Commentary

Great American Lies

An AP story this week said that despite restaurants listing calories on their menus and persistent vows by Americans to "eat healthy" when we eat out, we order burgers and fries anyway. In a country where more than two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese, 47% of Americans say they'd like restaurants to offer healthier items like salads and baked potatoes -- but only 23% tend to order those foods. So fast-food joints are bailing on healthy menus and going with heart stoppers like Hardee's Thickburger, featuring 1,170 calories and 83 grams of fat.

Personally, I don't care if people eat themselves into a coma, although I'd prefer not to sit next to those lard butts on a plane or in a theater -- and there should be a law against wearing yoga pants if your body fat is over about 10%. But the larger issue to me is the yawning gulf between what we tell pollsters and how we really act. Everybody is "health-conscious" and wants to "eat organic" -- but spend some time watching the checkout line at the grocery store, and you'll see a lot of processed junk food go by before you see any fresh fruits or vegetables. According to the AP, eating out is apparently some sort of get-out-of-jail-free excuse to pig out.

According to poll after poll and story after hyperbolic story, Americans are also "very concerned" about "online privacy," yet post pictures of themselves drunk and half-dressed all over social media, tweet about their thoughts (many of which should be kept private) and fail to delete cookies and download programs that would help assure their anonymity online. They don't opt out of being tracked in great numbers, nor write their Congressmen demanding a stop to behavioral targeting. But who among them, when asked "Isn't being tracked online creepy?" wouldn't answer "Really creepy, to be sure"? On the other hand, they don't write their favorite magazines and demand their subscription data not be sold (again and again). Nor do they recoil at being targeted by direct mail because they live in a certain Zip code that smacks of affluence.

When asked how they regard people in the advertising business, Americans routinely rank them just above the perennial cellar-dwelling car salesman -- and just below insurance salesman. Yet there is a mystical myth about being the Guy in the Grey Flannel Suit who wrote "Things Go Better With Coke" or produced the "1984" Apple Mac hammer-throwing spot. Who is pulling down the ratings year after year? Don Draper and the dysfunctional staff of Sterling Cooper. Would you rather be on the assembly line at Ford -- or on the beach in Fiji with Alessandra Ambrosio? Perhaps there is a little more envy than disgust in those survey answers.

Americans also lie about just how religious they are, how many drinks they have a week, the extent to which they cheat on their taxes, how highly they value nurses and teachers, the necessity of war (as long as it is your kid who goes, and not theirs), just what and how much they inhaled in the '60s and '70s, their dress size, how they don't judge people by the color of their skin, and how much they give to charity.

The real wonder is why anyone believes ANYTHING we say in the collective. Just saying doesn't make it so.

2 comments about "Great American Lies".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, October 7, 2011 at 8:44 a.m.

    It's the difference between measuring attitudes and behaviors. I think it's useful to know what people believe, even if they have human failings. And who doesn't. Show me someone with intolerance for people with food or alcohol addiction and I can likely uncover in them a different addiction at play (smoking, coffee, sex, internet, politics), even if I have to interview those who spend time with them to ferret out that human frailty.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 7, 2011 at 9:21 a.m.

    You may not care if people eat themselves into a coma, but you will care if you have to pay for all that fat. The same goes for other foils. The pot at the end of the rainbow is not free. Immediate gratification is not free. Nothing is free. Freedom is not free.

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