Monday, March 29, 2010

Addiction Affliction (Part 2)*

We Americans depend on our addiction to conspicuous consumerism and consumption to appease our addiction to instant gratification, which we finance with our addiction to credit. An addiction to television begets addictions to convenience food and a plethora of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, which give us the illusion of good health and energy enough to pursue mind-numbing jobs that earn us the money to pay for our other addictions. And it seems there's no end to our other addictions.

Television (junk food for the mind) is the mouthpiece for crass commercialism. It's no accident that many large corporations, and more than a few small ones, spend the bulk of their advertising budget on television ads. TV is a popular medium, and it guarantees maximum product exposure to an audience that numbers in the millions.

Natural companions, snack food and television create mutually reinforcing positive feedback loops that entice people of all ages to engage in addictive, self-destructive behavior. A high percentage of TV commercial ads feature snack foods or convenience foods, which encourage people to eat while they watch TV. Nothing stimulates the appetite quite like seeing your favorite junk food rendered in mouth-watering, larger-than-life images. With 1/3 of Americans currently defined as clinically obese and another third described as merely overweight, we should all be thankful that ubiquitous smellevision is not yet a reality.

Junk food, fast food and convenience food—not that there's any distinction between them—provide comfort, satisfaction and pleasure to minds and bodies that crave instant gratification. We like the idea that fast foods save us time and effort, but we also like to indulge our appetite for guilty pleasures.

TV commercials depict svelte young women gorging on candy, pastries and other "comfort" foods. But how realistic is this? Were these bits of hype grounded in reality, they would show people who are dangerously overweight and flirting with diabetes, heart attack, or stroke.

Mesmerized, we sit in front of our big screen TVs, too wired to sleep, too tired to do anything else but watch the mindless entertainment of various "reality" shows. Fear Factor? Disgust Factor is more like it. There's nothing like trying to choke down a TV dinner while some pathetic loser on TV is trying to choke down a bucket of worms. What most people don't realize, though, is that it's probably healthier to eat the worms than it is to eat the TV dinner.

However, should we end up with acute indigestion or chronic insomnia it's likely we'll find the remedy in the next commercial. Collectively, pharmaceutical companies make up another big block of TV advertisers. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs promise relief from all that ails us. We're addicted to medications that put us to sleep, wake us up, calm us down, increase our energy, steady our nerves, cure our colds, treat our allergies, stimulate our libidos, or alleviate our pain. There's a medication to treat just about everything except stupidity.

Face it! Americans are the most drug-addicted people on Earth. We show great tolerance for addictions to legal drugs, but zero tolerance for even the most casual use of illegal ones. How hypocritical is that?

American consumers spend many billions annually on legal drug purchases, a few billions more on illegal drugs, and upwards of $40 billion to fight the war on (some) drugs. Never mind that a lucrative market for illegal drugs can only maintain in a climate of prohibition. We're not only addicted to drugs, we're addicted to failed drug policies, too.

Disclaimers and warnings of serious side effects always accompany prescription drug ads:

Uncle Festus' Hangnail Remover has been shown to cause headache, nausea, vomiting, bleeding ulcers, hair loss, loose teeth, diarrhea, rectal hemorrhaging, and bad breath. Some people may be at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, liver or kidney failure, athlete's foot or dementia. Deaths have been known to occur. Use only as directed. If symptoms persist or become worse, contact your doctor.

Thanks, but when the known side effects of treatment exceed, in number and severity, the symptoms of the original ailment, a prudent person will either suffer through the original ailment or seek out treatment alternatives.

We humans are versatile creatures and we owe much of our versatility to television. Thanks to our addiction to TV and our susceptibility to the influence it has over our lives, we've become portable disposal units for the fast food industry and mobile toxic waste disposal sites for the pharmaceuticals industry. We should probably aspire to something better, but until we see a suggestion for it in a TV commercial, we probably won’t.

*This article originally appeared, in slightly different form, on March 20, 2006, in Issue #27 of Petey’s Pipeline E-zine.

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