’m sure that, from what I’ve seen of this season so far, it could even be some kind of professional conflict, wherein his drug abuse is brought to the knowledge of some governing body that tells him he must complete rehab or never practice again.  We’ve been down that road before, but his brilliance was enough to send the people who wished that upon him packing.

Knowing that he needs a team to be successful (he has shown this, repeatedly) and that he needs a license to practice, House is faced with the impossible choice of losing the ability to use his gift completely or losing the people who are letting him make use of this gift. Facing this impossible decision, House will take an obscene amount of Vicodin (like the time he ODed on the Oxycontin) and die.

You may think that killing the main character at the end is trite, but it is in this case the only way I can see this series ending well. This is the choice House is, and always has been, facing in the series.  The end of the series must just bring this to its necessary conclusion: the tortured artist would rather lose his life in his prime than lose his gift to mediocrity.

Categories: Media, Television Tags: , ,

When Beef Isn’t Beef (But It Really Is) Everybody Loses or: ABC News Wikipedias “No True Scotsman”, Misses Point, Slanders Big Meat

April 20, 2012 6 comments

It’s a sad thing when I hear about the latest media shitstorm from Facebook.  About a week ago I noticed a couple posts about pink slime pop up in my feed.  These posts indicated that the ground beef I so love had been, for some time, contaminated by some other and disgusting product in a conspiracy by Big Beef to save money and screw me, the consumer.

Big Beef

I can only assume this is what Big Beef felt like when they realized they'd made us eat rat anus.

Terrified that I was now eating 65% oats and 35% rat anus, I pictured evil beef barons putting raccoon’s they found as roadkill and sewer rats into a grinder while cackling maniacally.  But Scott, I said to myself, you’re kind of a journalist now, what with your opinion blog, and you have a responsibility to be well-informed before you tell people how you feel.

Well, me, I’m right (surprise), and I decided that I should probably exert the minimum of effort before writing a scathing condemnation of Big Beef and at least read the Wikipedia entry for it.  It is, after all, what any major news outlet would do, right?

At this point, having read the whole article, I thought I must be missing something about the outrage.  This stuff is just beef that didn’t make the cut (haha! And my friends say I suck at puns.  Actually, I said that and they agreed, but now who is laughing?!) and was ground to be used that way.

Suddenly I found myself overcome by this strange feeling.  At first I couldn’t identify it, but then I realized what it was: I was ambivalent.  After hearing what little I had in regards to pink slime, I had no feelings on the issue.  This will not stand.

And so, encouraged to find some kernel of truth, plant it and let it sprout into a wonderful tree, I read about pink slime for hours.  And then, still unsure of how to feel, I read even more.  Eventually I hit a point where it felt like all I was reading was people saying the same thing in different ways.  I had found all the facts and now it was just opinion.

Now, I hate to let everyone down, especially with me being a liberal and all, but I’m going to stand up for Big Meat.   Seriously.

I guess you’ll want to know why.  Well, it’s simple.  Big Meat, specifically Beef Products Inc., was the victim of a vicious, well-planned smear campaign.  This campaign took the information and twisted it in such a way that there was no way anybody who saw the initial ABC News report could have walked away without hating BPI for their transgressions.

In the end, we all stand to lose.  BPI may lose its business, ABC News lost what little journalistic integrity it had (there wasn’t any to begin with, but I feel like now they’re in Fox News levels of integrity), and the consumers have been misled.  You can file the case of pink slime under B for “bullshit”, and you can stick it right next to other over-hyped public health scares that turned out to be bullshit, scares like living under the power lines.

What Is Beef?

Before I can even talk about the smear campaign, you have to understand where you have been lied to. I understand many of you will probably not be swayed by this post, but if you continue to do research you’ll find that there was no “case” here to begin with.

Anyway, one phrase you keep hearing is “100% beef” or “beef is beef”.  We keep hearing those words, but when it comes down to it what qualifies as beef is the heart of the matter.

Warning: contains beef and pink slime.

You can go to beefisbeef.com and see some of the myths  about pink slime.  As always, however, you have to be careful about your sources.  That site is run by BPI, so they obviously have a vested interest in it.  (Here’s a tip: their resource contains more truth in one sentence than the ABC News investigation in its entirety.)

Anyway, what qualifies as beef? What is beef, according to Webster’s Dictionary?  It is “the flesh of an adult domestic bovine (as a steer or cow) used as food”.  Okay.  But the dictionary definition doesn’t matter much, they don’t have anything to do with how food is labeled or defined.

That’s more the domain of, say, the UDSA. Those guys know their meat and where to put it, so what do they have to say about beef? The USDA defines beef as “meat from a full-grown cattle about 2 years old.”  Well shit, that’s basically the same thing as Webster’s definition.

Beef Cuts

Despite what this image shows, once killed cows do not separate into neat, colored shapes. It is quite messy.

Surprised?  Don’t be.  Beef is the meat from a cow.  There are varying grades of meat, cuts of meat and all of those other things, but the simple fact is this: for it to called beef it merely has to come from a cow.  It’s that simple. But then, I’m guessing you didn’t question that, did you?

What Is Pink Slime?

Alright.  Well beef is an easy one.  But all of the hype about pink slime portrays it like it’s not actual beef–that is, not the actual flesh of a cow.  Clearly they wouldn’t lie to us.  Big Beef are the ones foisting their low-grade slop onto us.

Not Pink Slime

This is NOT pink slime. This image, the top result for a Google Image search for "pink slime" is actually mechanically separated chicken. That's what's in your chicken nuggets. It may look nasty, but god damn if it isn't delicious.

What is pink slime?  Pink slime is the nickname given to “lean finely textured beef” or “boneless lean beef trimmings”.

As an aside, had the media used that name in its smear campaign I’d imagine there’d be less outrage.  After all, the name pink slime is pretty disgusting. The name pink slime comes from the description of one Dr. Gerald Zirnstein—a microbiologist who worked for the USDA in 2002.  In case that name sounds familiar: he’s the “whistle-blower” that informed ABC News about the issue.  Convenient that he happened to coin the disgusting name of the stuff, then happens to be on the news about it later.  Yeah, that’s not fucking suspicious, guy.

But anyway, pink slime is the result of a few things.  First, when they kill that about-to-be-delicious cow and start to cut it up for meat, there is a lot of stuff that doesn’t make it.  You cannot just cut the beef up according to the picture here and then have your cuts.  There are other things in there, and something has to become of them.

Some of the scraps aren’t usable because they come from near the surface of the skin or near various…orifices…of the cow that aren’t clean.  As such, they need to be, say, disinfected, before they could be served to people.  If only somebody could think of a way to use these scraps, you’d have to disinfect them to be safe for consumption, but then you could use every little bit.  That would save money and produce more meat.  Interesting…

Pink slime is, according to Wikipedia, “finely ground beef scraps, sinew, fat and connective tissue”.  These scraps are put into a centrifuge and heated, separating the fat from the good stuff.  It is then ground and run through a process where it is introduced to ammonia gas to kill off all those nasty food-borne illnesses.

Make no mistake, though, that pink slime all comes from a cow—making it all beef.  The process stated above was created by the food industry because otherwise those scraps I described had to be tossed out or used in other ways—such as dog food or cooking oil. (Interestingly, nobody would have an issue with eating cooking oil that is, in essence, partly pink slime.  But get that shit in your beef and it’s wrong?)

(Side note: read up on mechanically separated meat.  It’s in everything and it is goddamn disgusting.  Plus, Cracked has written an article with some interesting facts about the food we eat.  Hilariously, they covered pink slime well before ABC News.

Let me reiterate a point that you’ve heard: beef is beef, pink slime comes from cow meat, thus it is beef.  This point seems to be a contentious one and I simply do not understand why.

The Uproar

Angry mob.

We demand that our 100% beef product have labeling to indicate that it is two different kinds of 100% beef product in one package! Who's with me!

Most of the public attention drawn to pink slime came when ABC News aired a report that showed 70% of ground beef sold  in supermarkets has pink slime. Actually, they didn’t really so much show it as they did “state it without giving a source.”  From what I can tell there are two major arguments against pink slime.  The first argument is something along the lines of either “it’s disgusting” or “it’s not beef and the packaging is lying”.  The other argument surrounds supposedly dangerous chemicals said to be contained within pink slime.

I am, honestly, not even going to justify the uproar with an in-depth breakdown of what’s wrong with it. That is how stupid this outrage against Big Meat really is. Instead, I’ll sum it up with a couple convenient bullet points:

  • The defense BPI is mounting is hilarious in that it is so simple, so ingenious, but also so destined to fail.  Their retort to this mess: “Beef is beef.”  They do not feel they need to label anything because the meat going into your ground beef is, and has always been, beef.  I have never said beef so much in my life.
  • The argument that ammonium hydroxide should be labeled is moot, because it is a chemical used in the production process, not an ingredient.  The FDA monitors chemicals used for this purpose and compiles them into a convenient list of chemicals that may come into contact with food but that are safe for consumption.  See that list here. So yes, even the ammonia argument people are making is kind of pointless.  Ammonium hydroxide makes its way into so much of our food that to remove anything that has it would leave supermarket shelves empty.  Example products include jams, jellies, snack foods, baked goods, etc.

Let me put this another way: there has never been a case of illness in which the exclusion of pink slime would have prevented said illness.  Seriously. If anything our food is safer for it, since E. Coli is still a real problem and the rest of the meat that isn’t pink slime goes through no such disinfectant process.  While normally I would not suggest reading information from the company in question, the defense mounted by BPI is pretty free of propaganda, unlike the arguments against pink slime.  I’m looking at you, fucking Diane Sawyer.

The ABC News “Case”

The true story behind pink slime, the one that has seemed to get no attention at all, is the downright irresponsible and slanderous “investigation” by ABC News.  As I suggested, their investigation seems less like a journalistic foray into the seedy underbelly of Big Meat, and more like they had a slow news day and asked an intern (who happened to be reading Cracked.com) for an idea.

Within the first five seconds you have Diane Sawyer hilariously using the term “whistleblower” to describe their source for this investigation.  Let me make it clear off-the-bat that there was no whistle-blowing involved because there was nothing to report.  The inclusion of pink slime, while not highly publicized, was not hidden or discreet.  It is well within the standards of FDA and USDA regulations.  But this is their first step, and an intelligent one at that.  That said, just because the American public isn’t fully aware of something doesn’t make it a scandal.

South Park News Team

There is more subtlety in this picture than both ABC News reports on pink slime combined.

This “news” segment resembles less anything like journalism and looks more like the episode of South Park where the boys made a news show.  The tabloids were blushing when ABC News issued this report, realizing they’d finally been outdone.  If Diane Sawyer were implying any harder her head would have exploded, coating the screen in pink slime just to hammer home how disgusting we’re supposed to think it is.

Let me be even clearer here: ABC News did jack shit for research.  If they did, they then promptly ignored it in favor of sensationalizing this story.  For me, this issue took many hours research to really be able to write about. I did not slap this post together in ten minutes and call it a night.  Rather, I considered it a process.  First, I read as much as I could.  Second, I considered the sources of the information to take biases and agendas into account.  Third, I formulated an outlook on these events that seemed in line with fact. That is two more steps than ABC News did for this segment.

Instead of information, we’re provided a parade of us countless people who are quick to tell you how evil pink slime is, how it is not good for you and isn’t beef.  The parade pauses, briefly, so that we can learn about how pink slime is made. I’m honestly surprised they provided that slick animation of the process.  I wouldn’t have put it past them to show a picture of a cow shitting as they described the process, just to reinforce that pink slime is bad.

The video shows, numerous times, people saying they wouldn’t feed it to their children. This video is, in terms of composition, a masterpiece of propaganda.  We see someone wrist-deep in beef as the words “real beef” come up, and we get images of industrial factories when they use pink slime.  It’s a classic trick.  In fact, they use pink slime’s actual name all of once in the entire segment, and even then I feel like the volume was turned down and he mumbled it lest we call it anything other than pink slime.

LFTB

"You know, guys, Lean Finely Textured Beef just doesn't have the same slanderous ring to it as pink slime."

And what a powerful name that is.  Make no mistake, had they used its real name throughout the segment opinion may not have been swayed so easily.  I would argue that, out of a sense of journalistic integrity, they owed it to the viewers to use the real name, rather than pink slime, the entire time.  That word alone is propaganda.  Is it any coincidence that a disgusting term for this stuff was coined by a guy who decided to go on the news to get rid of it?  If your answer is anything but yes, you are tragically naive.

But I think, beyond everything, they portray the internal struggle at the USDA amazingly well–at least in terms of suiting their purpose.  ABC News would have us believe that this was a case of a higher-up corrupted by Big Meat versus the little guy, standing up for the consumer.  They link the move that the former undersecretary made from government service to working with the meat companies and imply corruption.  While they openly say that the move was legal before, they point out that ethical standards would not have allowed it now.  Make no mistake, dear readers, politicians that we put in office repeatedly have made far less ethically sound–but legal–moves and never been put under such scrutiny for it.

Now, I understand this was a short segment, coming in at just under three minutes, but ABC News spent more time painting this as a crisis and corruption than describing what pink slime is.   More of the video is devoted to people telling us how disgusting it is than people telling us what it is, and that is telling.  After all, any news outlet with the slightest hint of integrity would have made an effort to inform us of both sides of the topic.  Instead, ABC News opts to skip fairness and go right to the part where their ratings skyrocket because they manufactured a health crisis.

Then you get the follow-up video:

Having done their damage, ABC News continues in the trend of irresponsible reporting by opening up with an organic grocer talking about what his view of meat is.  Now, I may be a little crazy, but doesn’t it seem like an organic grocer would, you know, have an interest in portraying the stuff you get in the supermarket as being disgusting?  Isn’t that the kind of hidden agenda that the reporter should consider before just shoving the guy onscreen?

Beyond all that, what you’ll note is suspiciously absent from both reports is an opposing viewpoint: someone who wants to say that hey, guess what, meat is meat, beef is beef, and this stuff is both of those.

Nixon

That guy wouldn't lie about anything.

Oh wait, they totally did.  But in their fine tradition of journalistic excellence, they show Janet Riley, VP at the American Meat Institute, clearly pissed right the fuck off.  I cannot overstate how hilarious and disheartening their choice of that part of the conversation really is.  You see Ms. Riley, clearly upset, basically yelling at this reporter trying to get it through his thick skull that pink slime is fucking beef.

Short of drawing devil horns on her and implying that she is sexually promiscuous, I don’t know that ABC News could have done much more to paint her as the least credible person they’ve ever interviewed in the history of interviews.  They make her look worse than Richard Nixon, for christ sake.

The desperation and frustration on her face is clear.  To the average viewer it would look exactly like she had something to hide, or perhaps that her discomfort with the situation was a last-ditch effort to cover up the horrible truth of pink slime.

Instead, I have this image of the ABC reporter calling her and, for forty minutes, asking the same goddamn question: “Why aren’t you relabeling the meat?” in the hopes of eliciting from her the exact reaction we see in the video.  The editing on that part is pretty clear, when he is sitting in that sweet video conference room and then we cut to her, it’s a disjointed, jarring cut.  He did not pick up the phone and connect with Ms. Riley already that frustrated.  He provoked her.

It’s the frustration you’d feel if someone points to your dog and says “That’s a cat.”  You try to explain to him, repeatedly, that it’s a goddamn dog, but he won’t listen.  That, my friends, is exactly what Ms. Riley was trying to do to ABC News, but they just wouldn’t stop insisting that goddamn dog was really a cat.

Conclusion

There is so little actual information about this product, to say nothing of the debate, contained within the report that I would hesitate to use the word informative at all.  What ABC has shown us is a collection of interviews with people who are telling us what ABC wants us to think: this stuff is disgusting.  This stuff is not meat.  That dog is a cat.

Fox News

The gold standard of neutrality when compared to ABC News.

When you get down to it, that is what ABC News has done here.  They have managed to redefine beef.  They have taken beef and with all of the force they could muster said “that’s not beef.”   They have called a dog a cat and we, the American public, have bought it.

I don’t know that it surprises me that we did, either.  This is not some small-time news station, but a national outlet.  ABC clearly put their best and brightest behind this cluster-fuck of an investigation, and they produced a slick piece of propaganda.

Before I end this, I want remind everyone here that while Big Meat is portrayed as faceless and callous, and as being in bed with the government to pass off substandard product, there are faces behind this.  In the wake of ABC’s blatant display of journalistic slander BPI closed down three of its four planets.  Because of this report 650 employees of BPI are out of a job.  If production doesn’t resume soon, those 650 people will be permanently unemployed.

It is not their fault they worked for that company, nor should they suffer because of the media outrage.

And in case you are wondering, many of the BPI employees have come out in support for their employer.  I’m sure part of that motivation is to save their jobs, but from what I’ve read some of them just don’t seem to understand why BPI was targeted this way.  Beyond that, many of them have come out to say that they would, and do, eat product containing pink slime.   Amazingly, the news hasn’t bothered to tell us the story of the 650 plant workers out of a job because ABC got a hard-on for taking down Big Meat.  Instead, we hear about the heroic housewives who have saved their children from pink slime at school and supermarkets.  Bless you all, your quest is an honest and noble one.

ABC news has created the next “vaccine causes autism” scare. (By the way, if you believe that vaccines cause autism, I’m sorry.  Then again, if you believe that your children never stood much of a chance anyway–with or without a vaccine.)  They have instituted a full-on firestorm targeting pink slime, a firestorm based upon half-truths and misrepresented information.

But I think the final point is this: this product was cheap.  As a result, you can bet your Sweet Baby Ray’s that prices on ground beef and processed beef products are going up.  That is to say nothing of school districts who now have to replace all of their beef with different, more expensive beef because of the outrage.  While some may argue that it’s a small price to pay for better food, I ask you this: do you honestly think you can taste the difference?  The same burgers your mouth was watering over last summer are the same ones that you’re now deriding as unfit for consumption.

Oh, the winds of change.

Rock of Love is the Pinnacle of Reality TV

June 23, 2011 1 comment

Note about the post:  Alright here’s the deal.  I haven’t posted anything in here in over 8 months.  Until the resume thing.  But that was just something fun I’d cooked up.  Plus, I figured I’d put out a real article since World of Warcraft is only marginally entertaining to me now.  So, I present with you an homage to the best thing to ever come out of VH1.

Here’s the thing, I have never been one for reality TV.  Something about watching other people act like they’re behaving regularly while surrounded by cameras at all times seems trashy to me.  The problem is, I was seriously addicted to Rock of Love, at least from season 2 onward, and by my estimation, no reality TV show will ever come to surpass it.

Here’s the problem: most reality TV is just depressing.  Watching a bunch of guys from Jersey act like they’re a big deal is depressing.  Letting them think the reason any woman ever had sex with them is their sexual prowess is more so.

The Sitch and Pauly D

Raw Sex Appeal

Other shows are equally depressing.  Watching The Bachelor/The Bachelorette is absolutely horrifying to that part of me that believes in all things good and decent.  The idea that there is a woman (or man) out there for whom the only chance at love is to simultaneously have multiple suitors stands against everything my prudish sexual instincts believe.

The fact of the matter is that the singular motivation for all reality TV is the same as every game show: money.  Sure fame plays into it, but only insofar as it is a means to receive money.  Not very many rational people would agree to the terms of the Survivor series but without the potential to earn money or be televised.  Do any of the bachelorettes sincerely believe they will find true love, or are they just trying to be the next recognizable face to resuscitate their dying love life?  Probably not, and if they do they’re probably fairly unstable.

My Next Vacation

This was in the brochure for my next vacation: The Survivor Experience

The problem with Rock of Love is that it is all of these things, and so I am in the unenviable position of becoming a complete hypocrite. After all, Rock of Love is simply The Bachelor but with a celebrity, and it only came after Flavor of Love.  It is not the first and will not be the last celebrity reality TV show.

(A note about celebrity TV shows: It’s exceptionally interesting to watch shows such as Dancing with the Stars, where washed up or barely-relevant stars go to try to revive their career by dancing just better than a drunken toddler.  But the key there is the attempt to revive their careers: they want to be super famous again, or regain wealth they’d lost.  Kind of like Dustin Diamond went on Celebrity Fit Club around the time he lost all his money.)

But this is where Rock of Love’s defining feature comes in: Bret Michaels needs none of the tangible benefits that a “normal” person would need from a reality TV show.  Despite the fact that Poison is likely one of the least interesting (and yet shockingly successful) bands ever, Bret Michaels has a permanent fan base of perpetually-permed women with perpetual cases of the 80s.  To so many women, Bret Michaels is a sex god.  And given the durability of such instant classics as “Talk Dirty to Me” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, Bret Michaels will probably not ever truly want for money.  Considering that Bret Michaels still tours, it’s not totally likely that he’s trying to rejuvenate his career.  Not to mention, Poison is low-key enough now that at the time of airing only the twenty-somethings and people (unfortunately) in touch with 80’s culture will know off-hand who Bret Michaels is.  So while he stands to gain a new fan base in the younger audience, it seems unlikely that tons of tweens were tuning in to watch some guy from the hair metal days act a fool.

Strip away those primary motivations, and you have the core of what makes this show so inherently amazing: Bret Michaels sincerely believes that by dating 25 women at once, he can slowly whittle down the field to one woman to whom he’ll be forever in love. And when he failed the first time, he did not lose faith in this method.  He once again submitted to the scrutiny of the public while dating another 20 women.  Bret Michaels bet his dignity upon this method three times.

Pictured: Dignity.

But the problem is, dating that many women at once is all that Bret Michaels knows, and by providing us with Rock of Love, he has provided us a window into his life and, by extension, all of the hardships that come along with it.  Bret Michaels bares his soul in each season in the hopes that he can find a woman worthy of sharing in his love.  This alone makes the show that much more entertaining.

The pinnacle of the Rock of Love series is the third season, Rock of Love Bus.  Bret Michaels, in a sincere moment of self-discovery, decided that the problem he was having in meeting women was not due to his methodology, but rather that specific execution of said methodology.  Dating 25 women at once was not the problem, the problem was that none of them were prepared for life on the road.  Solving this problem brilliantly, Bret packs all the women on two tour busses and gets them used to life as a Bret Michaels groupie.

The brilliance of this idea aside, perhaps the most simultaneously hilarious and depressing fact is not that the women have a hard time with the travel, but rather with sharing Bret with so many other women.  This issue was there in the previous seasons, but while traveling and touring, there is even less time to be with Bret.  So the fact that they are sharing him really hits home for all the women. One can only imagine the conversations Bret had with the contestants that never made it past the editor’s table.

"Listen, Baby, you have to get used to the groupies. I'm not giving them up."

But I don’t think so far I’ve really touched on some of the best parts of what makes Rock of Love the ultimate reality TV series.  I think when it comes down to it the most hilarious part is the fact that Bret Michaels takes everything—including himself—so seriously.  To him, touring is not about appealing to fans stuck in nostalgia, but a serious act of art, a part of his life that he could not conceive of moving beyond because it is so integral to his personality.

To Bret Michaels, Poison is still one of the biggest bands in the country, if not the world.

Time and time again, Bret questioned whether the women who were with him were there because they cared about Bret Michaels the person or Bret Michaels, front man of Poison—all the while blissfully unaware that those two personalities were in no way distinct.  This self-delusion, the idea that somehow Bret Michaels is not defined by his career only leads to more hilarity.

I still remember one scene from Rock of Love Bus that is still hilarious to this day.  In it, Bret is on a date with a contestant at which point he whips out his guitar and starts to sing “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”.  Predictably, he had sex that night.  There is something absolutely surreal about watching him stoop to the level of a horny teenager in order to extract sex from a contestant.  There was something so amazing about watching Bret decry women who only saw him as a musician only to woo them with a classic ballad later that episode.

Though Rock of Love is gone now, I still cannot help but feel a certain void in my life as a result. (I know, that is a little upsetting to think about.)  I plainly recall spending Sunday nights with my friends watching the show, eating shitty Chinese food.  Every time Bret Michaels said something that objectified a woman I could not help but laugh—not because that type of thing is funny, but because to Bret Michaels there is no other way to talk to a woman.

I will always remember watching Bret Michaels make the contestants act as roadies, picking up microphones while being pelted with objects by the audience.  I will always remember how irresponsible it was of Bret to let the contestants watch children as a means to test their maternal instincts (the group had none).

And in the end, watching Bret Michaels puzzle over his failing love life—utterly unable to pin down the problem—was the most deeply satisfying thing about the show.  In the end, even the most die-hard groupies just could not abide that for long.  I’ll admit it’s a bit petty of me to revel in another man’s misery, but when that person is so shockingly self-delusional and self-absorbed there is something amazing in watching relationships implode all around him.

I just can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever get a fourth season.

Categories: Media, Television

Shows That Irk Me (But I Watch Anyway): House

July 28, 2010 Leave a comment

I watch a lot of TV.  I love reading, and do quite a bit of it as well, but TV has really taken a hold of me. Now before everyone is up in arms about the fact that TV rots the brain, let me point out that I don’t watch TV to tune out and stop thinking.  If anything, most of the TV I like is the kind that gets me thinking that much more.  Sure, it’s no substitute for a good book, but it’s a great medium with a lot to contribute.

That said, TV seems to have one negative quality that I just can’t get past: no matter how much I love a show, there is still some part of it that irks me to no end.  I watch the shows anyway, but sometimes can do little else but shake my head at the latest minor annoyance.  So, to kick off the first entry in my “Shows That Irk Me (But I Watch Anyway)” series, I’ll begin with House.

There, I said it.  House irks me to no end, sometimes.  This is probably one of my most major complaints.

Why are you talking down to me?

In his bestselling book Everything Bad Is Good for You, Steven Johnson uses the term “flashing arrows” to describe “a kind of narrative signpost, planted conveniently to help the audience keep track of what’s going on” (73).  He goes on to further point out that “flashing arrows have grown [. . .] scarce” in recent television (74).  What Johnson argues is that, in general, TV doesn’t play down to the viewer anymore.  Multiple plots and the lack of flashing arrows leave viewers to draw their own conclusions and trust that the writers are leading them the right way. I’ll spare you the further details of what Johnson’s ideas about television, but I’ll use his particular term quite a bit in the discussion of House. To wit:

This clip is what irks me about House.

House is an intelligent show.  Its drama tends to be well-conceived, even if it is occasionally a bit on the ludicrous side.  The show has unique ailments and multiple threading (thank you, Steven Johnson) that make the show a task to follow.  As is a more common trend with television of late, there is an overarching back story to each character that is revealed little by little.  The sum of these parts is a show that is well-written with characters that—for the most part—feel real and interesting.

Then the writers add in scenes like the one above, and they do it frequently.  It seems as though in every episode the viewer is condescended to about what, exactly, these illnesses are.  Now, I’ll play devil’s advocate for a moment: some of these diseases are quite rare, and as such it’s reasonable to assume that we’d like some explanation.  But that doesn’t forgive the fact that the writers often add in these flashing arrows poorly.  It would be one thing if the writers script a scene where a doctor explains to a confused patient what just happened.  A bit hackneyed, perhaps, but also significantly more believable.

Instead, the team of doctors is frequently assembled in House’s antechamber performing a differential, during which time one doctor will explain to the rest what a certain illness is.  Didn’t they all go to medical school?  Not to mention House wouldn’t choose an incompetent practitioner for his team.  It’s hard for me to swallow the fact that Taub needs Foreman to explain to him what a myopathy is.

Medical Dramas are ubiquitous on television.  By now, I feel as though the average viewer can connect most of the dots on what a particular ailment is.  Flashing arrows are rare in most television shows, which is probably why it bothers me so much that House seems to rely on them so heavily.

People Don’t Change (Or Do They?)

This is another part of House that bothers me a bit.  House’s belief that nobody ever changes and everybody lies have become central tenets of the show.  Most of the drama in some way plays into this idea: Taub repeatedly cheats, Cameron falls for people she can’t fix and Foreman keeps alienating those around him to further his career.  Not to mention Cuddy and House will always have some kind of sexual tension, but never be able to reconcile it.

So if people not changing is so central to the plot, why is it that the most recent plot developments have centered around House changing?

I’ll play the devil’s advocate again: sure, most of the characters don’t change, but the impact of House changing is what makes the new twists in the drama so interesting.  The fact that House’s beliefs are so central to the show and yet those are the the ones being challenged–by House, no less–is what creates even more dramatic impact.

This argument is good enough.  But it’s outweighed by the fact that none of the other characters ever seem to learn anything from the lessons around them.  Cuddy even makes the mistake of avoiding a potentially great life with someone who isn’t emotionally damaged to run back to House.

If there’s one lesson I keep on learning from House, it’s that people never change.  And if that’s the case, then the end of the latest season seems to fly in the face of everything.  Cuddy and House kiss, ostensibly because House is confronting his demons and, finally, at a point where he might be able to commit to Cuddy.

What this means for the show is likely going to be one of two things: House and Cuddy work out and House recovers from his addiction, or House relapses. Seeing as the show seems to be heading toward Huddy being a more permanent fixture, I’m not holding much hope for the show sticking to its “nobody changes” guns.

Which is why the drama in House causes me some concern.  The lessons always go back to House being right, and House never views humanity favorably.  Yet here we are, looking at Huddy working because House, of all people, changed while everybody else remains a flat fixture in House’s world.

Categories: Media, Television