Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Presidential Muppets with Brain Lesions

I think that it has been well established that I am a complete geek. So none of you should be shocked to learn that I have a Presidents’ Day tradition. I marathon watch the West Wing and let myself believe—if only for a few brief hours—that I could live in the America of Josiah Bartlet as painted by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin.

You will now be granted a brief pause to make a single comment about my nerdishness.

Anyway… This year I watched the West Wing through a new lens. The MS lens.

Just to recap, it is revealed after President Bartlet is shot in the Season One cliffhanger that he has MS. This diagnosis is important for the anesthesiologist to be aware of as he preps the President for surgery. And that is the last we hear about it for a while until—and stay with me here—one of his senior policy advisers think something is fishy with the Vice President (who knows the President has MS and is not planning to run for a second term).

Still with me?

This year as I was watching the MS storyline unfold, I found it interesting to see the character’s reactions to hearing about President Bartlet’s MS.  At the time the show was on the air, The West Wing was both lauded and criticized for its portrayal of MS. But I hardly gave it a thought back then. It’s all different now.

Having once been pregnant, I am always skeptical when I hear a story about a woman who gave birth to a healthy baby while never having known she was pregnant. That gives me pause. I can’t imagine feeling someone playing football with my bladder going unnoticed. I can’t wrap my brain around someone feeling a fetus swimming around her stomach and NOT thinking that—at the very least—she probably should address that sensation with a doctor. I would certainly want some medicinal reassurance that my appendix hadn’t become sentient.

I feel the same way with the West Wing MS President. I just don’t buy it.

Aside—Yes, I am well aware that we are talking about a work of fiction. Written by one of the most gifted writers alive right now, but fiction nonetheless. But like all art, Sorkin’s writing can only be interpreted by me through my own experiences.

Back to the Bartlet administration.

The MS Society reports that four out of ten people with MS have either failed to disclose or outright lied about their diagnosis to friends, family, colleagues, and their employer.  The same study reported that 36 percent of MS patients feel it has a negative impact on their inter-personal relationships.
I’ve certainly noticed that it has impacted my relationships. So I will give President Bartlet a pass on this one. I get it. And no one—not even the President—is under any obligation to disclose their MS (or any other health conditions) to their employer.

Bartlet’s choice to not disclose his MS is not where I stumble. I have a hard time with his ability to manage both his MS and the business of the country.

Let me expound.

MS advocates loved that Sorkin gave MS to the President. They saw it as an endorsement that a person with MS can do anything.  Yay. Go MS peeps.

Except, I don’t buy it. The symptom that people with MS feel is most debilitating is fatigue. Extreme fatigue. Our country has seen President’s with disabilities before. FDR was in a wheelchair. JFK was in chronic back pain and needing medication and a brace. I don’t think Bartlet’s need for an occasional walking aid is any problem at all.

But the soul-crushing fatigue? That is where I think MS would defeat a President. POTUS has to spend 10 to 12 hours at work each day. No weekends off. No vacations away from responsibly. No time for a nap. I can barely make it through my 8 hour day without having to put my head on my desk because I don’t have the energy to keep holding it up.

Oh, and let’s not forget one of the things that exacerbates MS symptoms. Stress. But the President never has to deal with that, right? Yeah, I’m not buying it.

I think we should reboot some other TV series and give the main character MS. Then depict these characters with an accurate portrayal of life with MS. In Breaking Bad, let’s take away Walt’s cancer and give him MS. Trouble finds him when he falls asleep in his motor home, ruining his latest batch of Meth. Which is bad, because he needs the cash to pay for his Avonex.

Or maybe Ross would dump Rachel forever after her MS diagnosis because he doesn’t want to deal with a lifetime of disabilities. He has overlooked the benefits of being able to jump the lines at an amusement park or park close to the door at a sporting event. So the rest of the Friends series can follow Rachel as she navigates Manhattan with a cane, endlessly having first dates.

Or even a colorful, fluffy character on Sesame Street that just randomly falls down and can’t keep her hand from shooting forward and punching people. Actually, someone needs to make me that puppet. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Football and Dead Kids?

I was up late with Kidlet, who was upset and crying because of the Super Bowl. Not because of the last 3 minutes either. He had really lost interest in who won after the Saints were eliminated from contention. But I spent an hour last night trying to convince Kidlet that he was safe and he wasn’t going to die. Because, once again, the NFL has failed him.

OK, actually, this time it was Nationwide that was most certainly not on his side. I wish so much that I had a Nationwide insurance policy so that I could cancel it today.

Kidlet had seen the Nationwide ad using the story line of a dead child telling football fans all about all of the things he would not be doing in his life because he had died in a household accident.

For the love of all holy fucking hell. Really? Did that really happen in the middle of a football game watched by so many children?

I was so prepared for the post-Super Bowl discussions I thought I might have to participate in. Cheating, fighting, sportsmanship. I was ready. Then the dead kid showed up and I felt like I had been placed into the middle of The Sixth Sense. I was in no way ready for that one.

Nationwide paid somewhere around $8 million to air this ad. I don’t hate it because it was depressing. Make no mistake, it was. I hate it because of these two reasons:

  • It was created to make us feel fearful and inadequate and therefore buy insurance. No matter what Nationwide is saying. They didn't create and air this spot out of the goodness of their heart. They want to sell you insurance.
  • It was completely chicken shit.

To the first point, Nationwide is insisting to anyone who will listen that they both knew that this ad would be controversial and that their sole intention was to save children. Make Safe Happen depicts an adorable grade-school boy listing all of the joys of life that he never reached due to his death in an at-home accident.

And the Internet lost its shit.

A Nationwide spokesperson released the following comment:"Preventable injuries around the home are the leading cause of childhood deaths in America. Most people don't know that.”

Well, thank you for educating us all Nationwide. I know we must all feel so much safer. Well, Kidlet doesn’t, but he doesn’t really count, right? I mean, it’s not like he can afford to buy a policy.

The spokesman continued: “The sole purpose of this message was to start a conversation, not sell insurance.“

So I have to ask…  If it isn’t to sell insurance, why bother including your logo? Just asking.

There are several industries that depend on our fear, and insurance has to be at the top of that list. Do you really think that this ad was an act of kindness? It was not. It was to instill a fear in us that might be soothed by purchasing a new insurance policy. Because if we have that extra insurance, nothing bad will happen, right? We live in a country where insurance is something we must all have. It is just the reality. And I certainly do not fault an insurance company for seizing on that need and building a business model around it. Well, I don’t completely fault them.

And the message of this ad is both meaningful  and important. But, to be delivered in such a manipulative way--by a company that will see increased profits the more that we worry--invalidates the message entirely. Nationwide could give a flying fuck about my Kidlet. That is, unless I would like to increase my life insurance on him. You know, because accidents happen.

But only if you are a terrible parent. of course. Those terrible things that killed the ad’s narrator happened because of his woefully neglectful parents. The ones who left the top floor window open, forgot to check on him while he was in the bath, or strap down their giant TV. The one they bought instead of putting money into the little man’s college savings account.

Make no mistake. This is an advertisement for insurance. And it is feeding on all our insecurities as parents.

Nationwide Chief Marketing Officer Matt Jauchius justified the ad, saying, "Since 2007 we've made use of other media partners to get our message across, but when we were thinking of launching Make Safe Happen, creating awareness, and showcasing our brand, the Super Bowl is a great media platform to achieve those goals.”

The emphasis is mine. But the truth is all his.

But here is the other thing. The ad was total chicken shit.

I feel like this entire ad was written by 5 white guys at Ogilvy & Mather agency that Googled “How do children die?” Then they picked the deadly sins committed by parents, but only the non-political ones.

By that, I mean, where was the image of the accidentally-fired handgun?

The ad was so fucking chicken shit. You want to preach to us about accidental injuries sustained by children in the home, but only those that won’t piss off the gun-loving Tea Baggers.

Is there anything more preventable than my toddle finding and shooting my loaded gun? But Nationwide wants to make me feel like shit for having bleach or a bathtub in my house. And how dare I open that window.

And you know what? Forgetting my two bullet points of contention, it is just a really badly written ad. Nationwide wanted to be edgy and spur discussion. But they failed so huge on execution.
Let me ask you this. What do you think the response would be if the ad went something like this?

1. Ext. FRONT YARD. day.
The LITTLE BOY rides around on his tricycle.
dissolve to

2. Int. KITCHEN. day
The MOTHER kneels before her sink, securing a cabinet lock then testing the doors to make sure they cannot be opened.

I almost didn’t get to learn to ride my bike. Or get kooties.

3. Ext. OUTSIDE. day.
The LITTLE BOY is piloting a bi-plane with his dog in the second seat.
dissolve to

4. Int. DOCTOR’S office. day
The LITTLE BOY frowns as he gets a shot, then smiles as he gets a lollipop.

What if I never got the chance to learn to fly so
I could explore the world with my best friend?

5. INT. CHURCH. day.
The LITTLE BOY straightens the bowtie of his tuxedo.
dissolve to

6. Int. BEDROOM. day
The FATHER unloads the bullets from his handgun and locks the gun into his gun safe.
What if I never got to be married? Or have kids?
Or protect them from preventable accidents
and illnesses?

7. EXT. Yard. day
The LITTLE BOY addresses the camera.
I get to do those things because my mom and dad
know how to protect me from the things most likely
to cause me harm. You can learn more about how you can help keep
 your kids safer by logging on to (whatever random address
where you will find tips and insurance agents). Together we can
make safe happen.

Then it fades out.  No logo. No Nationwide. No “brought to you by”. Let the world uncover who produced the ad. You know they are going to find out. And that will be very good for business.