by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
August 30, 2007
WHY YOUR 'FOURTHMEAL' MAY BE YOUR LAST
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- America is a land of overwhelming abundance. Couple that with the disastrous idea of building an entire economy and national culture on consuming and you have a good idea why the soul of this country is ailing.
Take that television ad for Taco Bell. It's something about how, when you're out partying all night, what you really want, need, crave, desire and are lacking is a fourth meal late at night.
Of course, thinking of "fourthmeal - "the meal between dinner and breakfast", as the company's cutesy slogan puts it - reminded me of our new, unnecessary and slightly unhinged fourth branch of government (see Vice President Cheney, Dick).
But when American obesity is practically a staple on tv news these days, and dieting is a growth industry - or do the words "glycemic index" not mean anything to you? - the concept of Americans needing another meal left me with my mouth hanging open, and it wasn't with desire for a cheap spicy grilled sandwich.
We all know that advertisements, by their very nature, lie. After all, if you actually need something, ad agencies wouldn't have to work so hard to sell it to you. Ads are designed to convince us that something we've never heard of before will make us safer, or more loved, or happier - like a diamond ring for a woman's right hand.
But do ads also define us? On the theory that by their advertisements you will know them, I grabbed a pad and pencil and started paying more attention to commercials on television. I was appalled.
The first one I encountered was too perfect for words. "Clean American coal, securing our energy future," said the solemn male voiceover. It reminded me of the lead story in last Sunday's New York Times, headlined: "As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes." According to the story, China's remarkable economic growth is fueled almost entirely by "colossal inputs of energy, almost all from coal, the most readily available and dirtiest source."
How bad is pollution in China? According to the Times, "Public health is reeling. Pollution has made cancer China's leading cause of death... Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water." There is no such thing as clean coal. And enjoy the 2008 Olympics, all you elite athletes out there.
By the way, FedEx ships to 200 cities in China.
Moving on to food, why not have some "Crispy chicken with honey sauce," or double-seasoned and double-breaded fried chicken - with zero grams of trans fat and four extra pieces. Or some lobster with shrimp on the side, or "Babybel cheese, 100 percent natural, 100 percent irresistible." You can get a double hamburger for a buck, which will make you a "double millionaire." Or a sandwich so huge that, "Your appetite just wrote a check that only a sandwich of this magnitude can cash."
To wash it all down, reach for an overamped soda drink and "chug it and have no mercy," or remember that 21 vodka brands were tested and Smirnoff won, but please drink responsibly.
All this sets you up nicely for "I lost 30 pounds on Jenny Craig! Have you called Jenny yet?" If not, use Slimfast or Weight Watchers but watch out for the bad carbs.
While you were burping, reaching for the antacids and avoiding like the plague that Bowflex you bought and never used, you probably missed the latest Associated Press story linking obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It named Mississippi the "fattest state in the nation." One state representative said, "If we don't change our ways... we're going to be all fat and dead."
That goes for most of us. Remember, "You're no match for a dangerous clot."
Let's talk about cars. The keys to your brand new Toyota are falling from the sky, while Mr. Opportunity is knocking and earnest tree-hugger types over at Kia are ironically worrying about "the survival of the greenbacks." (If you really want to save the greenbacks, buy a used car, put the greenbacks in a savings account, and lobby for public transportation.)
Money is a big concern in tv ads. "There are some things money can't buy... For everything you need right now there's MasterCharge." Or "Feel free to do what you want" with Chase Freedom cards. And for heaven's sake, don't even think of writing a check. It holds up the line; not paying exorbitant amounts of interest for immediate self-gratification is un-American.
Speaking of obscene interest, "Do you owe the IRS $10,000 or more? Associated Tax Relief can help you." As the worried woman says, "They let us keep our house for pennies on the dollar."
For the rest, it's about cheap car insurance, soft toilet paper, and how "all you need is a clear view of the southern sky."
According to the Buddhists' Eight-Fold Path, life is suffering and the will to have and to be is the cause of suffering. Desire can - and must - be broken, not encouraged.
As far back as 1958, in "The Dharma Bums," Jack Kerouac had his hero define the Buddhist-American lifestyle as "refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming all that crap they didn't really want anyway, such as refrigerators, tv sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume."
Almost 50 years later, doesn't that pretty much describe the American experience?
Believe me, you don't need a fourth meal any more than you need a fourth branch of government. Get a grip, America. You're not in good hands.
A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.