All we actually need is… reality

Paul Goebel

Something I’ve been seeing lately here on campus has got me thinking about a question that is a quandary to philosophers and thinkers everywhere: What is reality?

The thing that piqued my interest was seeing students, mostly men, out in real winter weather dressed like they are going to the beach or a pickup basketball game. It’s, oh, 30 degrees, there’s a mean north wind, and this dude is like, “What cold weather?”

The real breaker in this deal is the flip-flops. Now, let’s be realistic, this has to be very uncomfortable. So, why is this becoming more common? Have folks not been taught about coats and warm shoes? Are they displaced Southerners? Were they raised by wolves? Or do they simply suspend reality to look or act as they choose? This question can be tested in many situations.

Let’s look at health and fitness. Schools at the K through 12 level no longer require physical education classes and most districts have junk food in the cafeteria, along with vending machines in the commons. This combination, along with video game mania, has led to out of shape, overweight kids at a very young age. School officials and parents generally defend the situation by saying something like, “Well, we need all the time in the day for real subjects, and the district gets mega-bucks from Zeno Corp. to have the sugar and fat dispensers in our buildings.” Ah yes, the “time and money” reality.

At the adult level many folks drink diet pop while enjoying the triple burger with cheese, believing they are “watching their calories.” And of course the burger palace isn’t giving the consumer any clue on nutritional content at the counter. When some “consumer advocate whacko” suggests the need for better nutrition labeling the local business boosters and the burger czars deny any culpability. “We put all the information out on our Web site for the consumer’s benefit,” the czar says. The booster chimes in, “We need these jobs for the community’s economic growth.” Uh-huh. Minimum wage, no benefits, no chance to advance. Just what our city needs to maintain the great American way of life. Let’s see, this is the case of “commerce trumps public health” reality.

Do we dare look at the world of politics and government? After living through seven years of WMDs, Mission Accomplished, the Geneva Conventions as a quaint idea, suspension of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court choosing a president that had a half-million fewer votes than his opponent, we really do wonder where reality went! In an era where everything said in the hallowed halls is being TiVo’d and uploaded, it’s always fun to see some official or their spokesperson vehemently deny that they said they support torture when the original statement is running in the top 10 on YouTube and on evening news parodies. And perhaps most interestingly, Vice President Cheney had his residence’s image removed from Google Earth. So, if you are rich and powerful enough, you can buy, order or legislatively alter reality.

When the debate turns to science, the devout insist evolution is mumbo-jumbo and global warming is a plot from the liberal media. Visual and written records show that the ice caps and major glaciers worldwide have shrunk more in 50 years than in the previous 500 years. And yet I heard an older gentleman on NPR say that global warming was “some controversy thing [the media] like to promote, but scientists know it’s just some fluctuations in the weather.” But which scientists? Reality, what reality? Who can you believe, your eyes or “some scientists”?

And finally I’d like to present my favorite form of reality modification: the advertising disclaimer. As media consumers we all have seen literally thousands or tens of thousands of these little legal manifestos.

Here are a couple of examples. Be aware, I’m paraphrasing but you can find one of your own almost anywhere. Your favorite car company announces an amazing price on the new Crusher Extreme SUV for only $14.95… too good to be true, right? Yep, it is, because the fine print at the bottom says in 1,000 words or less, there are a limited number available, you need $20,000 down at the time of purchase, ad nauseum. But since you didn’t read the disclaimer, after haulin’ ass down to the showroom you discover you don’t qualify and the one they had is gone. But not to fear, one of the helpful sales associates shows you the Crusher LX they have on the lot which is only $43,127.09, on sale now. Whew. You made it, man. The other example is the pharmaceutical spot announcing a new once-a-day pill to cure droopy drawers or whatever the flavor-of-the-day malady might be. As the voice over tells you that Zerbette will cure your shingles, a “voice-under” mumbles that side effects may include murderous outbursts, anal leakage and cancer. Ah, finally, the “be healed or be dead” reality.

As we return to the serene college campus we once again observe the common T-shirted party-goer sauntering to Psych 101, earbuds streaming the dulcet tones of 50 Cent, oblivious to the fascinating world around him. Man, is iPod reality great or what?!