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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Monthly Archives: May 2011

The truth is, nobody likes to talk about this.

Certain conversations are difficult to engage in because they require an acknowledgement that some strongly-held belief may not be completely accurate, imposing doubt and uncertainty where once stood contentedness and security.

There are those of us who refuse to acknowledge the possibility that our childhood idol was probably a cheating, drunken womanizer, that our favorite “artsy” band is much more interested in money than Monet (and in dollies than Dali, incidentally), or that maybe — just maybe! — the income and capital gains tax cuts we’ve been clamoring for don’t magically pay for themselves.

At a certain point, we must recognize the truth of what other people have been calling “facts” for so long that we have, in our most forgiving moments, unapologetically referred to as “unconfirmed speculation.”

With that said — and I really am sorry to do this — here is some capital-T Truth:

Apples are overrated.

Apple fanboys offer a few arguments explaining why apples are actually underrated, or at the very least, rated just fine the way they are.

Those arguments are as follows:

  1. “Apples are cheap.” (The Prostitute Argument)
  2. “Delicious things are made of apples.” (The Non-Apple Argument)
  3. “Apples are firmly represented in American culture, traitor.” (The Ethnocentric Argument)
  4. “An apple per day keeps the doctor away.” (The Outright Lie Argument)

Let’s take these arguments one at a time:

The Prostitute Argument

Claim: “Apples are cheap and easy.”

Reaction: It’s true, apples are not expensive.  According to the USDA Economic Research Service (which is apparently a thing), apples cost a mere $0.11 per fruit serving, the lowest of any fruit.  The cheapest vegetable, according to that same report?  Cabbage.  Where are the cabbage parades?  Is anyone making the argument that cabbage is the best vegetable because of how cheap it is compared to a cucumber?  (Hint: nope.)

Apples also get a lot of credit for being the quickest fruit refrigerator-to-face.  If you see an apple and are near a source of clean water (to rinse your prize), you can begin munching in under 3 seconds.

That’s just great.

But let’s change the hypothetical just a little bit.  What if you were at a party, let’s say a barbecue, where a plethora of prepared fruits had been placed on a common table.  There are freshly washed apples alongside peeled oranges, watermelon slices, prepared pre-pared pears, fresh grapes, sliced kiwi fruit, and destemmed strawberries.  How long would those apple slices last?

Exactly.

When pit against most any other prepared fruit, the apple loses.

The Non-Apple Argument

Claim: “Delicious things are made of apples.”

Reaction: While it is quite true that apples can be baked or converted into all kinds of scrumptious things (pies, crisps, cobblers, strudels) and even mashed up to make applesauce, it’s worth noting that each of these items has one thing non-apple in common: they require gobs and gobs of sugar.

If you’re favorite thing about apples is that they can be turned into something delicious if you add a ton of sugar to them, I have some bad news for you: your true love is sugar, not apples.  This logic also extends to lobster fans (secret butter lovers), hollandaise fans (cholesterol lovers), fans of playing golf (frustration lovers).

If the best part about something is that it can be converted into something else, it’s quite possible that the original something may not be so great after all.

Sorry, apples.

The Ethnocentric Argument

Claim: “Apples are firmly represented in American culture, traitor.”

Reaction: Apples are everywhere!  They are as American as apple pie!  Candied apples at the state and county fair!  Apple-picking!  Bringing an apple to the teacher!   Bobbing for apples!  The Big Apple!

Yes, yes, that’s all true.  Apples are everywhere.

But nowadays, if a man yells “Apple!” in a crowded theater, he is more likely to conjure images of hipsters waiting in line to buy an iPad than a freshly baked pie on mom’s window sill, its wafting aroma lovingly lifting a longing cartoon hobo off his feet.    In this country, the apple is now sliding into second place on the List of Things People Think About When Someone Says “Apple”.

That’s not a good sign.

The Outright Lie Argument

Claim: “An apple per day keeps the doctor away.”

Reaction: No, this is not true.

Although the mighty Apple Lobby would have you believe this falsehood, an apple each day will not keep a doctor away.  In fact, studies have shown that daily apple intake has very little to do with doctor visits.  Unless, of course, you are a post-menopausal woman.  Lack of proper health insurance (and underinsurance) is far more likely to keep a doctor away.

That said, there may be a situation where an apple per day is an appropriate interest payment on the barter you offered your doctor for necessary medical services.  In those limited circumstances, where an apple/day is the decided upon interest payment, the apple will in fact keep your doctor away, legally speaking.

My Closing Argument

Still not convinced?

What if I told you that my deeply held apple skepticism is firmly rooted in the completely true Bible?

Well, it is.

The Book of Genesis promises us that when Eve (and then Adam) ate an apple from the Tree of Knowledge, they were banished from the Garden of Eden, made aware of their mortality, and forced to endure eternal pain that they would have otherwise avoided (hard manual labor for him and childbirth pain/subjugation for her).  Upon hearing this news from God, it’s not hard to imagine Eve turning to the now-slithering serpent, looking back at the Tree of Knowledge, then making the same point to Adam that I am making now.

“As it turns out,” she would sigh apologetically, “apples are overrated.”

I used to spend a lot of time watching cartoons.*  A lot of time.  I remember shows about dogs looking for ghosts, dogs living with cats, and cats livid with skunks.  And though they were all wonderful in their own special way, one common thread, like a rural drying line in summertime, supported them all.

Cereal commercials.

More specifically, sugar cereal commercials.  Delicious, delicious sugar cereal commercials.

Given my propensity for cartoon-watching, it’s no surprise that I would eventually be inspired to write about these high fructose advertisements.  What is a surprise, however, is that it took me about 20 years of gawking (no, not glawking!) at the Trix Rabbit, Anthony “Tony” The Tiger and Toucan Samuel peddling their wares to notice the faux outrage de jure.

See if you can spot it in this illustrative example:

(Top-Secret Hint: check out the title of this post.)

The offending imagery/phraseology comes about 24-25 seconds into the clip.  Here, we see a snapshot of our now-discontinued hero, Cröonchy Stars, alongside several other breakfast items, as well a snapshot into the mindset of the Ad Wizards who came up with this one.

Part of this nutritious breakfast

Question: What does “Part of this nutritious breakfast” mean?

It seems like the narrator is telling us is that the contents of the big, burnt orange box of glowing cardboard is an essential element for healthy living, but that’s not actually the literal claim being made.

The sentence’s operative words: Part of this.  

The “this” is what’s depicted in the photo above.

So far as I can tell, what is actually being implied here is that Cröonchy Stars, the milk-stained product being pushed into the eyeballs of youngsters (who are now oldsters) throughout the nation, is not by itself nutritious.  The real takeaway is that Cröonchy Stars is part of this, a nutritious meal, and only if the rest of the “meal” consists of non-processed food items that are, you know, “actually nutritious.”

(Note: I am assuming that the contents of the class and what’s being poured into the bowl is not soy milk.)

Sadly, being part of a healthy breakfast that otherwise consists of a glass of orange juice, milk, an apple and banana (look behind the milk jug!), and whole grain toast is like being the player who never gets off the bench for the winning team of the World Series.  You still get a championship ring and are not perjuring yourself when you say, under oath, that you are a champion, but that has more to do with logistics and technicalities than it does with your individual contribution to the team.

ALERT!  PREPARE FOR PERFECT ANALOGY!

In that sense, Cröonchy Stars and cereals like it have a lot in common with Alex Ochoa of the 2002 Anaheim Angels.  If you replaced the Cröonchy Stars (sorry, I really, really like typing “Cröonchy Stars”) in that picture with, I don’t know, say, NOTHING, you would still have a nutritious breakfast.  The same holds true for replacing Alex Ochoa in the 2002 World Series with nothing, assuming you could get “nothing” to fly out to left in his only at-bat with his team down 16-4 in the 9th inning.

(Presumably, this is the first and last time Alex Ochoa will ever be compared to a breakfast cereal [though probably not the first time he was compared to something overhyped].)

It is either ironic or fitting that The Swedish Chef, one of Jim Henson’s genius Muppets creations, who communicates via mostly-incomprehensible pseudo-Swedish babble, is the star of this particular commercial.  As it turns out, it’s entirely possible that the chef’s Nordic gibberish and bloviations are less confusing than the plain English claims made by the narrator.

That said, this marketing-speak slight-of-hand is actually quite remarkable.  The child gets his/her positive message (Muppets!  Fun!) and the parent gets theirs (Healthy!) when in fact neither is true.  Post Foods somehow managed to market food as entertainment and processed sugar as fruits, juice and grains!

Brilliant!

Now, I know that criticizing commercials aimed at children might be considered low-hanging fruit of social commentary, but hey, at least fruit, low-hanging or otherwise, is a nutritious way to being your day.

* I still do, but that’s besides the point.

Behold!  Your vocabulary is about to get one (essentially pointless*) word larger!

[pause approximately 8 seconds for applause]

Since FauxOutrage began, you have learned of punintentionalfauxjectivitygendrification, NetFlixtion, and most recently, annexiety.  Today, I present you with glawking.

glawking (glawk-ing)
verb

to use the reflection of glass, such as a storefront or subway train window, in order to inconspicuously stare at or ogle an amusing or otherwise intriguing person or situation.

For example: “I had no idea why the woman sitting behind me on the metro was crying until I pretended to look out the window and glawked at the book she was reading: Tuesdays With Morrie.  She could have filled both of Mitch Albom’s ears with that pool of tears.”

(Note: Mitch Albom, the author of Tuesdays With Morrie, has enormous ears.)

Humans are curious creatures.  As a rule, we want to know what is going on around us.  This is why traffic grinds to a halt whenever there is an opportunity to watch the cops harass someone other than us.  It’s why we rush to our window when we hear folks talking loudly on the street.  It’s (unfortunately) why we like reality shows (on the basis that they are actually reality).  It’s also why we read newspapers, check out Newsweek, and why we peruse the pages of Playboy magazine.

(Because the Internet is down?)

We want to know.

Unfortunately, though we are always excitedly assessing and reassessing the our surroundings, we also do not want our unwitting subjects to catch us sleuthing.  That is why it is so important that you perfect your glawking skills.  Any translucent glass surface can be used to determine if the girl walking behind you is cute (or a man) and as plausible deniability on the off chance that your reflecting eyes meet accidentally.

Or maybe it will be love at first glawk.

* When you think about it, any word, no matter how powerful, is by itself “essentially pointless.”  In the vast majority of circumstances, if we were to forget/lose a random word in the English language, we would nonetheless be able to communicate the meaning of that word using a synonym or collection of other words.

Homer + Monkey Paw o' Doom

Over the last few weeks, I have inexplicably made several references to The Monkey’s Paw, a horror story published in 1902 by W.W. “W-Dot” Jacobs.  The plot — which is brilliantly depicted in season three of The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror II) — can be summed up by the (alleged) axiom, “Be careful what you wish for.”  In the story, a magic monkey’s paw (is there any other kind?), which has the power to grant any wish, gives the pleading party precisely what they claim to desire, via horrifying means.

It’s true:  We should be careful what we wish for.

One monkey’s paw wish we’ve all been granted is the sudden and ever-increasing number of “self-checkout” stations at grocery stores, convenience stores, and ever-present (in DC, at least) soft-serve yogurt shops/shoppes.  We wished that we never again had to rely on an uncaring human behind a cash register or counter, and I can already tell that this isn’t going to end well for any of us.

A few reasons why.

See any employees?

Self-Service is Anti-Consumer: Think about it.  Stores used to provide a service — a employee hired and trained to scan and bag your purchased item — and that employee no longer exists.  They have been replaced by…you!  Of course, you probably have no idea where the barcodes are on common groceries, haven’t memorized (and don’t plan on memorizing) the PLU# for “loose carrots” (btw: 4562), and have no one to complain to when your cheese log rings up at $5.49 instead of on sale at $3.99.

But hey, congratulations on your new part-time job!  Although, I guess it’s more of an unpaid internship.  In any case, I’m sure the shareholders are appreciative of the valuable service you provide.  Keep up the good work!

Furthermore, self-scanners are not actually a convenience.  They often result in transaction times slower than those with a trained cashiers (ever witness a 84 year old woman attempt to purchase one single parsnip?), shift the burden of labor onto the consumer (away from the corporation), and are helping to create an environment where we are lulled into a new expectation that store employees are not immediately available to assist with questions/problems.

We are on our own.

So, no, self-service scanners are not provided as “a convenience to you.”  The devices are marketed well enough so that we assume Safeway is doing us a favor, but that’s not actually what is happening.  Self-checkout lanes are simply profit machines cranked up and fueled by those of us fumbling to figure out how to pay for two bagels and a bialy from the bakery.  (btw: Even though it is not technically a bagel, a bialy treated the same for the purposes of checking out.)

The future (artist rendering)

Self-Service is Anti-Labor: Since consumers — like you and I — are willing to do the work of low-skill employees, those jobs are simply disappearing.  Poof!  Whereas one employee used to be required for each cash register, the ratio now is as high as we are willing to accept (1:4?  1:6?).

There are those who will point out that eliminating positions will have some kind of trickle-down, positive impact on prices for consumers, but it seems to me that the rise of automation and burden-shifting ultimately does more harm — by keeping wages low (humans competing with machines) and eliminating jobs (humans losing to machines) — than good.  Besides, the belief that corporate savings are “passed onto the consumer” is a bit of a relic.  Unless you are a shareholder, I’d be willing to bet that you won’t see a penny of the the dime you saved on transaction costs.

I concede there is “nothing we can do” to stop our reckless hurtling towards a technocentric, robotic future (computers are already being programmed to complete even the most difficult tasks), but the least we can do is recognize the impact that increasing reliance on machines has on the folks who are required to compete with our digital overlords to-be.  (See: Matrix, The; Terminator, The)

Self-Service is Anti-Social: I once tried to go an entire day without speaking to anyone.  I went through a full day at work (pasted in front of a computer, of course) did my grocery shopping (ipod + self-checkout, of course), and headed home where I chatted with some friends (in front of a computer again, of course) before heading to bed.  It was easy.

Disturbingly easy.

It was so simple, in fact, that I’ve accidentally engaged in a few No Talking To Anyone Days since then.  Oops.  Does anyone think they could go a whole (productive) day without even making eye contact with human being?  It’d be easier than you think.  (Note: You are eliminated from this challenge if you have Aspergers or Aspergerian tendencies.)

It’s not surprising that the rise of self-checkout coincides nicely with the iPoddification of America.  Our cliche morning conversations about weather in the elevator (“It’s a nice day out there.  Too bad it’s Monday!!!!!!!”) have been replaced by an impersonal half-hearted head-nod as one person not-ironically rocks out to Rebecca Black’s Friday and the other listens to a podcast about the correct way to peel a banana.

To that end, we seem to be developing a sense that we should never “have to” talk to another person.  Self-checkout is a metaphor for what is slowly overcoming our society.  That is to say, we are spending an ever-increasing amount time up in our own heads and less time interacting with, you know, actual humans.  (This is not a unique point, but:) In an era where the Internet connects an estimated 28% of the world’s population, we are leading increasingly solitary lives.

It’s amazing what we give up in order to save a few seconds per transaction.

—————–

Epilogue: I recognize that the screed above could have been written upon invention of the ATM, the Drive-Thru, airport check-in kiosks, or any of the other employee-replacing-computer-centric inventions.  However, self-checkout seems different to me in that it actually diminishes the quality of the service received while shifting the physical burden onto us, the consumers.  When you couple these factors with the sizable negative impact self-checkout has on our time spent interacting with other souls, I think we can draw a rather clear line between self-checkout and other inventions like the ATM.

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