The Beanstalk


by David N. Townsend


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January 18, 1999
1:00 PM


Be thoughtful, or the kid gets it

(From the unpublished archives, Oct. 13, 1998, 6:15 AM, on a flight from Boston to Minneapolis)

Commercial for the March of Dimes on Northwest Airlines, played over the public address system, at 6:15 AM, after the mandatory video on safety and welcome aboard: 

Do I really need to hear about Dead Babies at six o'clock in the morning?  Do the little children on this flight really need to hear it?  That's twice already that Northwest has imposed its "charitable" messages on its captive flying audience, the first for some endangered bird species.

"The March of Dimes.  Saving babies, together."  Where do these people get off laying this guilt trip on us?  Are we supposed to feel good about Northwest, or simply bad about poor, deformed babies?  So I'm supposed to drop a few bucks in an envelope to save a few babies ("who knows, maybe your own?").   And if I don't?  I'm an insensitive scumbag?

How much of this money feeds high-priced organization executives, fund raisers, advertising agencies, and even doctors?  How many freakin' babies ever see one of those dimes?

This is why the myth of the "private sector" or the "non-profit" sector taking over public services is so misleading.  Where money is involved, we'll always get self-interested greed hand-in-hand with compassionate motivations.  Giant airline corporation joins forces with giant charity organization to solicit free money from the public through unavoidable tear-jerking commercials on airplanes.  Minimal direct accountability for use of funds, high percentage known to be directed to the cost of fund-raising itself. 

Is this really preferable to a government that levies taxes and distributes the funds according to politically determined priorities?  How much more "efficient" is this "private" solution?  And, if we move drastically toward more such privatization, are we not going to be bombarded with this type of guilt-mongering, linked indistinguishably with corporate marketing, more images of dead babies intruding on our airplane flights, abducted children staring at us from milk cartons, starving families showing up during movies and sporting events?

If this all sounds cold and uncaring, it's the opposite.  The net effect of commercializing charity and overloading the public with pleas for compassionate contributions is going to be to anesthetize us to human needs.  It's all one jumble of sales pitches: buy this beer, you'll feel good; drive this car, you'll feel good; save this baby, you'll feel good.  Priorities for individual generosity and public allocation of resources no longer derive from the relative severity of suffering, or opportunity for change, but from the creative effectiveness of marketers. 

It doesn't really matter if we buy more Budweiser than Miller, but shouldn't our decision to spend money on helping the sick, the poor, the disabled, be based upon something other than knee-jerk sentimentality?  Isn't that what conservative bashers of "bleeding heart" liberal social spending have been saying all along?   Well, it seems to me that privatization of social welfare programs would lead to the ultimate "bleeding heart" policy:  Live!  In Sensurround!   Welcome to the Show of Shows!  Tonight, it's . . . Dead Babies!

Where's Alice Cooper when we need him?


  1999 David N. Townsend

Recent ramblings:         

Lying (1/11/99) Back again, and looking backward and forward (1/1/99) Library Time (6/17/98)
Wow, is it Sunday again already?  What did I say, a column every week?  Well, what I meant by "every" was. . .   Okay, okay OKAY!  Man, you go silent for a few little months . . . The theme of this writing is reading. Ms. Kelly is retiring this week after more than 30 years as a librarian. . .

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