Giving Thanks for "Mad Men" Critique & for IVAW
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Email to Peter Aspden:
Dear Mr. Aspden,
It's been awhile now, but I saved your September 18-19 column on "Mad Men" in part to thank you for it. At the tender age of 14, I read Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders, and it's been a lifelong hate relationship ever since. As it happened I became a prosecutor of false advertising in the mid-1980s and stayed with that for the bulk of the remainder of my career (with the NY and Oregon Attorneys General offices). Months and years would go by during every week of which I would encounter a scam so clever and/or outrageous I'd think it could hardly be outdone. So my focus was mainly on the fraud and misinformation disseminated through advertising. But the problem is broader, deeply cultural, in that I think now misleading advertising has become so pervasive the entire population has moved off its ability to trust anything -- there are more factors at work here of course, but advertising has played a key role. Somewhere in the 1980s a visitor from Europe remarked that he couldn't believe how "marketing drives everything" in the US and frankly, I didn't realize what he meant, though I do now.
I wonder if you're aware of how deliberate and insidious the process has been. In the early 1980s the Reagan administration tried to get through Congress legislation to weaken what is sometimes called the law of deception -- revising key factors in the FTC's criteria to make it harder to prosecute false advertising. The Congress then resisted, but the Reagan FTC made its effort to accomplish the deed anyway by redefining its criteria administratively. The result is that from 1915 through the 1980s you have an impressive development of decisional law (court cases) elaborating and defining false advertising, but thereafter the courts had to deal with a somewhat muddled terrain -- and as a matter of law, I ceased having the ability to follow those developments. At any rate, thanks very much for your right-on column, including the delicious phrases describing how ad men "suck[ed] the blood from the momentous happenings around them, turning them into fatuous slogans and inane jingles." Those lines recall to me how at the height of the vietnam War, I would find it maddening to hear on the radio that one could "Double your pleasure, double your fun, with Wrigley's spearmint gum," and a thousand other inanities, while [upwards of four million -- a number I only learned somewhere in the last ten years] people were being murdered in Southeast Asia. Kind regards.
Earlier today, in response to a piece by Clare Bayard for Iraq Veterans Against the War titled "Healing from Empire: Anti-War Veterans Redefine Veterans Day," I sent this email to IVAW:
I'm about halfway through the article on redefining Veterans Day and just want to say I'm thankful for you and your work. You're doing some of the most impressive and important organizing that I'm aware of. In particular, with reference to the mention in the article of the silence of politicians regarding the wars, I think if this isn't intentional it certainly feeds into accustoming the public to the endless war policy, and your breaking the silence is critically important. So thanks very much, and please keep it up. This is among the most important forms of national service anyone is doing at this time.
I also write because you mentioned women vets working on solidarity projects with women in Iraq and Afghanistan. You probably already know about this, but in case not, I want to mention that NY-based MADRE, another of my favorite organizations, has small-scale but meaningful projects helping women and families in both those countries. One of the projects involves safe houses helping women escape from gender-based violence. I thought you might like to connect up with or at least find out more about these projects if you're not already familiar with them.
I hope you're enjoying the holiday.