One of the perks of being a parent is that you get to read children's books without feeling silly.
Someone recently gave our 3-year-old a delightful book called The Stupids Have a Ball. It features Mr. and Mrs. Stupid; their son, Buster; their daughter, Petunia; their cat, Xylophone, and their dog, Kitty.
Throughout their house, we see wonderful pictures and signs. We see that Mount Stupid is flat. Aunt Olga is visible only as chicken feet, Uncle Max as a hat. An apple is a toad. A pig is a fox.
On the front lawn, void of water, is a sign that says, "No Fishing." On a wall is the admonition, "Please Don't Lick the Walls."
Our 3-year-old laughs at the book, mainly because we do.
Perceiving the outrageous as humor seems to be more an adult taste.
Unfortunately, we find much in the adult world which is outrageous but not funny.
Take, for example, cigarette advertising.
One recent evening, as I was jostling my way home on a bus, I found myself staring at a poster-sized ad. The ad was simple.
In one corner was a package of cigarettes--More Lights--the only specific identification of the product being pitched. Most of the space was taken up by a long, sleek tan hand with precisely painted red nails. In the hand was a long, sleek cigarette--a beige cigarette with a precisely painted green stripe.
Above this was the only readable print on the poster.
It said: The beige cigarette.
What it really meant was: Smoke this cigarette because it's beige. Smoke this cigarette because it's sleek. Smoke this cigarette because it's stylish.
Of course, I knew it really had to say more.
I searched, and I found it. I found the little box at the top, with the little letters and the little words. The little message from the surgeon general.
It said: Warning: the surgeon general has determined that cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health.
I tried to figure out how many of the little letters in the little message would have to be placed on top of each other to be as big as the big letters in the big message.
The words about the cigarette were about 50 times larger than the words telling you it could kill you.
But wait. It didn't really say that, either. It said THE SURGEON GENERAL has determined that cigarette smoking is DANGEROUS to your health.
If the government knows cigarettes are bad, why can't it just say so? How about, Warning: cigarettes can make you very sick. They can even kill you.
Of course, the cigarette industry assures us they are not trying to force people to smoke. Those who do should be able to choose intelligently among the available cigarettes. That's the reason for cigarette advertising. So we are told.
If this is the case, Benson and Hedges should not lure us with, "Because the pleasure lasts longer." Kool shouldn't lure us with, "There's only one way to play it." And, certainly, Newport shouldn't lure us with, "Alive with pleasure."
If smokers are to choose brands intelligently, what they need to know is: Is this cigarette any less likely to make me sick or kill me than any other? Presumably, tar and nicotine levels tell us something of this.
Ads reasonably might also tell the flavor of the cigarette, its length and its name.
And, of course, that it's dangerous. To health and to life. Unequivocally and prominently.
All I ask is a small step to remove the implied connection between smoking and pleasure, and to correct the trivialization of the real connection between smoking and death.
Have you ever watched someone die of lung disease, when you and he both knew it was linked to a lifetime of smoking? Maybe you couldn't prove it to the satisfaction of those who make money from tobacco, or get votes from tobacco states. But you know it. And he knew it, too. I've experienced that. I've seen that the pleasure doesn't last.
Smoke cigarettes because they're beige?
I'd rather lick the walls.