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The real education of our youth

Author’s note: I wrote the bulk of this piece a few years ago so the commercials that I refer to are no longer in circulation.

There are a lot of big things in this world that trouble me: an ill-purposed war, oil gushing into the ocean for weeks on end, and the constant attack on reproductive rights, just to name a few.  But there are tiny things, everyday things that most people don’t notice but to me, they make me think that something just isn’t right.

We’ve all seen commercials on TV and heard spots on the radio to stop underage smoking.  The White Lies spots are great, but there is another one that, when I first saw it, raised my eyebrow.  The commercial starts out typical enough with scenes of parents doing things with kids (fishing, playing catch, etc.).  Then there is a voice-over along the lines of: “Talking to your kids about not smoking does not have to be as hard as it seems.”  Cut to Dad playing ball with Son.  “You know,” says Dad, “smoking will hurt your game, too.”  “I know, Dad,” says seven-year-old junior.  “I won’t smoke.  I promise.”

Pause the TiVo for a moment.  I probably said the same thing to my parents when I was little.  Even after losing two grandparents to smoking-related issues and being in countless anti-drug campaigns in junior high and high school, I still took up smoking for a few years.*  Now, I’m not saying that this will happen to every kid who promises not to smoke – it must certainly be effective to some extent, but let’s be realistic.  It will happen to some.

Again, the voice comes over the image of Dad and Son.  “To get help on how to talk to your kids about not smoking-”  At this point, the viewers at home are all nodding, thinking that this is a great commercial and whoever is sponsoring it must be great as well.  After all, they’re looking out for the next generation.  “-go to Phillip Morris dot com for conversation starters today.”

Stop.  Rewind.  Play that again.  Phillip?  Morris?  The Phillip Morris?  The tobacco industry is giving us advice on not smoking?  Here’s a piece of advice I’d like to give them: just stop making such a deadly product!  If they’re that concerned about the health of a nation (and something tells me that they aren’t) then they should get out of the business entirely.  Come to think of it, the whole commercial thing may be part of a settlement from being sued by all the people they made sick in the first place.  Or maybe they’re trying to re-image the company so that when Son turns 18, he’ll remember what a caring and thoughtful company Phillip Morris was and buy their brand of cigarettes instead of the competitions’.

What’s next?  Shall we turn to the makers of Jim Beam to teach us of alcoholism?  Will they now be sponsoring weekly AA meetings?  I know!  The D.A.R.E. programs at school could be lectured by crack dealers while abstinence-only sex education can be taught by prostitutes.

These thoughts ran through my head one night while trying to fall asleep.  When I woke the next morning to the radio, the DJ was promoting some event so my ears perked up.  “Come join us at the McDonald’s in Broad Ripple” (aka: where the college kids go to drink).  “We’re down here with the Diabetes Association-”  My ears stopped listening as I mentally slapped my forehead.

We wonder why the youth of America is so messed up but I know it’s because of things like this.  We’re sending mixed messages.  Verbal message: Eat healthy and avoid diabetes.  Image message: McDonald’s is healthy.

McDonald’s is anything but healthy and when I say this to most people, they say that McDonald’s is getting healthier options, like salad and milk.  Salad with deep fried chicken strips on top?  That kind of defeats the purpose.  And while milk is ten times healthier than soda, soy milk would be even better as it’s not chock-full of hormones.  The yogurt parfait?  Anyone who saw Super Size Me can tell you that the ice cream sundae has less calories than the yogurt parfait.  Something is definitely wrong here.

My overall feeling is this: if a company is doing something harmful to its consumers, then they should just stop doing it rather than trying to fix it after it’s way too late.  Phillip Morris, stop making cigarettes!  It’s not enough that you have a campaign to prevent youth from smoking.  If it’s such a bad thing, then you shouldn’t be in the industry in the first place.  And McDonald’s, if you are going to provide healthy options, then make damn sure they are truly healthy and drop everything that isn’t (as in, the whole menu).

We can’t just put a bandage over the wound and expect that to be good enough.  We must medicate and treat the would for it to heal, yes, but we must also prevent more wounds from ever occurring.  At the same time, we need to stop sending mixed messages to our youth now or before long they won’t be able to decipher what is right from wrong.  We need to stop screwing over the next generation and start helping them to become well educated, free thinking adults.

*This is one of my greatest regrets in my life.  It took a few tries but I did quit.  I haven’t had so much as a craving for a cigarette in over three years.

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Posted by on May 26, 2010 in Rants

 

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Sponsor of Ideas

In seven short months I'll be turning the big 3-0.  To mark this
momentous event, I want to throw one kick-ass party. However, I am
poor and cannot afford to throw one kick-ass party.  But perhaps there
is a way around having to foot the bill.

A few months back I was watching TV when a commercial came on.  I
didn't pay much attention to it but the general concept was people
young and old blowing out candles, opening presents and being happy in
the presence of family and friends.  Everyone was smiling and laughing
and having a really great time.  Then a voice over announced that The
American Heart Association was the sponsor of birthdays.

Bingo! I have a birthday and a need for someone to foot the bill or
sponsor my party.  Why not have the AHA do it?

I know that they won't really be able to (plus I don't want to take
money away from their life-saving projects).  But ever since I saw
that commercial, I've noticed a few other companies also sponsoring
ideas.  Intel is the sponsor of tomorrow and a jewelry
store where I live proudly displays a banner that says, "Sponsors
of Happily Ever After".

Now, I get that these types of sponsors are free for the companies but
what if there was a law that they had to pay out?  If the world ends
(in 2012 or later), would Intel pay us great sums of money because
tomorrow never came?  Of course, they would have to pay us in the
afterlife, if you believe in such a thing.  And what about the jewelry
store?  Say your significant other leaves you.  Will they pay for
the divorce proceedings?

Perhaps the law should be the opposite.  If the world continues to
exist, if tomorrow does come, then Intel would have to pay everyone.
The jewelry store would have to pay each couple for every day they
stayed together.  That would definitely solve money issues that many
marriages have.
 
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Posted by on May 7, 2010 in Rants

 

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On the fence about abortion? You won’t be anymore.

For the longest time, I’ve gone back and forth over whether I’m pro-choice or pro-life.  At first I sat on the fence.  “Well, it’s okay if the woman was raped or it was incest.”  Looking back, I think I was afraid of the conflict and to voice my true opinions.  Then I was strictly pro-choice.  “A man (read: white man) cannot tell a woman what to do with her body!”  I still firmly believe this.  Then I wavered over to the pro-life side.  “I’m a vegetarian.  If meat is murder, then so is an abortion.”  While I still believe this, one thing is for sure: after reading Cristina Page’s How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, I will never align myself with the pro-life side.

While the book does talk about abortion to a fair extent, it talks more about preventing the need for abortion, stopping or reducing the amounts of unwanted pregnancies, and providing comprehensive sex education and health care, among other things.  Page’s thesis is that the pro-choice movement has done more to reduce the need for abortion than the pro-life side, who works toward stopping people from having sex if its purpose is not for creation.

In every chapter Page presents a testimony to the different ways the pro-life movement is fighting to completely stop anyone who is even remotely thinking about having sex for fun.  Page starts with the horrifying cases of women going to get their birth control prescription filled only to be turned down by a righteous pharmacist who is against abortions.  This is completely absurd and Page backs up my feelings toward this.  First of all, what pharmacist is to say what is best for this woman?  That is what her doctor is for.  Maybe she is getting birth control pills because she has had heavy, irregular periods and terrible cramps for the past 10 years and the pill will help alleviate the pain and control the timing and flow of her period.  This woman may very well be waiting until she is married to have sex, but the righteous pharmacist just jumps to the conclusion that the pill is for pleasure and not at all for medical reasons.  Second, the pill does not abort a fetus.  It is scientifically impossible for it to do so.  What it does do is help prevent pregnancy, but does not terminate a pregnancy should one occur.  Unfortunately, as Page points out, some pharmacists (and other right-winged extremists) do not see a difference: preventing a pregnancy is the same as killing a child that God has created.  If you are on the pill and having sex that is not pro-creation, you are obstructing God’s plan and are therefore evil.

Another chapter includes why even condoms are bad, according to the right-winged extremists who, incidentally make up statistics about the failure of condoms in order to scare kids into thinking it isn’t safe to use.  Ironically, what ends up happening is that kids think that it is pointless to wear a condom and then have sex without one, which severely raises the risk of an unwanted pregnancy and the need for abortion.  This also ties in with the abstinence-only sex education that W so widely promotes.  Our children are only being taught one thing: wait until marriage.  So those who don’t wait (and what a staggering statistic that is) don’t know what the phrase “safe sex” means, again raising the risk of unwanted pregnancy and abortion.  Should it solely be the school’s responsibility to teach sex?  No.  Parents need to get involved, too, but many parents are too afraid to approach their children about this so if the only information these kids are getting is from the school, and the school does not provide them with what effective birth control is (ie: how to wear a condom properly) then they’re going to just have sex anyway.  Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the people who wait until they’re married.  But I’m a realist and know that not everyone will wait.  I also firmly believe that to cut back on the amount of STDs and teenage pregnancies today, we need to be telling our children everything there is out there on sex, not just, “Ignore those raging hormones.  They’ll go away in about 20-30 years.”

The scariest chapter (they were all quite terrifying to me), was how the pro-life movement in America has drastically changed how people live and are treated in countries all around the world.  The most staggering story was how one American-based group comprised of just six people stopped $34 million in funding to UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund, formally United Nations Fund for Population Assistance) who, among other things, provides safe health care for new mothers and infants in third world countries.  By getting the president’s attention with fraudulent accusations, the small group Population Research Institute changed thousands of people’s lives.  One calculation was that $34 million could have prevented “4,700 maternal deaths and 77,000 infant deaths” (page 138) world wide each year.

To this date I still go back and forth in my head as to whether I’m for or against abortion.  Perhaps you do, too, or you know you are one or the other.  Wherever you stand on the debate, make sure you know you are behind it a hundred percent.  If you’re pro-life, be sure you are also against sex outside of the marriage, comprehensive sex education, and many, many other things that would prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions in the first place.  Take a look at this book and decide whether you can stand for all of that when you say you are pro-life.  Before I read this book I thought I could say I was pro-life, but seeing what pro-life really stands for, I will not say that any more.  I’m going to say I’m pro-alternatives and pro-education.  Ask me if I’m against abortion and I’ll tell you that we need to have an alternative first for everyone, not just privileged white women, before we eliminate abortion all together.

How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and War on Sex by Cristina Page published by Basic Books ISBN: 0465054897

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2009 in Literature

 

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Another piece about America’s obsession with body image

It’s amazing that just a few years ago, the Atkins “diet” and the South Beach “diet” was all the buzz and fast food places were scrambling to keep their customers.  (First off, never will the words “fast food” and “diet” equate.)  Pizza places replaced crusts with tortillas.  Sub places replaced baguettes with tortillas.  Hamburger joints added salads to the menu.  (Second case in point: topping a salad with deep fried chicken strips defeats the purpose of “healthy alternative”.)

Now, just a few years later, the books are off the bestseller lists and food chains are no longer trying to bring out new products that are low in carbs.  It would seem that people are wising up.

Not so much.  The no carb fad was simply replaced by other fads.  One line of diet books looks at women (not men) from foreign countries and scrutinize why they are thin and Americans are not.  It started with the French, then the Japanese, then the Mediterranean, among countless others.  Do any of these authors take into consideration that Europeans are less stressed and exercise more?  On average, their work weeks are shorter and vacations are longer.  They don’t drive a block to the grocery store for three candy bars and a soda.  And speaking of which, do the authors make note that America is the only country who is both overfed and undernourished?

I don’t read these fad diet books.  I’m smart enough to know that eating truly healthy options and exercising is the best way to lose weight and keep it off.  And the surprising bit: I’m not a rocket scientist nor a brain surgeon.

But Americans’ obsession with body image does not only spread throughout the bookstores, but on our televisions as well.  We have reality shows dealking with the “issue”.  Celebrity Fit Club is one which I’ve never seen, but it sounds like B-list celebrities that have not only passed their prime, but passed their waistline.  One of the most popular of these types of shows, however, is The Biggest Loser, a show that, once I start watching, I cannot tear my eyes away from.  For those who have not seen it, the show consists of a big group (pardon the pun) of obese people who go to boot camp to lose weight.  Their lifestyles drastically change from day one with rigorous exercise and healthy eating.

Take a moment and imagine a reality show like this for smokers: The Biggest Hack.  Contestants come to a ranch-style home and must quit smoking cold turkey.  They are tested and tempted every day with piles of cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco.  Then, at the end of a long, smokeless week, the contestants participants go up on stage, one at a time, and see who hacks the longest and loudest, with bonus points if anything is dislodged and spit out.  I’m a bit surprised, actually, that NBC hasn’t picked up on this concept yet.

But on The Biggest Loser contestants are stripped down to the bare minimum and made to stand on a huge scale while their weight is broadcast to the world.  Could anything be more embarrassing?  The viewers at home gasp and cover their mouths when they see the huge (literally and figuratively) numbers reading from the scale.  “He’s three hundred and fifty-eight pounds.  Good god!” the viewers may say (and probably between bites of Doritos).

Why don’t we ever put a model on a scale on national TV and criticize her?  “She’s only ninety-six pounds?  She needs to gain weight!”  This would also be a good reality show: The Smallest Bulimic.  Geared toward teens and pre-teens, girls (no boys) from all over the country come to the ranch to chow down on foods and try not to throw it back up.  The person with the greatest weight gain gets the prize.  Hell, if they gain too much weight, they could just go over to The Biggest Loser.

My point being is that America has an obsession about losing weight and looking great.  Is it wrong to be healthy?  Absolutely not, but skinny does not equate healthy.  Fads are just that – fads – and will work for only so long.  The Biggest Loser is not the only show out there about body image, but certainly it is a lot better than some, like The Swan.  But the amount of energy and time focused on losing more and more weight raises questions in my head.  My questions are as follows: Why don’t we see shows on television devoted to helping smokers or bulimics and anorexics?  Why is the fad diet book section three times the size of the eating disorder section in bookstores?  Why do we publicly criticize fat people but praise skinny people when in all likelihood they are just as unhealthy?

Something is very wrong here and it’s time for a change.  It’s time for a revolution.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2009 in Rants

 

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