Has Lying Become Normal and Acceptable in American Society?
Let me lead here with a thesis: In contemporary American society, especially in advertising and politics, lying has become so pervasive as to be expected and normal. Put another way, most of us, Americans, have become so jaded by the pervasiveness of lying, especially in advertising and politics, that we generally expect it and consider it normal if not guiltless.
Two questions: Is this true? And if so, is it a problem?
I have read articles claiming that in some countries in Europe (and possibly elsewhere) cheating on reporting income for tax purposes is so pervasive that it is considered normal and the government adjusts for it. In other words, taxes are raised to make up for the pervasive cheating so that those few who decline to cheat pay a higher rate of tax than those—the majority—who cheat. Cheating on taxes is rarely investigated, discovered or punished—except in extreme cases.
Has American society fallen into a condition where lying in advertising and politics is so rampant and pervasive that most people do not even think of calling it out?
I could give numerous examples here that I think support my thesis above. But I will let others simply think about it. Have you noticed blatant lying or not-very-subtle deception in advertising —which is ubiquitous—that you is generally accepted as not really lying or deceiving even though, technically, it certainly is? That’s what I’m talking about…in both advertising and politics much is communicated that is simply, blatantly untrue, but many people are so used to it that they might even defend it as okay, acceptable.
Recently I pointed out a billboard message with a slogan for a Real Estate firm that was blatantly false and I was told that I was “too literal-minded.” The critic admitted that the slogan is untrue, but seemed to think that such was normal in advertising to the point that it is not a problem.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
So let me give a hypothetical example for your consideration. Suppose I put on my “business card” (and elsewhere to bring attention to myself as a professional person) that “I don’t teach students; I teach truth that transforms.” Sound nice, right? Catchy? Maybe. But is it true—that I don’t teach students? I do teach students. I most definitely do. But would that slogan be considered untrue, deceptive, even a lie by anyone? I hope so. But I suspect not. So much advertising is like that that we think nothing of it.
Let me offer a somewhat silly example. For many years now I have been patronizing a small business near my home. I go there at least two or three times a month to access their services. I’m in their database; when I tell them my name (which I have to in order to access their services) they see my address and telephone number and how many times I’ve done business with them (by now it would be hundreds of times). They accept my check without question. One time I saw that this business was advertising itself with the slogan “We Love Our Customers!” So, the next time I entered the business I asked the person at the counter “Do you know me?” She said “No.” Then I asked her “But you love me, right?” She looked at me very strangely—as expected. Then I very gently pointed to the sign outside, in front of the store, on the street, and asked “How do you love your customers?” She was predictably nonplussed; she had no answer.
Now, admittedly, this is a very low-level, possibly even silly example of what I’m asking about here. But this kind of “over the top” advertising it, in my opinion, rampant in America. On a more seriously level think about automobile dealership advertising. And then think of the massive amounts of extremely fine print that appears together with the bold and on television loud claims made. I have tried to read that fine print and am rarely able to read it as it appears and disappears so quickly and is so small even when it is on the television screen for a few seconds. But I know from experience (and from examining it in print) that it so qualifies the claims being made loudly and/or in bold letters as to completely falsify them.
A few years ago I was shopping for a used car for my then teenage daughter. Her first car. Excitement and fear combined. She and I went to numerous car dealerships and ran into some of the most egregious lying I have ever experienced in relation to any business. But, hey, that’s expected, right? For example, at numerous used car dealerships we pointed to the relatively cheap price painted on the window of a car and asked about it. The common response was “That’s if you finance with us.” Nothing anywhere else said that; we only discovered that when we attempted to buy the car.
One day I found exactly the car we were looking for (in terms of make and model, mileage, condition, etc.) on a dealership’s web site. The asking price was “below book.” It was 8:00 AM. The dealership was in a city 100 miles away. I called the dealership as soon as it opened and asked if that specific car—using the number attached to it on the web site—was still “on the lot” and available for sale. Yes, I was told. I asked if they could hold it for two hours until we arrived. No, they said. It was a huge dealership with many hundreds of both new and used cars. So we all jumped in our car and headed down the interstate to that city and that dealership. When we arrived and met with the very salesman I had spoken to on the phone he sadly informed us that the car had just been sold within the last hour—on a Saturday morning at 9:30. I asked if I could see it because, obviously, at 10:30 it would still be somewhere there—being detailed or whatever. He said no, it was already gone. I told him I did not believe him and he acted offended. He wanted to show us similar cars—all with much higher prices. I told him that I believed this was a case of bait and switch and he again acted very offended and turned me over to a sales manager who also acted offended. To make a long story short, I eventually reached the owner of the dealership, confronted him with what had happened and asked for an explanation. He told me that the car we wanted had been sold weeks earlier and that it was “a mistake” for it to still be on the web site and that he would “talk to” the salesman and the sales manager about lying to me.
Now that dealership is a very large, very well-known one all around the area; I see many, many cars even 100 miles away with its name and logo on them. When I have told this story to people the usual response I get is something like “Well, you shouldn’t have expected that car at that price to be really on the lot; you shouldn’t have driven 100 miles to attempt to buy it.” In other words, most people are so used to businesses lying that they almost blame the victim who dares to take a chance that the advertising might be true and goes out of his or her way to find out.
I could recount numerous similar incidents that have happened to me and to people I know. Occasionally the Better Business Bureau can be of some assistance in extreme cases, but if the deceptive advertising is sufficiently careful not to be blatantly false but only deceptive, there’s not much anyone can do. In the state where I live the Attorney General’s office announced publicly a few years ago that it would no longer deal with consumer complaints.
Now, I realize that some readers will consider this merely whining about a pet peeve. But I have come to believe the problem I am pointing to is so pervasive—in both advertising (which is ubiquitous) and politics that is resulting in a great deal of legal robbery (including of votes) and cynicism. A society is held together by trust; even “little white lying” in advertising and politics erodes trust.
So what do I suggest? Do as I do—point out to businesses and politicians their deceptions even if they seem minor. Do not take lying, however minor, for granted; don’t get adjusted to it. Complain. Use the internet (but cautiously, of course). Find out the business owner’s or manager’s e-mail or other address and complain to him or her or them. Don’t just let it go.
*Special note to commenters: Do not name any specific businesses or people or institutions in any comment; even some that blatantly lie will sue people who call them out publicly. Such suits are called “scare suits.” Their only intention is to frighten people who dare to point out even real and provable mischief. That is why I won’t name the car dealership or give any information that might reveal it.
*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).