I recently read a headline on a website whose name starts with an “H” and ends with a “P-O-S-T” (which I won’t name in case they sue me.) It went something like “Celine Dion’s Shocking Confession” and I thought, “I knew it! She’s a guy!” I pointed, clicked and found out that Ms. Dion wasn’t confessing her clever gender scam; she was merely bulimic — or had been at one time, or knew someone else who was or some other such trash. Obviously, I didn’t finish reading the stupid thing. It made me mad. Not because Celine was still a woman but because I’d been sucked in … again. The headline did not match the story — not even close. Celebrities confessing some trendy affliction are like lions confessing they like zebras for breakfast; it’s not news. It’s not shocking! I don’t stare at my laptop in disbelief and scramble for the Share icon to shotgun the revelation across Facebook’s time/space continuum. I hit the snooze button and go back to work. And so it was with poor old Celine.
Celine Dion aside, though, the H***** Post headline is just one example of an unholy trend in our society. At every turn, we are beaten over the head by what can only be called gross misrepresentation. We are being led to believe things that simply aren’t there. The headlines might read “shocking confession” or “startling revelation,” but they never are! They’re some second rate byte of information that you already know or could have figured out for yourself – if (and it’s a big if) you ever gave it any thought in the first place. And it’s not just H***** Post; it’s everywhere. Take a gander at any info/entertainment website. Three headlines in, you know you’re getting conned.
Or take a look at television teasers, those in-house commercials that are supposed to grab you for the big deal program later on. They’re always “outrageous” or “you won’t believe” what’s going to happen. Then, when you get there, there’s nothing to it. Usually it’s Jennifer, the disposable cash manager (read bank teller) from Portland, Maine whispering (to 6½ million people) that she’s really (like really!) falling in love with the bachelor guy she met three episodes ago. D’uh — that’s what she’s there for. This isn’t outrageous (even though, honestly, I kinda do find it hard to believe.)
Either that or they go for the salacious innuendo: “You won’t believe what’s hiding under Khloe’s bed! Exclusive pictures!” and there’s Khloe, standing there with half a dress falling off. Then, after the eighteen minute commercial break, you find out it’s a teddy bear with a rose in its teeth, that says “I wuv you,” when you punch him in the stomach. No wonder Khloe sleeps alone.
Everybody knows sex sells. The problem is there isn’t any sex – ever — just excited voiceovers telling us there’s going to be some — soon. It’s like we’re living in a 500 channel high school. I don’t know how many times I’ve been warned about the “hot” love scene or the “steamy” music video coming up. Big wow! Two people chewing on each other like they’re made of Egg McMuffins™ while simultaneously sliding out of exactly half their clothes — as if zippers and buttons haven’t been invented yet. I mean, really! That isn’t sex. Try it sometime! I guarantee you’ll end up with an inconvenient injury from tugging on each other’s underwear. It’s not the lack of sex I mind; it’s the gratuitous titillation, the promises made with no attempt at delivery. It’s exactly like Celine Dion’s shocking confession — that wasn’t.
So what’s the big deal? After all, P. T. Barnum perfected roping in the rubes a century and a half ago, and there isn’t a State Fair Midway that hasn’t been doing it ever since. The problem is these days this misdemeanor fraud is everywhere. Check out the teasers for the news: “Killer cockroaches! Details at 11:00!” So you tune in to see what’s going on, and it turns out some scientist in Brazil has discovered cockroaches carry a weird tropical disease that is making the birds sick. Again I say, big wow!
The fact is, however, this relentless wall of false advertising has created a whole generation that thinks disappointment is the natural order of things. When everybody’s lying to you, it doesn’t pay to get your hopes up. Young people don’t believe anything they see, read or hear because it’s been their experience that it’s all a bunch of crap. Celine Dion doesn’t have a shocking confession; there are no killer cockroaches; and nobody’s going to save the whales. To young people, the only difference between H***** Post headlines and your average politician is the size of the hustle. After all, if you’ve been lied to ever since Teddy Ruxpin roamed the earth, what are the chances anybody is telling the truth? Not much. Listen closely and you’ll find out that most young people believe that if, by some miracle, there are modern day saints, they’re really just sinners with good PR.
The unfortunate thing, however, is once this pessimism starts creeping into our psyche, it’ll be almost impossible to get out. The long term consequence? I don’t know, but disillusioned is a disease, and it’s only going to spread.