Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
October 24, 2012
I got home recently and discovered that a bear had busted our fence and spent quality time eating every apple out of the trees in our backyard.
I also discovered a new answer to that age-old question about bears’ toilet habits: “Not in the woods. In my backyard.”
So I grabbed a shovel and spent a fruitful half-hour tossing bear crap over the fence.
It was perfect preparation for Monday night’s presidential debate.
Let’s be clear – it was not really a “debate.” Debates involve logic, facts and carefully considered arguments. These TV events are scat-flinging contests: Fill up your shovel, throw as much as possible at the other guy, and hope it sticks – and if it doesn’t stick, hope it piles deep enough that he at least steps in it.
But then, watching Romney – the “new and improved” Mitt Romney, with his perfect, gleaming Pepsodent smile and shiny Brylcreemed hair – I did have a revelation.
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I found myself thinking about the Marlboro Man.
No, I’m not suggesting for one tiny instant that Romney is the Marlboro Man.
I’m thinking of the Marlboro Man story.
First, the creation of that he-man advertising icon.
Marlboro, curiously, was originally sold as a cigarette for women. Its slogan was “Mild as May.”
It was not a success.
Eventually, with the brand on the verge of failure, a corporate exec decided Marlboro should become a man’s cigarette – and an ad agency came up with that image of the real American man: the cowboy.
The sudden identity switch was a smash hit. Unchanged except for the packaging and the advertising, Marlboro went from less than 1 percent of the U.S. market to the best-selling cigarette in the world.
Reality? What reality? Image was everything.
Now, from the beginning of a fake image, let’s shift to the end of a real Marlboro Man: Wayne McLaren, a former pro rodeo rider who smoked Marlboros, posed for Marlboro ads – and died of lung cancer at age 51. Or perhaps David McLean, another Marlboro-smoking Marlboro Man model, who survived until age 73, when his lung cancer spread to his brain and killed him.
The point here is not the idea that “Marlboros kill Marlboro Man.” It is that cigarette companies insisted for decades – despite scientific studies to the contrary – “There is no proven link between cigarette smoking and cancer.”
In summation (I’m trying to sound like a real debater), corporations know that image is everything, reality is irrelevant and a well-told lie will always carry the day.
Today your product’s a sweet, mild, lady’s cigarette. Tomorrow – sha-zam! – it’s a hearty smoke for a he-man.
Corporations lie. Not because they hate the truth but because they don’t care one little bit about the truth.
If the truth gets in the way, they will crush it, shred it – or simply ignore it.
It could be an eternal truth or yesterday’s truth – or yesterday’s lie, for that matter. It’s simply irrelevant.
Truth? Who cares? They just want your money.
They won’t take your money at gunpoint. Not because it’s illegal but because it’s inefficient. With a gun, you can rob only one man at a time. A good lie can conquer millions.
We all know all about it.
We know that “new and improved” is neither.
We know they aren’t “Growing larger to serve us better.”
We know when they say, “The customer is No. 1!” that they still treat us like, in bathroom parlance, No. 2.
And we know that when they say, “We care!” they don’t.
For corporations, the truth is whatever they say it is. As the Mafia killer said in “The Godfather,” “It’s just business.”
And so we get back to Romney.
Romney lies. Fair enough. He’s a politician. Politicians stretch the truth. They evade the truth. They talk circles around the truth – then sneak up from behind, kick the truth in the pants and run away.
That’s what they do. All of them.
But Romney has put a special twist on that age-old practice.
It’s not that he lies smoothly and automatically, without shame or hesitation. That’s just saying he’s good at what he does. Nothing new there, just a high level of skill.
Here’s his special twist: Romney doesn’t just lie about his opponent. He lies about himself. Openly and outrageously.
He lies about what he said last year, last month, last week. He lies about what he said yesterday. Without a quiver, a smirk or a blush.
On Monday night, after months of rattling his saber and threatening all kinds of war, Romney suddenly presented himself as a man of peace.
“We can’t kill our way out of this mess” in the Middle East, he said.
Why, after months of barking like an attack dog, did he say that? Because he’d already gotten the war-monger vote, and now he wanted to snag a few women voters with a new gentle embrace.
In the first debate, after spending months promising to cut taxes on “the job creators,” Romney suddenly claimed that he wouldn’t lower taxes on the top wage earners at all.
I could go on, but if you’ve been paying any attention, you know that once it became clear he was losing, Romney switched his position on virtually everything.
And all his hard-right supporters are smirking because they’re sure he’s lying. And some confused “moderates” are falling for it because they’re sure he was lying before.
Lying like a firehose: a heavy, soaking spray in all directions.
But through it all, he has remained true to one thing: his avowed belief in the value of his experience as a business executive.
“I know what it takes,” he keeps saying. “I’ve run businesses.”
Yes, he has.
I don’t think that qualifies him to be president.
But it certainly qualifies him to be a liar.
A wild, woolly, shameless liar.
Because that’s what corporations and corporate executives do.
Just as naturally as bears … well, you know what bears do in the woods.
And on my lawn.
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