Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Of messages, money, and manipulation

There won't be anything about the Testosterone Poisoning 400 (a/k/a the Dover race) or Heroes' awesome premiere, as I have discussed both to death ITRW this week. Is that a sigh of relief I hear? ;-)

Anyway, I still can't get over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, being allowed to speak at Columbia and spew all those lies to applause. I was solidly against it, but L'Ailee, as usual, made me think about it anew. She believes that the students should have been able to confront him and see how evil justifys itself. Both of us ended up being conflicted. No, he didn't deserve the audience or the legitimacy or the attention. No, we didn't need a tyrant to come speak at one of our premier universities. However, Ahmadinejad got to see what freedom and criticism looked like from vocal groups of college students, both inside and outside the venue. Everyone there would have been beaten and arrested in Iran, and when the students applauded, I wondered if they knew that.

I think Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post put it best: "If the president and dean of Columbia truly believed in an open exchange of ideas, they should have presented Ahmadinejad with an Iranian dissident or human-rights activist to debate—someone from his own culture who could argue with him in his own language—instead of allowing him to be filmed on a podium with important-looking Americans. Perhaps Columbia could even have insisted on an appropriate exchange: Ahmadinejad speaks in New York, Columbia sends a leading Western atheist—Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, or, better still, Ayaan Hirsi Ali—to Qum, the Shiite holy city, to debate the mullahs on their own ground. " Gods, how I wish that could happen! But I wish a lot of things.

At least he hasn't gone to Ground Zero. Jackass. I'm glad Police Commissioner Ray Kelly denied protection for him for that particular side trip. I know it's irresponsible, but I was actually hoping Ahmajinedad would go to the Empire State Building and stand at the door just as a kid decided to test that theory about what happens when you drop a penny from the top floor.

L'Ailee is even less tolerant of being bossed around than I am, and that is saying quite a bit. Sometimes smart Russian girls go wild when they come to America--Ayn Rand was a foremother of Libertarianism, and Cathy Young (born Katerina Jung) holds it down for Reason magazine today. L'Ailee doesn't write, but she can think. She shook her head over an invitation on the back of the Kashi Strawberry Fields cereal box this morning, a cereal she finds pretty tasty with vanilla soy milk. (Slowly and steadily, I am wearing down her resistance to all things even remotely "hippieish." Yummy strawberries help.) The cereal box copywriter "invited" eaters/readers to "learn more about the organic lifestyle" at some URL or other.

"I don't want a new lifestyle," L'Ailee said. "I only want cereal."
"They're just trying to help the world, baby. To do something responsible with their money and build themselves up in the process."
"That's fine, but why can't they simply sell good cereal made in a good way? Why do they have to use their box as a, a *gateway* to some agenda?"
"They figure if you're gonna buy this, you might be interested in that. Besides, it's basically a means to sell more of their stuff."
"I suppose. Look, I know it is good to help the environment and eat things that are organic. I don't believe in waste. But I also don't believe in a company trying to manipulate a person. Take my money, and leave my lifestyle alone."

I chuckled about it this morning. But I remembered that I have felt the same way. Now, I want to live as organic a lifestyle as I can, and my wife can go along with that if I don't try to make her live with earth-toned everything or eat things that taste like cardboard. TTG, you don't have to do that to be gentler on the Earth anymore. So I don't care if my cereal box has a URL about "organic lifestyles". I think it's a good thing when my Envirokidz Peanut Butter Panda Puffs have facts about the world's cutest animal on its box and Silk brags about its soy milk being made with wind power. But I have said similar statements to L'Ailee's, about different messages.

Years ago, I was dismayed, and then worried that I was a bigot, when I served a frozen Edwards pie to my Wiccan boyfriend (at the time) and Jewish and atheist friends, and I saw a Christian fish and a Bible verse on the bottom of the pie tin. I took a lesson from that--don't cut corners with dessert, make my own! But I resented the idea that someone at the Edwards company would have been delighted that s/he shared the Gospel with a "mission field" consisting of two non-Christian couples at a dinner table. It left, quite literally, a bad taste in my mouth.

I also refused to go to Chick-Fil-A or Domino's Pizza when I lived in Orlando. Here in NYC, I wouldn't go just because I'm not stupid--there are so many much better options! Plus now I know I'm allergic to chicken. But Chick-Fil-A gave away Veggie Tales toys and had promotions where you could get a free chicken sandwich on Monday for bringing in Sunday's church bulletin. (There was no way for a non-Christian to get the sandwich.) I figured Chick-Fil-A didn't want my business anyway, so I stopped giving it to them after a while. I told my friends--wait for it--"I'm going to a place that wants my wallet and my stomach, not my soul." Just like a little bald Russian girl I know! L'Ailee developed her allergy to bossiness from living in the Soviet Union, but I got one from growing up around activist conservative Evangelical Christians.

But the thing is, all those messages and promotions come from a desire to improve the world, to do more than grub for money. Sometimes I think simple money-grubbing leads to the cleanest, most honest business relationships--no hidden agendas, no working against the person who just handed you their cash, no manipulation. But really, I believe in responsible capitalism, in using money as a means rather than an end. I've said that before. We saw at the last turn of the century what unmitigated money-grubbing could do to people; we're seeing it now with oil companies and security contractors in Iraq. So even if I completely disagree with someone else's idea of corporate responsibility, perhaps I should respect the effort anyway? At least acknowledge my own hypocrisy sometimes?

I know one thing. I am definitely grateful to live in a country where manipulation is done with cereal boxes, pie plates, and fast food promotions rather than top-down governmental means, where a message can be taken or left, where ultimately even the bossiest people can only suggest rather than force and their mistakes can be fixed. Well, most of the time. Okay, sometimes. Okay, at least the theory is nice! :-) It's so much more than so many others have.


Representative Peter King made New York State proud by saying, there are too many mosques in this country.

Why are you so tired? WebMD wants to help you out by explaining 7 possibilities.

The Barna Group, a Christian polling organization, finds that young people are suspicious of and resistant to Christianity, especially the Evangelical kind. Young Christians share similar concerns with non-Christians. I hope the elders listen, especially about homophobia.

Forget tracking terrorists--a Homeland Security agent preferred to cyber-stalk his ex-girlfriend!

Halloween and Dia de los Muertes is coming. Time to make those sugar skulls!

Interesting-sounding books about the Salem Witch Trials Most of these are new to me; I'm placing an order with Amazon!

What if Fox News had existed throughout history? Thanks, Ninure! :-)


cats said...

oh, but i love chik-fil-a sandwiches! i always liked the idea that they were closed on sundays so that people had a day with their families. i know the intent was that they go to church, but (speaking from another perspective) it's hard to get people to want to come to church let alone to get over the mindset that they have to work even on the weekends.

i know the other extreme is the blue laws where xtians try to impose sabbath time. which is a bad thing to do... try getting stuck in a hurricane at the jersey shore when they won't sell batteries on a sunday because you might use them for work instead of for your radio so you can find out if you need to evacuate or not. which happened to me when i was a teenager.

CrackerLilo said...

I don't know. I like the idea of an automatic day off (I sometimes wouldn't get one for a month in Fast Food Hell!), and people can work where they want, buy what they want, and do what they want with their business. I just don't think Chick-Fil-A would support people like me back.

Dr. Deb said...

I was very disappointed with the whole Columbia U invitation and conference.