Thursday, May 22, 2014

"Go where you will not be tempted."

"Go where you will not be tempted" has become, for me, the most memorable line from Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons, even if it happens to be delivered by one of the most Machiavellian figures in British history. (I am pretty sure that Bolt did not see Sir Thomas More in quite that light. However, I figure that, in praising a concept, I feel it is necessary to include the disclaimer that it was mouthed by one of history's most abject hypocrites.)

It would be nice if we could follow the advice of that sentence at the supermarket. Unfortunately, supermarkets remain one of the most prominent battlefields for consumer attention in American marketing. Indeed, one could say that every inch of every shelf involves an ongoing series of battles the likes of which may not have been seen since the American Civil War, except that, in this case, the battles are all about enslaving all American citizens to specific products and their associated brands. It was therefore comforting to read a report on the BBC News Web site about a trend among British supermarkets to remove shelves full of candy products from the checkout lines. After all, those shelves really are the mother lode when it comes to seizing consumer eyeballs, since they are the one place in the store where the customer really is a captive audience. There have even been efforts to make sure that all candy products are kept away from the eye level of kids.

Considering that the movie Fed Up will be opening this week, this story could not have come at a better time. After all, one of the messages of that film is that the purveyors of junk food have a much stronger hold on both consumers and vendors. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that a film like this will prompt a critical mass of people capable of making a difference to act, any more than An Inconvenient Truth had an impact on environmental policy at either the national or global level. One might even go so far as the say that there are those who believe that "freedom to eat to the detriment of your health" is a Constitutional right, alongside freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. They would probably read this BBC story and interpret as yet another example of the tyranny of a "nanny state."

When Oscar Wilde said "I can resist anything except temptation," he thought it was a witty riposte. He may have even believed it. Unfortunately, he had to confront the consequences of that particular conviction with another kind of conviction. One wonders if he reflected on this in his prison cell. We may not think about public obesity in the same way that Wilde thought about his own temptations and the consequences are not as likely to be as great as imprisonment. Nevertheless, this is a serious matter that will not fare very well in a culture that has chosen to identify itself by not taking anything seriously (other than, perhaps, gun ownership).

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