Culture Notes


Issue: "Washington Gets One Right," Dec. 6, 1997

Veith's believe it or not

A campaign against Christmas commercialism hit a roadblock when the TV networks refused to sell ads for a "Buy Nothing Day." Activist Kelle Lasn, whose anti-materialist zeal seems to come more from environmentalism than Christianity, has been crusading against Christmas shopping for the last five years. In rebuffing his anti-commercial commercials, a CBS official said that Buy Nothing Day would be "in opposition to the current economic policy of the United States." Not to mention the TV stations. Instead, Mr. Lasn's group is planning protests at various malls, where participants will cut up their credit cards. Another American institution succumbs to the demands of feminism: Barbie-blamed for affecting little girls' self-images with her 38-18-34 proportions-is getting plastic surgery. She will have a flatter chest, slimmer hips, and a wider waist, plus less makeup, darker hair, and a nose job. (Ken is reportedly livid.) The changes won't take place until next year. But this will be the last Christmas for the glamorous Barbie. In a magazine ad, the Kohler Co., makers of plumbing fixtures, takes an image from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: The finger of God reaches out to touch, not Adam, but the lever of a toilet.

The Magic Kingdom strikes back

"Let's go out and terrify some Baptists," says another lesbian character on ABC's Ellen, which is averaging 2.5 million fewer viewers this year compared to last. The program, once on the verge of cancellation before its rejuvenation as an example of homosexual chic, is defying its critics with same-sex kissing, protests of restrictive ratings, and celebrity guest stars rallying to its defense (though, like Emma Thompson in the Baptist-terrifying episode, they often release statements insisting on their own heterosexuality). On other fronts, Disney, which owns ABC, is also attacking its boycotters. In an interview on 60 Minutes on rival network CBS, Disney chairman Michael Eisner took on the issue. "When somebody says Pocahontas is anti-Christian or anti-Jewish or anti-black or anti-Native American," he said, "I say inside deep down, 'They're nuts.'" He also denied that the boycott is hurting his company financially. Certainly, Disney's profits, after a rocky beginning of the year, rose 18 percent over the previous quarter. Although broadcasting and cartoon revenues are down, Disney World's 25th Anniversary promotions brought in big crowds, and income from other ventures was strong. Polls show many Southern Baptists balking at the boycott, but others are hanging tough. And Catholics are starting to weigh in, with the conservative Catholic League calling for a boycott protesting ABC/Disney's Nothing Sacred, which stars a liberal priest. (The program was picked up for the rest of the season despite being in 92nd place in the ratings, proving that the free market does not necessarily govern what is shown on TV.)

The Dilbert hoax

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In a world without common sense, there is a fine line between parody and actual practice. The gullibility of hard-headed business executives was put to the test by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, which regularly lampoons the corporate rat race. Mr. Adams, with the cooperation of the head of Logitech International, the world's biggest manufacturer of computer mice, posed as a management consultant who held a seminar for company executives. Disguised in a wig and fake moustache, Mr. Adams cited his credentials working with Proctor & Gamble's project to improve the taste of soap. The executives dutifully nodded in agreement. Mr. Adams then took the group through the ubiquitous exercise of examining their mission statement. The existing statement-"to provide Logitech with profitable growth and related new business areas"-was too simple. After an exercise in brainstorming and sharing, the new mission statement was "to scout profitable growth opportunities in relationships, both internally and externally, in emerging, mission-inclusive markets, and explore new paradigms and then filter and communicate and evangelize the findings." Still encountering no opposition, Mr. Adams drew a final diagram to bring the session into focus: a picture of Dilbert. Taking off his wig, he told the group, "You've all been had!" Similar seminars-involving everything from New Age meditation techniques to firewalking-have become commonplace in American businesses. Even many churches are adopting secular management fads in place of churchly government. They should all beware of the Dilbert hoax.


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