1) Warning in pictures 2) Banking questions
Next date scheduled for a distribution: 21st August
On Friday night we were sitting round exhausted by a couple of hours tackling a Greek dance that Manos has tried to teach us, when he lit up one of the revolting Greek cigarettes he has somehow managed to unearth in St.Peter’s Port. This led to a discussion which the Editor has summarised with, it appears, some modifications of his own:
A number of governments make cigarette companies print warning notices on their packs, often with a picture of disgusting damage done by the habit. This is a convenient way for governments to balance two obligations. As guardians of their country’s inhabitants [see note 1 at the end] they have a responsibility to try to keep them in the best possible physical health, which you might expect them to do by banning cigarettes. They also have a duty to keep the national accounts in the best possible financial health. This, too, they could do by banning cigarettes, on condition that they could extract large amounts of money from the massive illegal trade in cigarettes which would certainly arise. In principle this should be achievable. Direct taxation is of course politically embarrassing, if not actually self-contradictory, though experienced lawyers may be able to find a way round that difficulty. Another option is to impose very severe fines on traders arrested, while taking care that arrests are not frequent; gaol terms should seldom be imposed, so that the traders may resume their activities at an early date. A third approach would repress the illegality with a light touch [note 2], restraining the forces of law and taxation from wasting resources on excessive investigation of the activities of certain peripheral elements of large and profitable companies, which as a whole provide the state with a satisfactory return. However, few countries have managed any of these approaches with conspicuous success, and even where this is claimed it appears any money accrued may have gone more to individual politicians than to the coffers of the state.
The facts remain: repellent pictures of sick smokers, or parts of sick smokers, do appear on cigarette packets, aiming, apparently, to reduce bad health among consumers. Since this is a form of advertising and since we have been repeatedly assured (by those who make money from it, but also by other experts, e.g. Goebbels and, implicitly, Humpty Dumpty) that advertising ‘works’, we accept the case. But then one asks ‘Why only cigarettes? Why not pictures of the result of consumption for tobacco’s noxious twin, alcohol?’ The initial objection, that we have got our facts wrong – certainly, the result of a cigarette may be a spasm of wrenching coughing but alcohol consumption may lead on to a jolly party – is specious irrelevance. Governments are interested in long-term effects (provided the issue does not concern the next election) even if we subversively notice that there seem to be two different types of long-term alcohol consumption; one can lead to sitting on a narrow bench in the back room of a small pub in Cork at the age of 22, rocking slowly backwards and forwards, drunk to the point of incoherence at six in the evening, while the other sets you up as a rosy-faced white-haired old man with twinkling blue eyes, surrounded by twenty-somethings begging to hear about your adventures in times long ago. Perhaps then the warning pictures should somehow be attached not to the bottles but compulsorily to mirrors in domestic bathrooms, so as to prompt self-questioning before a drinker sets off to debauch his (or these days, her) metabolism. But a few more years are needed before the ‘authorities’ come to that level of intrusion. For now let the governments rest content with pictures of, for instance, a shambling tramp, head back, holding a bottle high for the last few drops which run out and miss his toothless mouth.
But why stop there, as if there were no other delights tempting consumers to potential ruin; food or more precisely unhealthy eating habits, and shiny motor cars for example? Each of these cases has its own peculiarities. For a billion on the planet there is a single unhealthy eating habit, which is simply not-eating (almost invariably an involuntary condition), so it is not easy to see where one would put the pictures, and there is also the point that few of that billion could truly be seen as bona fide members of the consumerat. What worries so many of the other six billion (around 30% in the overdeveloped nations, according to recent assertions) is the exhausting struggle against obesity, and so the type of picture required is easily settled – some vast envelope of sweating humanity fighting its bulk into or out of an airline economy class seat would do nicely. But the pictorial warnings in this category will have to be especially vivid, just to elbow aside the dense crowds of colourful encouragements to believe that eating some package’s mixture of highly saturated fats and sugars and 21 kinds of chemical unknown to science before 1950 will be good for you (and make you slimmer; and if you are a balding man your hair may grow back, too).
At this point Simple Simon, doubtless well meaning but tasteless as ever, suggested the principle of visual warnings should be applied also in the case of brothels. Isabelita immediately asked him if he was speaking on the basis of personal experience, and he mumbled to a halt in red-faced confusion. For a variety of reasons, nobody present seemed to want to pursue that issue and we returned to the respectable middle-class path we had been following. Cars, like the reconstituted modified protein-similar nature-unidentical artificially flavoured candy substitutes we had just mentioned, are represented as having strange powers in the advertisements in which they currently appear. Buy this car and not only will it come with a languorous beauty strategically attached to the hood (subject to availability; alternative offer: young attractive spouse and two children, all in perfect health and grinning like maniacs), but you will find all other drivers – all other road users, in fact – have disappeared off the roads. There are drawbacks, though; the immaculate highway along which you speed in smooth isolation (the need for petrol is discreetly left on one side) is located in a magnificent but evidently remote and uninhabited terrain, possibly on Spitzbergen. Consumers certainly do need warnings against the temptation to acquire a car. Many of the inconveniences are well known, running the gamut from faulty windshield wipers through terrifying overdrafts to lengthy gaol terms. What is seldom fully realised is the size of the car’s contribution to psychological stress in modern life. All the worry of purchasing and fuelling and maintaining and repairing the thing and of dealing with the various enemies one meets in these battles; the frustration of the steady guerilla warfare needed to keep it insured and officially recognised by the state; experiencing day by day the breakdown of rational behaviour in other drivers; obviously deliberate sabotage of your travel plans by roadworks or traffic wardens, and impotent rage when you find your secret off-the-road parking spot has been discovered by a battered builders’ truck. Beneath all this there is the pulsing ground bass of borderline claustrophobia which can never be safely admitted to the conscious mind, that comes from shutting oneself into a metal box even smaller than the punishment cells the communists used in old Osteuropa – and strapping oneself in. Two hours of this in the daily traffic jam, if handed down by a judge, would amount to cruel and unusual punishment. The warning pictures on the car will have the advantage that they will be on the car itself unlike the allegedly seductive visual encouragements to buy the things. Of course warning notices about frustration and stress will not have much impact until experience makes them unnecessary, but there is in this case an alternative with some hope of effect – horrible car smashes.
Here, we had barely started to dip into the troubled brew. Many other scourges of society need to be checked – gambling, social networks, politics, gardening, and more. Naturally with some the devising of visual warnings will be difficult, but with others easy and – who knows? – perhaps even enjoyable. As the Deputy Editor remarked ‘Rise again Hieronymus Bosch, your time has come round once more.’
[note 1: this traditional conception of the function of a government is now largely extinct, except as a theoretical principle, just as is the idea that it is the duty of managers of a company to look after the interests of shareholders.]
[note 2: as apparently still popular in dealing with the bankers]
This morning we found a letter well chewed up in the guard-dog’s basket by the front door. It was lucky for whoever delivered it that this was one of the nights that the Editor remembered to lock the door when he went home. (The postman brought a mailbox of his own and personally fixed it to the wall outside the gate and now leaves all the post in that.) We were able to piece together enough fragments to arrive at the following incomplete text:
would have thought Jefferson was being a bit of a crook if he had stood up and said he was very sorry for being a slave owner and would investigate how it had happened, and restructure his domestic arrangements so that it wouldn’t happen again. Being a well-known upstanding leader of society he didn’t even do that, and so got away with it completely! But we’ve now got the bankers to the ‘very sorry’ stage, and that’s the point to really go in hard, because otherwise enough time will run on with nothing happening to let people start accepting banking finaglery as a normal part of everyday life, no reaction or deterrence needed. Only yesterday I got a circular from a Department of Pseudology in some college or other – they’re a pain in the butt, these ‘scientists’ who do ‘research’ by sending out hundreds of questionnaires to all and sundry and getting other people to find the data for them. Then all they do is run a quick computer summarising programme over the results, package them in some illiterate ‘article’ and start giving interviews to the world’s media on the new ‘discovery’ they’ve made. Though I must admit this questionnaire was a little more perceptive than most, e.g.:
Q2. Circle the word you think best describes most bank communications: misleading; truthful; gibberish;lies.
Q7.Which word do you think best fits bankers, as a class: greedy; dishonest; noble; overpaid (You may circle more than one)
Q9. Do you think bankers are deliberately preparing the ground for a proletarian revolution? Perhaps; no; yes.
honor honestique floreant