Two months ago, I wrote “Musings on a Kashi Cereal Box,” not having been embarrassed to admit that the mundane makes me think. Well, last night I enjoyed a late night sandwich with Goldfish crackers on the side. I have enjoyed that processed goodness since I first had Goldfish in a Chicago hotel as a small child. As I ate my meal while standing over the kitchen counter (an old habit that should have a name—perhaps akathistophagia), I looked over the Goldfish cracker box.
I first noticed that the front featured a cartoon Goldfish riding a bike with a safety helmet on. I suppose that Pepperidge Farm did not think highly of Irina Dunn’s (or Gloria Steinem’s) aphorism, which, if true, would endear the brand more to me. Now, it is ridiculous that a fish wears a safety helmet and rides a bicycle, but seeing the conspicuous safety helmet initiated a series of questions in my mind. Did Pepperidge Farm feature the safety helmet so prominently as a public service, reasoning that continuous exposure to safety helmets on bike riding cartoon animals would make children more likely to wear them? That is possible. Do gooding influences corporate decisions, too. It is more likely, however, that Pepperidge Farm found that its public service announcement happy fish would appeal to mothers who were shopping for snack crackers. I wonder what goes on in the thought process of the typical grocery shopping mom. Is she aware that she is being manipulated by Pepperidge Farm? Does she like the packaging without thinking about why, or does she consciously notice the fish’s safety helmet and conclude that she wishes to expose her children to safety helmet normalization, as well? Does she think that Pepperidge Farm is the kind of company that she wants to patronize because it cares about responsible bicycle riding habits? I would like to know what the folks in marketing thought.
Regardless of the mom’s or Pepperidge Farm’s motivations, it is clear that commercial products and their advertisements are vehicles and teachers of society’s values. Whether they quietly attempt to impose an elite’s value system on the masses or whether they attempt to manipulate the masses by selling them goods under the guise of cherished traditions, they carry and teach values. Consider how universally “diversity” is understood in America as something good, ideal, and even iconic of our national identity. Berkeley trained teachers, P.B.S., and Democratic politicians could not have so easily succeeded in brainwashing the entire republic in just a generation without assistance. Commercial America facilitated such success. I have met countless folks from rural America who speak of their home communities with embarrassment and scorn because they consist of people just like themselves. Stop and ponder that. Americans have so been mesmerized by the diversity spell that they find natural, homogeneous communities uncomfortable. The normal human condition has been rendered alien to them by Benetton ads and Sesame Street. That is quite an accomplishment.
Another side of the Goldfish box featured two fish’s lecturing on how Pepperidge Farm’s new packaging required less trees, which was good for the environment. It stated that trees were good for all sorts of things, including leaves for jumping in. Why a mysteriously flying fish out of water would wish to jump in leaves is not explained, and a small part of me momentarily wished for the moron behind the whole marketing concept to asphyxiate in dog dung. After the moment of hate passed, I realized a possible reason for the rise of environmentalism as a substitute religion.
In our “pluralistic, diverse” society, there are not too many things that appeal to most everyone. History, religion, culture, language, ethnicity, and all the hallmarks of a civilization are divisive for a society without an identity, that is, a diverse society. Hence, the preacher who does not wish to offend anyone, the politician who wishes to please everyone, and the marketing executive who wants to appeal to everyone will all focus on matters largely uncontroversial. However, most of those matters do not stir passions because they are so universal and because no action for them is necessary. It is already universally believed and legally binding that mean people ought not to harm blind, crippled, old people. Such a message will not sell as it is not seen as pressing or relevant. However, most everyone appreciates nature but likewise realizes its peril in the contemporary world. Who hates trees? Who wants butterflies to disappear? If anyone says such, in the manner of Rush Limbaugh, it is out of a perverse reaction to environmentalist extremists. Yet, even callous, cold hearted Republicans appreciate the Great Outdoors. Support for the natural world is like support for (post natum) babies, but the natural world needs new action for its protection. Hence, preachers, politicians, and businesses get a cause with near universal support to peddle their spiritual, political, and commercial wares.
When so many forces continually trumpet the cause of all hallowed nature, it is no surprise that many people whose secular lives lack meaning beyond appetitive gratification would come to see environmentalism as their crusade to redeem their bored time—or, in more multicultural terms, as their inner and outer jihad.