Words or phrases often acquire values that most people or a specific group of people find attractive or dislike. When the word or phrase is associated with a number of sharply distinguishing values it enters the lexicon of labels and brands. One of the tricks of propaganda and marketing is to label an idea, product or service with a word or phrase, which, by implication, imbues the product or service with the values associated with it.
The result of this process can lead to some of the most devious statements ever perpetrated on the public, as when Ronald Reagan’s Department of Agriculture tried to get ketchup relabeled as a vegetable for the purpose of the federal school lunch program. By making ketchup a “vegetable,” the hard-hearted Reaganites thought they could cut the school lunch program. On a “values” level, it meant the transformation of ketchup from something you could easily avoid if you wanted to lose a few pounds to something considered important for all diets.
It is in the spirit of Reagan’s ketchup gambit—or against that spirit, perhaps I should say—that OpEdge announced the creation of the Ketchup Awards earlier in the year. The Ketchup Awards honor the most egregiously deceptive bending of language, and in particular in the application of labels.
You know, like the restaurant that says the fish is local because it buys from a local distributor of fish caught thousands of miles away.
Or the prominent priest who compared the bad press the Catholic Church has suffered because of its abuse of children to what Jews have suffered through the centuries from anti-Semites.
I asked for nominations three times, but only received one, from a gentleman named Paul Anater. I added Paul’s to the 11 mislabelings I nominated and then selected five finalists. Because I didn’t get many responses, I may not continue to give the award, although I will continue to collect examples of deception by mislabeling and share them with OpEdge readers.
Here then are the Five 2010 Ketchup Award Winners, in reverse order to build the suspense…
Fifth Place: Quality Withdrawal
The Girl Scouts issued a quality withdrawal in February when batches of the Lemon Chalet Crème cookies its girls were selling started tasting funny because the oils in them were decomposing rapidly. Trying to pretend that it was related to a quality initiative and not a full-fledged recall of low-quality cookies stank worse than the cookies themselves because deviousness in communications is not a good role model for young girls.
Fourth Place: Class Warfare
We’re not talking about the 30-year class war that has led to a redistribution of wealth up the ladder from the poor and the middle class to the wealthy by means of low taxation, union-busting and privatization. No we’re talking about the use of class warfare by two mainstream print columnists last August, Los Angeles Times’ Tony Petruno and New York Times’ Ron Lieber, to describe the new battle between those who have great public pensions which our politicians forgot to fund and the rest of us with lousy pensions because we’ve worked in the private sector. These reporters want to divide and conquer two parts of the same social class that should work together (and in the Western Europe of lifetime medical, unemployment and other benefits they do work together).
Third Place: The Jamestown Socialists
Dick Armey always starts with the premise that anything bad in society must result from socialism and that the fount of all good is free-market capitalism. No wonder then that in March this Armey of one Dick called the early example of industrial capitalism we know as Jamestown an example of socialism. It failed, and therefore it must be socialistic, as were, we can presume, the 1962 Mets and the bridge that collapsed in the Minneapolis area a few years back.
Second Place: Vessels of Opportunity
In June, Paul Anater pointed out that BP’s program to employ Louisiana fishing and shrimp boats—put out of business at least on a temporary basis by BP’s reckless oil spill—was called Vessels of Opportunity. The opportunity for these vessels was temporary work as oil skimmers. We can suppose that BP executives sincerely believe that when a door closes—such as the destruction of your livelihood by an oil spill—a window really does open.
Grand Ketchup Award Prize Winner: The Self-Made Multi-Millionaire
It is the American tradition to admire the self-made millionaire and to look slightly askance at the achievements of someone born with a silver iPhone in his or her hand tricked out with every app and a packed address book. And so when The Economist was doing one of its many encomiums to Mitt Romney, whose father was both a Governor and a multi-millionaire car-company CEO, the writers described Mitt as a self-made multi-millionaire, hoping that the self-made part would make the multi part admirable or more admirable. Despite the fact that Mittman was born on third base, The Economist wants us to think he hit a triple. We are ideologically programmed, almost from first grade, to admire the self-made person like Andrew Carnegie who started in poverty with no social connections and rose to riches and fame. The Economist wants to extend that admiration to Mittman, but it’s a rank distortion, because even though Romney made hundreds of millions through the purchase and sales of corporate assets, he is in no way, shape or form “self-made.”
That’s it for the 2010 Ketchup Awards.