By Scott Roeben
American companies have finally perfected something. No, they haven't quite figured out how to keep certain cars from bursting into flames when they're rear-ended. Nor have they come up with a way to make bacon that stays the same size before and after you cook it. But American companies have succeeded in doing at least one thing to perfection. They've made an art form out of convincing us to ignore reality.
Several examples spring to mind.
Springs, for example.
It's amazed me how much I'm willing to pay for bottled water. Much of it comes from springs in exotic locations like the French Alps, or the Swiss Alps or the German Alps. I have learned that the Alps are a mountain system that runs from the north shore of the Ligurian Sea throughout southeast France, northern Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria into northwest Yugoslavia. This brings up several points:
1) Why have we never heard of the Ligurian Sea? Was this sea counted when they were compiling the list of the "Seven Seas?" If not, some civil engineer has a lot of explaining to do to those sailors who for years should have been bragging, "Aye, mate, I never had time for a wife. I'm married to the Eight Seas."
2) Why is it that bottled water companies never advertise that their water "flows naturally-filtered from the purest artesian wells high in the Yugoslavian Alps?"
3) Where does the word "Alp" come from? Doesn't it sound like the noise you hear when you run over a gopher with your lawn mower?
Water companies have somehow managed to get us to ignore the numerous studies which indicate that the water so generously provided to us by our local waste reclamation facility is every bit as healthy as their snooty, handsomely packaged and grossly overpriced water. Just how they do that remains a mystery. And as in most mysteries, the guilt probably lies with the butleror some advertising executive. You be the judge.
With their uncanny ingenuity, American companies have also convinced us to ignore the once popular notion that the speed limit on America's roadways is actually 55 miles an hour.
How often have you heard the claim that a car can go "from zero to 60" in so-and-so seconds? Now, unless the car companies are trying to save a few bucks by making ads that they can also show in Europe, it seems odd they would brag about a feature in a car that youa law-abiding citizenshould never be able to use. I even saw a spot for a Cadillac recently which touted its top speed as 150 miles per hour. The disclaimer that "of course you would never go that fast" was even more hollow than the head of your average boy band member. Yet you get the feeling that more than a few people have made their car-buying decisions based on these meaningless claims.
But not all our closely held myths can easily be blamed on the big, bad corporate capitalists. Some of our cherished misconceptions come about without simple explanations as to their origins. Our penchant for skirting reality is the same kind of thinking that allows us to believe that all the people who purchase rolling papers are using them to roll cigarettes.
Rightall the semiautomatic weapons sold in America are purchased with the intent of using them for hunting and home protection.
Of course the average software purchaser can be trusted not to let friends copy their favorite computer programs.
Naturally our religious leaders have a better record of marital fidelity than the rest of the members of our society.
Such delusions, it seems, are subscribed to willingly and without reservation.
Perhaps the most glaring of our denials involves the popular myth that Americans actually care about, and are actively trying to curb, drunk driving. Let's think about this for a minute. On second thought, I'll do the thinking for both of us. You don't want to scare your loved ones.
As you know, each state has laws on the books that specify the amounts of alcohol that can be in your bloodstream while you're driving. Many of those specifications are now so strict that having even one strong drink before you hit the road can be a violation of the law. So, how exactly do we explain the continued existence of business establishments whose primary purpose is to serve alcoholic beveragesusually to those whose sole means of getting to those places of business is by car? Bars and nightclubs are being patronized as enthusiastically as ever, but as a society we somehow manage to ignore the unpleasant reality that nearly every person who drives home from a bar or nightclub has been drinking prior to their departure.
Welfare helps people escape poverty, too.
The tobacco companies just want to get at the truth about any health risks their products may be causing.
Melanie Griffith can act.
Bagpipes make a lovely sound.
The average American can find the Gaza Strip on a map.
Our justice system provides equal justice for allno matter how much money or influence you have.
The cows seem to enjoy being a part of the rodeo.
Then there is the Freedom delusion. It's one we don't question too much. It's too much at the center of who we are as Americans. We spent all that dough on nuclear weapons because we had to defend Freedomnot to mention the right to have big hair and to barbecue. Freedom has been the rallying cry of politicians and patriots as far back as we can remember. But every so often we should take a stroll down to our local law library and browse through the billion or so laws on the books down there. If the truth be told, there isn't much in our lives which isn't overseen by a law, or more often, volumes of them. In Maine, you can't catch lobsters with your bare hands. In New Hampshire you break the law if you collect seaweed at night. Vermont has a law stating it's illegal to paint a horse.
You would be hard pressed to do anything that isn't in some way regulated by some ordinance, bylaw, legislation, regulation, guideline or statutory subsection. (It's also interesting to note that most towns and cities also prohibit being "hard pressed"especially before marriage.)
Just try listening to the speeches during the next election. Or read a history book, and take a good hard look at what people fought and died for during any number of past wars and police actions. Yet Americans wear Freedom like a badge.
Perhaps I'm interpreting the term "Freedom" the wrong way.
I could be wrong. Sure I could.
And thigh cream works, too.
© Scott Roeben, 2000. All rights reserved.