CROCODILE TEARS AND A CASH-REGISTER MENTALITY
by Walter M. Brasch
American Reporter Correspondent
BLOOMSBURG, Pa. -- The news release spoke boldly. "In view of the Septem= ber 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," the release stat= ed, "this is the time for Corporate America and all government agencies to = enhance the safety and security of the nation's high profile buildings." =
Not exactly a revelation. It didn't take another sentence to underline t= he company's intent. "Windows and doors are normally the weakest static con= struction elements in a building," continued therelease, "and are therefore= the first to fail during violent activities and brute forces of nature. . = . . Your property needs protection!"
The next few hundred words explained how my readers could choose a secur= ity level -- and color -- of windows to provide that security, "from burgla= r proof to hurricane resistant and ultimately bullet and blast resistant."
Thousands of businesses, like the window company, obtrusively used the t= ragedy to sell their product.
One investment company told me that if I followed world events, "you pro= bably know that the prices of commodities and stocks reflect international = politics and tensions!" It explained that as the "U.S. prepares its respons= e, tensions could escalate even further in the Middle East. This could have= a DRAMATICIMPACT on the supply of oil and gas therefore increasing = worldwide prices. If this happens, oil and gas companies andTHEIR SHAREH= OLDERS could be poised to MAKE MONEY from any price increases." = To make money from the tragedy, I just had to contact this company to learn= which "undervalued" stocks I should buy.
A writer offered newspaper editors about 400 words detailing Osama bin L= aden's aura, hoping to lure them into buying her weekly column, "Ask Your A= ura." Not surprisingly, she determined that his spirituality is "connected= to a preference for evil."
Most corporate America had pulled all advertising from the tv networks a= nd national news magazines for up to a week following the tragedy while the= y re-evaluated their campaigns. When they returned, they had draped themsel= ves into red-white-and-blue bunting, and told us it's patriotic to spend mo= ney in a lagging economy.
A fairly large publicity firm, targeting book authors, ran a small Ameri= can flag next to its logo, and told us the company "continues to offer our = heartfelt thoughts and prayers to those touched by the events," that it sal= utes "the heroism of those who continue to work tirelessly in rescue and re= lief efforts," and will continue to work with the media "to provide our cli= ents withthe optimum level of exposure."
In case we didn't understand the last sentence, it told us the time to p= ull back on advertising and promotion isn't now because "our experience has= shown us that events like this, although very saddening, create unique opp= ortunities that might not have presented themselves before." To take advant= age of this "unique" opportunity, the company even developed a program that= for only $750-$3,000 would target the media with our message.
One-shot magazines, full of color pictures, began coming off rotary pres= ses within hours after the towers collapsed. Books about the tragedy are be= ing rushed to press; almost any book that has even the remotest tie-in is b= eing hawked. Fueled by Internet rumor that Nostradamus predicted such a tra= gedy 400 years ago, thousands of Americans have flocked to bookstores and o= nline companies to buy copies of his books, edited by others. One book, wit= h a Sept. 27 publication date, is well within the top 100 titles on Amazon.= com.
On thousands of plastic highway signs, words of hope trumpet words o= f advertising. Below "God Bless America," we see "Chili Fries, $1.49." Belo= w "United We Stand," we're told "Special prices on 2x4's!"
During the 1960s, war protestors who wore clothes with the American flag= design were beaten by "patriots"; now the fabric of America is patriots we= aring just-manufactured high-priced t-shirts, pants, and bandannas, all wit= h images of American flags and slogans.
A flyer I received at home combined the flag, a patriotic call, a messag= e of sympathy -- and my inviolate right to buy sofas on sale. General Motor= s, trying to sell cars, declared "In this time of terrible adversity, let's= stand together. And let's keep America rolling."
A laser eye surgery conglomerate tried to convince us getting clearer vi= sion was somehow patriotic. Its newspaper images were of an exhausted firef= ighter, and of someone it claimed to be an FBI agent who praised the compan= y's health planfor federal employees.
A Cleveland mayoral candidate ran tv ads, declaring "If tragedy strikes,= who could lead?" On the screen were still photos of the towers and a woman= holding a flag.
Perhaps these patriotic businesses all mean well. Perhaps they are sadde= ned by the tragedy, and want to let us know they care about the victims and= our country. Perhaps we can hope they have been tortured by the magnitude = of evil -- and the shards of the American fragment that will haunt us for a= generation -- that they will realize the best way to celebrate the America= n spirit is to treat their own workers better, and to absorb a smaller prof= it this year rather than to lay off workers.
But as long as businesses try to mix sentiment and hard sell, there's n= o question our traditional red-and-green Christmas season will be lathered = in a red-white-and-blue jingoism of fourth quarter crocodile tears pouring = over a cash register mentality.
Walt Brasch, a former newspaper reporter and editor, has covered America= n society for more than three decades. His latest book is "The Joy of Sax: = America During the Bill Clinton Era," available at local and on-line bookst= ores.