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Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2002 / 14 Teves, 5763

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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Consumer Reports


Smells of stigma


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | In the land of the sensitive and interminably offended, there’s never a shortage of things that make you go: Are they serious? Take Paris-based Christian Dior Parfum and its new Addict fragrance, which is part of the new Dior Addict cosmetics and fragrance line. Lipstick came first, then nail polish and now perfume.

>Dior’s ad campaign uses the phrase, "Will You Admit It," accompanied by — this will jolt — a clad-in-almost-nothing model, one thumb hooked in her underwear, standing in front of her reflection that reflects a certain je ne sais quoi. Perfumeadvertisement rapture, perhaps? All while under a spotlight, and, natch, shimmery with water.

Recovering addicts are appalled, outraged and everything else. "Admitting" is the language of recovery. Using it to sell perfume, protesters says, is appalling, outrageous — and makes it hard to teach children that addiction is not glamorous.

Huh?

That children pay much attention to ads for a perfume that costs $150 per ounce doesn’t appear an overwhelming concern. But then, it likewise seems a stretch to say that Addict’s campaign cheapens the work of recovery.

Unless you’re a protester like Susan Rook, former CNN anchor and recovering alcoholic and drug addict. She’s now with Faces and Voices of Recovery, an advocacy group in Alexandria, Va. Dior’s campaign, she says, trivializes a "critical health issue."

Tom Riley, spokesman for the highly effective White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, agrees. It’s "irresponsible, sick and sad," he told USA Today. "I think they should be more sensitive to the reality of addition and not use a disease of the brain... to market their products."

One wonders if ad execs actually considered brain diseases when concocting Dior’s ad, which relies on what all perfume and high-end clothing ads do: bizarre images meant to portray products as unbearably sexy and absolutely hip. The more tenuous the link between product and ad, the better. It’s part of the allure — or what makes normal people turn the page.

Faces and Voices of Recovery has launched "Addiction is Not Fashionable," a campaign to get Dior to change Addict’s name or pressure companies to deny Dior advertising.

Did I miss the campaigns against Calvin Klein’s Obsession — an affront to obsessive-compulsive individuals and would-be stalkers? Or Clinque’s Happy that’s sure to depress the depressed? Dior’s Poison that could haunt poisoning victims? Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium that entices the addicted?

Not everyone is gunning against Dior. Stella March, coordinator for National Alliance on Mentally Ill’s StigmaBusters project, says the anti-Addict campaign would be borderline because Dior’s ad doesn’t mention a person — merely a term. Besides, StigmaBusters has bigger offenses to fry. Like "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." No, not witchcraft. Straitjackets. NAMI admits most people probably haven’t seen the scene, which follows the credits, but insists it stereotypes mental illness. In it, the cowardly Professor Lockhart — who earlier loses his mind after a spell gone wrong and can’t remember his name — is in a straitjacket "wiggling and mumbling aimlessly." Pointing out that compassionate conservative himself President Bush advocates eliminating stigma, NAMI says straitjackets represent pain and suffering. The scene therefore is a "cruel parody" and should be removed from all future copies of the film or altered — like "E. T." was altered to remove politically incorrect guns from police attempting to stop boys on bicycles. When in doubt, alter, remove and sanitize.

Then there’s the Wendy’s commercial. In a group support session, a member reports that he bought Wendy’s Classic Double with Cheese, saying, "Call me crazy but it felt great!"

Need I explain: The commercial trivializes mental illness and treatment. Encourages stigma, too. All for a burger.

And lest I forget, there’s the Seattle Times columnist in trouble for using manic depression as a metaphor to explain her city’s bizarre spending habits. She used a serious subject to highlight a serious subject through sarcasm and wit. Writers do that sometimes.

Perhaps no more. The list of protected groups and the words and images to which only they are entitled grows. To discomfort anyone at any time has become the ultimate offense — even when there’s no reason to find one.

It’s pathological. Not to stigmatize.

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JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

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10/31/02: Abused again: Domestic Violence Awareness Month's discrimination
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10/16/02: The mental illness of a relationship
10/09/02: Little monsters
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09/25/02: America has no right to criticize any country
09/18/02: Hey, Bill: Time to enter the No Ego Zone
09/11/02: Reliving 9/11 again and again and ...
09/04/02: The price of success: When being a responsible father is not enough
08/28/02: When separate can be equal --- and better
08/22/02: Egypt and Saudi Arabia: Curious inconsistencies
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08/08/02: Why women will remain the at-risk gender
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© 2002, Northwest Arkansas Times