Jewish World Review May 11, 2004 / 20 Iyar, 5764

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
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Consumer Reports

Here an ad, there an ad, everywhere | "Spider-Man 2" opens June 30.

I know this because I am a big Spider fan and have been waiting for this sequel ever since the closing credits on the original. I also know it because Major League Baseball entered into an agreement to place the movie's logo on the bases in its ballparks. Also, the pitcher's mound and the on-deck circle.

At least that was the plan until baseball purists started whining last week about the damage this would do to the sanctity of the game and the league promptly caved in. Critics say this was just another example of the way advertising has crept into every nook and cranny of American life.

Which is, of course, pure Oscar Mayer baloney.

I was talking with some friends just the other day as we enjoyed the clean, crisp taste of Sprite and we all agreed that we don't know what the problem is. You keep hearing all these complaints about subway stations and arenas renamed for multinational corporations, about public schools shilling for soft-drink companies, about police cars emblazoned with fast-food logos, about product placements on sitcoms and in movies, about actors paid to slip product references into interviews, about the fear that advertising is inescapable and that, indeed, it has become nearly impossible to tell where the commercials end and everything else begins.

And I say, so what? Isn't it true that the business of America is business? Isn't it true that what's good for Madison Avenue is good for the nation?

My friends and I chewed this over while waiting for the guy from Papa John's to deliver one of those better pizzas made from better ingredients. We asked ourselves, what makes this country great? Is it the matchless beauty of the land? The productivity of the people? The freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution?

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If you believe that, you ought to jump into your Mazda Miata and zoom zoom zoom to see a shrink. Which will be easy to do so long as you've got Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

As any child who spends the recommended five hours a day in front of the Panasonic television can tell you, what makes America great is the commercials. Without them, how would we know which deodorant is strong enough for a man but made for a woman or which adult beverage deserved to be voted president of beers? Without them, how would we know what to want?

It's unconscionable that we would deny our children access to this rich resource. Do we want them to lag behind the British, the Canadians or even the French?

No, it seems to me that what we need in this country is more access to advertising, not less. What does it suggest to you that you can walk among the monuments of this nation's very capital and see not a single billboard and darn few product placements?

My friends, let me share with you my vision for Washington. I see the Lincoln Memorial remodeled, the 16th president kicking back in a La-Z-Boy. I see a Dutch Boy emblem on the side of the executive mansion with a sign noting that this is the paint that keeps the White House white. And for the Washington Monument? What else but the Viagra logo painted tastefully on the side, extending to the top in red letters 30 feet wide?

OK, so some people will be upset. There'll be some bellyaching about commercialism, loss of dignity, the invasion of civic spaces, yadda yadda yadda.

The question is, will we let this dissuade us? I hope not. It's vital that we maximize our potential as a nation of commerce and consumption.

That's why this thing with Major League Baseball represents a frighteningly slippery slope. Today it's taboo to put a Spider-Man logo on first base. Tomorrow will we ban the golden arches from police cars or refuse to name a subway station after a bathroom cleanser?

What kind of nation would that make us? I'm sure that, like me, you get sick to the stomach just thinking about it.

Pepto-Bismol's good for that.

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