Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Robert Fulghum Is Dangerous

Robert Fulghum, the All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten author, persists in that paternalistic tone of his years later. He uses that cute “we,” when he means “you,” just like I did with the boys when they were little. “We should pick up our toys.” In his signature work about kindergarten lessons, Fulghum has that comfy little Clean up your own mess and later, just in case you missed it, hammers the candy nails into your tongue by explaining how these things are the key to “Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.” Really.

This latest is a suggestion that Anheuser-Busch use their commercials to show that real men recycle cans and bottles. C’mon guys, how much would it hurt? Take one for the team here. It’s for a good cause, you selfish bastards.

Yet why stop there? Why not use beer commercials to show that real men eat nutritious meals with their beer? And are involved with their kids. You couldn’t have the kids in the same shot as the beer, of course, but you could do cutaways to guys playing with kids, doing homework with kids. And welcoming flamboyantly gay men into their bars with a slap on the back – just think how much good it would do. Those great bar scenes with guys laughing while they drink Bud – those should have fluorescent bulbs.
And more old people.
And reminders to get prostate cancer screenings.

Beer companies shouldn’t have to carry the whole weight of course. Ads for pickup trucks, feminine hygiene, and personal injury lawyers should all include helpful additions. Heck, every commercial should include at least five “encouragements” for people to do the right thing. Even the public service announcements would have to multitask. Quit smoking…and don’t discriminate in housing. It would leave less room for actually selling products, but if everyone had to comply it would be a level playing field. What’s your problem, pinhead?

Better yet, why not have companies pay for commercials to tell us what to do? Programs would interrupt every five minutes for a minute of reminders, sponsored by various companies: Don’t drink and drive…Charles Schwab…save energy…Coca-Cola…learn about epilepsy…Jeep Cherokee. These companies should be grateful that we even let them use the public airways, dammit. They’re rich, they can afford it. It’s public service. And it’s voluntary, so you can show what a responsible caring company you are. ‘Cause if you don’t we’ll gradually make it mandatory. We’ve done it before.

Genial Grampy Bob is just much wiser than you, “Don’t hit people.” Did you hear me George Bush? Don’t hit people. “Share everything.” Corporate America, you’re supposed to share everything. Do I need to pull this car over? This is modern liberalism with the mask slipping, telling us that it’s all so simple, and everyone knows what the right thing to do is except for some recalcitrant selfish people. How sweet. How condescending. How vacuous.

Conservatives should have their version too. Feel free to take this and improve on it and pass it on. Just try not to stretch a point – it’s not necessary.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Supervising Kindergarten

People get in less trouble if they are doing something constructive.
Victims have to be protected and bullies have to be contained.
You can make people share community property, but it’s not fair to make them share their own: not their lunch, not their clothes, and not the drawing they carefully colored.
No one cares for community property unless you make them.
People like giving things, but not having them taken.
Natural rewards build self-discipline. Bribes undermine it.
You have to learn justice before you can understand mercy.
Boys and girls are not always the same.
Don’t encourage show-offs. Remove their audience, don’t add to it.
Not everyone who speaks has something to say.
Everyone’s got an excuse.
Jealousy leads to cruelty.

These rules hold up for governments and politics and ecology, too.


Dubbahdee said...

ummm...just for the record, allow me to humbly point out that companies actually do tell us what to do in their commercial advertisements. That's the whole point. They tell us to do what the want us to do. And...if their presentation is compelling enough, we do it.
Or if not, we ignore it, mock them, or complain about their audactity.
Good stuff. I like your rules.
Goodness gracious I do love this country.

Unknown said...

Well done and well said!

Anonymous said...

Dag-gone-it AVI, you took the all best ideas for my next best-selling book!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

dubbahdee - yes, but I'm sure you recognize the distinction. They are telling us something to their own advantage and paying for the privilege.

TV and radio are already shaken down a bit with those PSA's they have to play. Having people publicly "suggest" other good things they might do is sort of like protection money.

Ben Wyman said...

Anyone who sells a product that we hold in disdain has to play by our rules - if you sell alchohol, tobacco, condoms, or cars that get less than 30 MPG, you are under our direct supervision. Because we let you tell your lies to the world, Ebenezer, and sometimes we've got to force you to say what we want you to say. Everyone else is allowed to hawk their product freely, because it's the American Way.

In fact, a lot of things about commercials have gotten strange in recent years - in particular, the law about listing the side effects of a medication during a 30-second commercial. Sometimes that's all the ad has time to tell you. How is this helping the consumer? They're going to have to have the same conversation with their doctor anyway.

Anonymous said...

From teaching little people in Sunday School, no matter the lesson, someone will raise their hand and then comment "my cat had kittens" or "I had a nosebleed" because, y'know, we encourage participation.

It's important for the adult to remain the adult and keep the discussion focused on the story at hand and not let the classroom dissolve in anarchy.

Where are the adults now? -cp