On commercials, politics and critical thinking

On commercials, politics and critical thinking

Since I’m not an avid television watcher I haven’t been exposed to any candidacy commercials yet this season. However, I am very familiar with their typical format; they are usually along the same unethical lines as commercials from pharmaceutical companies endorsing the latest diet wonder drug, male enhancement product or sleep medication. With no specific piece in mind, I’d like to address a few of what I see as serious problems that are typical of political and pharmaceutical commercials in America today.

Political commercials far too often utilize the age-old tactic of ‘mudslinging’ which is a combination of the red-herring fallacy and name-calling or accusatory rhetoric. For example, such-and-such candidate comes out with a run of commercials persuading us to vote for him or her “because her opponent did such and such” or “because his opponent voted such and such on such and such issue.”

Another example is the generic “Proposition” format used in many persuasive commercials: “Prop such and such gives more money to schools.” How can such a conclusion be effectively and ethically delivered in a thirty-second time slot? The answer is, an intelligent and ethical conclusion about a complex political issue can never be arrived at via a brief snippets of generalized rhetoric.

In fact, when one actually attempts to read the proposed legislation in the average voting ballot, it often takes far more time than the average citizen is even willing to invest, just to glean the gist of the proposed legislation, which in most cases is vague and poorly defined. If a reasonable, informed individual has difficulty assessing the truth of a legislative proposal after studying for fifteen minutes or more, how can legislative commercials expect to produce reasonable, informed judgments? I don’t believe they can, and in my opinion, political commercials should be severely regulated in all of their forms from candidacy announcements to proposition commercials. 

The pharmaceutical companies commit similar errors as well. There is one in particular that comes to memory; it goes something like this:

“Fat is stored in fat cells…”

“Relacor addresses fat cells…”

“You need Relacor!”

This commercial is erroneous because it portrays Relacor as the solution to the problem of obesity. It completely omits the fact that true causes of obesity vary from individual to individual, and that every individual has a unique body constitution and pathology.

They also don’t tell you that prolonged ingestion of prescription medication in all forms overburdens the liver to a degree comparable to alcohol abuse. But never mind that; you need Relacor! Not more physical exercise, not more wholesome nutrition, not better control of the palette; you need Relacor!

*Side effects include headaches, nausea, vomiting, sudden hearing loss, lowered sperm count and/or priaprism, prostate issues, spontaneous combustion and dropsy.

As another example, I think of President Bush’s speeches in general, but specifically, his State of the Union Address in October of 2007. In it, 43 claimed, “The state of the union is strong, the cause of America is right.”

These statements are unethical in my opinion as well as dishonest. For one, both issues are entirely matters of opinion, but Bush stated them as matters of fact. Furthermore, as usual, Bush failed to include an objective standard by which the reasonable, intelligent listener could judge his assessments. How do you define right? You will get thirty different answers from thirty different people.

Same goes for Bush’s claim that the State of the Union is strong – according to whose scale? I see America as potentially on the brink of economic and internal ruin just like any other empire that’s lasted over 200 years. I have a hard time agreeing with Mr. Bush that the state of the union is strong when we have amassed the largest debt in the planet’s history in a seven-year period; coming from a surplus under the Clinton administration at that.

At any rate, in the interest of those consuming the information and society at large, there should be strict logical standards required of advertisers to ensure the cogency of such commercials.