At bottom

Aug 14, 2003

[A GM exec said] ... the makeup of the American auto fleet reflects “what people buy, and not what we offer.”

That line in the Aug. 11, 2003 New Yorker feature about hydrogen fuel-cell cars was the starter for a long discussion between Erin and me last night. I found the statement to be an example of circular reasoning that targets the least common denominator – the big-budget marketing campaigns seem to belie the fact the the auto industry is pushing their products, which might be what people want. Erin found it a statement of the reality of the industry.

I went on to voice my oft-repeated complaint that the news industry, and some of my j-school profs, trumpet studies that show people just don’t want to read long articles in newspapers and magazines. So, we get USA Today and shorter local newspaper stories. It’s a downward spiral, I believe. What’s wrong with expectations? I want to expect people to read, and read more, and read longer pieces. Sure, we’re busy. But too busy to increase our vocabulary and spend a few hours a week reading about hydrogen fuel and hypochondria and fish farms and so much more?

Erin moved the conversaton onto health education, and explained that health educators have long struggled to change peoples’ behaviors. Obesity is a huge problem in America, and health reporters seem to writing countless stories about the problem – and the solutions, both personal and societal. (High fructose corn syrup, if you check your food, seems to be everywhere. See this post from The Daily Chronicle.) One of Erin’s classmates recently wrote this to her, about her efforts to persuade a pregnant friend to regularly take her prenatal vitamins (a key source of folic acid, which prevents birth defects):

If it’s difficult to get intelligent well educated women to listen and do what they’re “supposed to”, how can we get women who face more difficulties or who don’t have access to resources to be responsive to the messages.

In the end, Erin and I got down to this question: Are people stupid? I just can’t think that the answer is yes. Which is why I will fight against the lowest-common-denominator strain of American capitalism.

Anton Zuiker

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