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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sharing Words from Teacher Heaven

I am in Teacher Heaven after reading an absolutely brilliant literary response to this quotation from H.G. Wells: "Advertising is legalized lying." This young author has been fascinated by our previous lessons on the subtleties of word-spinning, as seen in ads for products and political campaigns. He has synthesized much of our discussions in this lively, wry essay on advertising. And his essay structure outshines many high school, even college-age, writers. The only editing I did--I swear!--is to alter some misspelled words and delete one superfluous phrase. The vocabulary and information about obscure plants, etc., are all his! I provided nothing, in terms of the information he shared, except for the initial prompt by H. G. Wells.


Legal Lying
 by D.S., age 10 

H.G Wells once declared that advertising was simply legalized lying. In many cases, his statement is completely true, but to understand why, we will have to take a journey back in time to around 4000 BC, the time of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. In the large cities of these ancient civilizations, merchants crowded together in marketplaces and inevitably competition arose. This competition sparked the roots of modern ads. In an environment where people had their choice of where to shop, instead of depending on one sole shopkeeper, the merchants had to squabble over the stream of revenue that came into the marketplace. As the marketplace rapidly expanded, the merchants would have to convince shoppers to buy at their stall. Soon, shrewd shopkeepers found out how to present their product in the most favorable way possible, namely by omitting some important information. In this way, "Discounted Week-Old Cabbage" was discarded in favor of "Cheap Value Cabbage." Advertising, and its association with lying, was born. Meanwhile, in archaic England, the first advertising had taken a slightly different path. Shops began to hang wooden signs outside of buildings to publicize their establishments and to clarify what they did. For example, a wooden board with a drink on it would be a pub, or a hammer and nails would mean Carpenter, and so on, and so forth. The great-granddaddy of the classifieds in the newspapers of today were born.

Let us fast-forward now to the 16th century. The first paid ads are beginning to pop up in the newspapers of the time. The most shrewd of the advertisers have realized that the public believes that the newspapers are to be trusted and that many people read them, so, taking advantage of the lust for money that many people possess, they paid advertisers money in order to let their ads reach a wider audience. This was also when people began to realize that the products in ads weren’t exactly what they claimed to be. By the time Mark Twain rolled around, "quack" medicines featured in "quack" magazines and paid testimonials had already begun to crop up around the Western world. Admakers and entrepreneurs were really little more than scammers who took advantage of the public`s gullibility to sell products with grand names like Revalenta Arabica, which took advantage of the obscurity of the name in order to attract customers into thinking that it was some new scientific wonder, which was, in fact, simply dried lentil flour with the nutritional value of ground split peas. In the face of this, people like H.G Wells slowly began to realize the true nature of advertising.

Let us now move to the early 20th century. In the face of increasing public pressure, lawmakers began to take steps towards limiting and restricting advertising. Before the turn of the century, advertisers were required to state any harmful information or anything negative associated with the product. But once again, admakers found a way around the restrictions. At the turn of the century, we arrive at our predicament today.

Many of you, I am certain, have seen the fine grey print that seems to haunt the bottom of every ad site, or heard the speed-talk at the end of commercials. This is what has become of the efforts to stem the onset of false advertising. The truth is hidden away nearly out of sight to the common consumer. What is happening today is like governing mining with laws written when there was still a man shaking a pan over a stream--if you are an adult not in prison, you can stake a claim. Companies can comply with the law by hiding the information NEARLY out of sight, and still do perfectly legal actions. So, at the end of this long journey, H.G Wells turned out to be right. But all we can do for now is keep our eyes open and ears sharp for the legal lying all around us.


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