Friday, January 23, 2009

Two Commercials

For more than 25 years I have tried to run three times a week. My days of running competitively are long past and my pace has slowed. I used to be offended when someone would say “I saw you out jogging the other day!” but now it is simply an accurate observation.

I try to continue my outdoor running through the winter months, but conditions this year have made that difficult: ice, wind and bitter cold. My goal is to get fresh air and exercise, not a broken leg or frostbite. Such conditions send me to the basement to get on the treadmill. I hate running on the treadmill. It does not provide as good a workout, it is profoundly boring, and I know that sooner or later I am going to space out and get thrown off the rascal.

Usually I listen to music while on the treadmill, but the other morning I decided to watch a half hour of news on CNN while I ran. The first segment was on collapsing financial institutions, job losses and the entire global economy going down the toilet. Now I was both bored and depressed. I was almost relieved when they broke for commercials. Two commercials were shown, and what a dramatic contrast they provided!

The first began with the words “Are you about to lose your home?” It was an advertisement by one of the unethical loan outfits that are profiting from people’s pain and hardship. You have all seen versions of this ad: people in deep despair make “a simple phone call” or meet with “one of our friendly counselors” and their faces light up because the can now keep their house and all of their debts have been “consolidated into a single easy monthly payment!” These firms are vultures preying on the vulnerable, adding to their crippling debt and misery and making it so much harder for legitimate not-for-profit credit counseling agencies like Goodwill's FISC to help them. Chaplains are not supposed to use terms like “May they burn in a particularly unpleasant corner of Hades!” but chaplains cannot always prevent themselves from thinking such things.

The next commercial was for “Tuscan Gourmet Cat Food.” Yes, I am serious: not just gourmet cat food, but Tuscan gourmet cat food. The ad featured a very pampered (and presumably fussy) cat – it looked like it should be sitting in the lap of a James Bond villain – eagerly running to the dish and gobbling its gourmet meal while scenes of Tuscany ran in the background. What in the world makes cat food “Tuscan”? Is it laced with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes? With more and more distressed people lining up at food pantries and soup kitchens, isn’t there something vaguely obscene about attempting to convince consumers that their cat deserves such fare?

Maybe I am just getting old and cranky. Actually, I know I am getting old and cranky. But in hard economic times we should confront the vultures who prey on people’s hardship, and we should challenge priorities that privilege spoiled cats over hurting human beings.

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