National trend toward selfishness

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 24, 2002

Compare television commercials over the last thirty years and a disturbing trend appears. We have gone from a little boy giving up his soft drink to a gruff football player, to a yuppie woman being encouraged to hoard her gourmet cookies and being told that "sharing is overrated." Thirty years ago, a crowd of people stood on a snowy hill singing about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony – and sharing that same soft drink. Today, two parents wait until their children go to bed before baking cookies – again, so they won't have to share.

It is a chicken-and-egg question. Which came first, the commercials celebrating selfishness or the selfishness, reflected by the commercials?

Of course, there have always been examples of both extremes, then and now. If the children in cereal commercials who refused to share their food with the cartoon rabbit had been real, their grandchildren would be eating the cereal now. The big greeting card company has those charming spots today, the "warm, fuzzy" commercials that promote their warm, fuzzy cards.

Madison Avenue, the hub of the mass advertising world, has always been quick to grab a trend. They have psychologists on staff to study and determine the mood of the nation, and to discover the best way to sell something to that mood. They resurrect the songs of the Baby Boomers' younger days and sell them on nostalgia. They grab a very recent hit and sell to the Baby Boomers' children.

But the great minds of the advertising world are also capable of creating trends, from talking chihuahuas to silly catch phrases. They are also capable of tapping and exposing a vein of humanity, filled with charity and grace. The beautiful, tasteful tributes to the victims of Sept. 11 are testimony of that.

Since the first months after that day and that outpouring of donations, the giving has slowed. Blood, time, money…. what once we handed over with open hearts and hands, we now part with far less freely, far more reluctantly.

We would like to see Madison Avenue at its satellite communities of advertisers do is use their talents of observation and presentation to remind the nation that the gifts are still needed. The Ad Council does this well with its public service announcements, but the sentiment could be expressed in the "regular" ads as well, instead of cookie-hoarding adults who spread the message that "sharing is overrated."