Sam, you’re not fully present; not paying attention; not living simply.

The old tradition of Lent began last Wednesday. I didn't grow up observing it, but I've gained a deep appreciation for what it represents and for the excuse it provides to give up something for six weeks. I'm telling you this because I decided to give up TV this time around.

So what? Well, it means two things:

  1. I won't get as much advertising material as I've found during the past season of watching a serious amount of TV (I'm still incredibly below the national average of +/-5 hours a day, but that number seems absurdly non-human so I'll compare myself to the humans on the healthier end of that spectrum. And speaking of humans and non-humans, this TV viewing summary from 2009 brings aliens into question.)
  2. I'll have a chance to renew my viewing sensitivity. Six weeks away from TV has a way of sharpening my senses to what's good and what's bad about it, and it's been several years since taking my last hiatus. It's time for a lens cleaner.
To learn more about Lent, read my recent reflection on it at Fracturedness and Our Need for Lent.


Take It On Tuesdays: "Little Debbie, anyone?"

Take It On Tuesdays is a weekly encouragement for you to either Take It or Take It On. You'll use both depending on the work situation. You may need to turn the other cheek or confront, surrender or stand your ground, step back or step up. Here's to knowing which and when, and having the courage to follow through.


When I was eleven, I remember spending one long summer day riding bikes with Eric and his brother. We rode for miles up and down the western Pennsylvania hills on BMX bikes (read: no granny gears). At that young age, we had plenty of energy but little common sense, so while we covered a great distance, we hadn't considered the return trip. In fact, by the time we stopped traveling, we had almost zero energy to return.

Coincidentally (perhaps), we crashed in the parking lot of a small convenient store. We were starving and weak. And we had no money. In a very memorable and (I thought) desperate act, I went inside and painstakingly took a Little Debbie snack from the shelf without the owner's notice. 

I had never committed such a crime, but we were hungry and I was excited to provide a remedy. I felt brave, like a mini hero. The brothers, however, were shocked. 

"You have to take it back! It doesn't matter if we're hungry - you can't do that!" 

Here I was the church-goer of the three and yet they were serving as our communal conscience. So I took it back. The store owner may have given the .25 cent cake to us had we told him our story but that hadn't crossed my mind. We were genuinely in need of food and I justified a way to get it.

Similar deeds take place every day in the workplace: a Little Debbie in accounting, a Little Debbie of plagiarism.... When you're tempted, you can either take it, or Take It. Go the hard route. You might let a boss or client down, but go hungry anyway.

My friends made me do the right thing and I hope yours do, too.

Related post: Art Worth Doing


Take It On Tuesdays: Convince someone else to say No

Take It On Tuesdays is a weekly encouragement for you to either Take It or Take It On. You'll use both depending on the work situation. You may need to turn the other cheek or confront, surrender or stand your ground, step back or step up. Here's to knowing which and when, and having the courage to follow through.


I had a boss who felt responsible for meeting the spiritual needs of all 3500 students on campus. Her job description affirmed this task, yet even with the combined help of our entire department, success was clearly unattainable. Ideal but unattainable.

So I chose to Take It On. In retrospect, I pushed back too hard (Thirty five does sound kinda radical as a substitute for 3500!), but I knew our approach wasn't realistic. We were heading for burn-out.

I had to say no to my boss. Even if she chose not to say no to her boss in turn, I couldn't continue at this unmanageable pace. Strategic goals have their place and it would have been great to list "3500 Served" on an annual report, but not when it costs everyone in the long run. 

Here's the rub. If the ladder rungs above expect 3500 and I decide 35, they can make me pack my bags. If they demand that I churn out deadline work and one day I decide to slow down, they may just find a starry-eyed replacement.     

Name a burnout area in your job this week. How would you build a case against it? What argument could you develop? How might you explain the proposed results? Think these through, and then with equal bits of grace, courage and shrewdness, convince someone else on the ladder to Take It On with you.        


Hyundai Assurance

Hyundai's approach has that Public Service Announcement feel and (though it could be the guy's voice) it strikes me as honorable.  

"...because the economy hasn't really turned around for any of us, until it turns around for all of us."

This line does make me Think About It - not as a car purchaser at this time, but as a neighbor to Hyundai. I asked Greg Stielstra about the fine line between serving and being served. He wrote Faith-Based Marketing: The Guide to Reaching 140 Million Christian Customers after marketing Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life to international fame. The interview gets a little spicy in part 2, but I appreciated his insight which you can read here.


Man Step or Functionality? The Masculinity Divide

I'm guessing you've seen the now older Chevy Silverado's "Man Step" and the cruelty involved, especially toward a guy who has that much trouble on a ladder. Here it is in case you haven't:

Now here's something you may not have seen. Watch the first 35 seconds to see Howie react very differently to truck bed assistance:

The inconsistency from "Man Step" to "EZ Lift Tailgate" looks a lot like what I saw in the line-up of this year's Super Bowl commercials. Both contained a hodgepodge commentary on masculinity. As I wrote in the comments of Dove Men+Care and Fight Clubs,

You had Tim Tebow promoting life and Dante's Inferno taking life, David Letterman - in my opinion - reconciling with Jay Leno but doing so behind a macho facade of teasing, Men+Care body wash by Dove, men literally without pants and men figuratively "without pants" but who still got to have their manly Dodge Charger....

Are these spots and the ones above aimed at different men, or the two sides of all men? I don't appreciate Howie's bullying but his apparent ambivalence points to an increasingly acceptable hodgepodge. It could be just a marketing thing, or perhaps an indication of a growing masculinity divide.


Take It On Tuesdays: I wanted to break his neck

Take It On Tuesdays is a weekly encouragement for you to either Take It or Take It On. You'll use both depending on the work situation. You may need to turn the other cheek or confront, surrender or stand your ground, step back or step up. Here's to knowing which and when, and having the courage to follow through.


Todd was, by far, the most annoying co-worker I ever had. From my very first day as a laborer on the roofing crew he pushed me. Snide remarks about me going to college, harsh insults when I didn't know the names of materials or made mistakes, endless and unforgettable profanities about women.... He was that guy who could push until he sensed you might actually break his neck and then he'd quickly back down to avert the threat. 

The things is - and this is what kept me from actually breaking his neck - he needed help. Once I realized that his behavior came from a lifetime of dysfunction and abandonment, I began to soften. My hatred subsided. Was it easy to Take It? Never. But it got better. In fact, I don't think he knew what to do with being loved.

Todd needed something he'd never find through the only way he knew how to behave. That was the reality and I couldn't wait around for him to be respectable before being granted my care.

Take It when you run into Todd this week.


Dove Men+Care and Fight Clubs

Looks like the drumbeat of John Eldredge's hyper-masculine book, Wild at Heart, is gaining ground. Segments of the evangelical church have been calling men to become Bravehearts and Gladiators ever since the book hit the bookstores and now we have to contend with the rising popularity of fight club ministries. Unbelievable.

Meanwhile, Dove is helping men get in touch with their feminine side with Men+Care. Here's the ad they launched through The Ogilvy Group in yesterday's Superbowl.

What's a guy to do?

Related articles:
A Jesus for Real Men
Men (Manly Men)

Hat tip to CaPC for the fight club article.


You the Critic: Shaw Floors and Campbell's soup revisited

Pardon the apparent redundancy from my last post, but here I want to step back (In reverse fashion, that was the cart; this is the horse) and ask open-ended questions about the two magazine ads I showed. Just pretend that you've never seen them.


  1. Both ads are running in current publications. What do you think about the simultaneous affirmation of faux (read "fake") products and real products?
  2. Are there moral implications in either or both of these messages?
  3. Are the ads equal or unequal in their care for neighbor?
Answer all three or one that resonates. If you've never commented on a blog before, simply click a comment link at the bottom of this post.

Click on the images to enlarge them.


On the co-existence of Shaw Floors and Campbell's soup

Faux or Real? I've asked the question many times here and even got flack for one particular rant on the subject. I return so often to this question because I'm interested in more than a simple identification exercise or an occurrence tabulation. (By the way, any idea if faux would win the prevalence prize on a night of TV ads?)

In particular, I'm interested in the question's relevance to us as consumers and human beings. I've included two magazine ads below - one for a faux product and one for a real product - that jointly raise questions about What We Want and Whether What We Want is Good for Us. I hope the co-existence of these two images and the questions they ask are as interesting to you as they are to me.

Here is the first, for Shaw Floors (Click on the images for a larger view):

The copy reads, "I want a floor that will give my home a look that normally takes decades to earn." This is classic faux. Granted, I find the room wonderfully appealing. Old wood takes me somewhere when I see it in antique furniture and aged floorboards. But I need to deny myself of this old looking product. Give me the real thing or give me something else altogether.

What We Want is the item we can't afford (real Hickory); a time we can't grasp (100 years ago?); or, most often and unfortunately, a status we can't attain. Yet how many of us claim these reasons as our own when we consider a product like Shaw flooring? Faux is so common and so accepted - even affirmed - that we rarely consider our human desires that lie beneath the surface.

In a Country Home magazine feature called "Wood Looks," the writer asked:
"What's real wood? What's not? We applaud the technological advances that make it more and more difficult to tell real maple, pine, cherry, walnut, and hickory from its less-expensive laminate, vinyl, and engineered-wood substitutes."
The example of technology working to replicate the unattainable reminds me of Stuart Ewen's analysis in All Consuming Images:
"Fueled by their desire for franchise and status, the merchant class [beginning in the middle ages] mimicked and appropriated consumption practices of the nobility.... Conspicuous consumption...was the mark of status. In a world where nobility still ruled, the merchant class seized upon symbols of excess which had customarily been prerogatives of landed elites…style was becoming something one could acquire.... Clocks, once the extravagantly tooled possessions of the few who could afford to own them, were mass produced [with 'the suggestion of fine hand-carving']....
For the members of an expanding middle class, the historically coded look of wealth was coming within their means."

Is What We Want Good for Us?
I've had many conversations about the role and value of faux products. I'm not a fan, personally, and marketers, more than others it seems, push back on this position. "It's less expensive," some advocate. Others endorse the buying and selling of it in terms of compassion: "If a customer can't afford the real, why deny him of enjoying the look of real?"

Fair question. And one that is ironically and increasingly addressed by the marketing world itself. You've heard the answer if you've heard Wendy's jingle, "You know when it's real." Wendy's playful spot (by Kaplan Thaler, New York) unveils one faux item after another and ends with a strong affirmation that consumers value authenticity and genuineness. Real is what we want because we know - when it comes to food, at least - that it's good for us. Real food is better than faux food.

The second print ad is for Campbell's Select Harvest soup:

Here, Campbell's claims "Real Ingredients. Real Taste." I did need a dictionary for several items in the Progresso ingredient list, and though I still can't confirm the genuineness of those items, Campbell's infers that Progesso uses faux additives, which - we're fairly scientifically certain - is a bad idea.

Neither Wendy's nor Campbell's applaud faux. Yet Shaw's does, and we don't wonder if faux is good or bad for us there. Frankly, we don't care. But should we? 

Why my floor matters
Faux interacts with us. In whatever product form, its marketability and success indicate a human longing for what is real. The plug for real says we want real. The plug for faux also says we want real. This is why I stated that these print ads jointly raise questions. They co-exist under the same premise.  

Perhaps, therefore, the second question ought to be restated since what we want is good for us. We want authenticity and genuineness - in food, floors, family, friendships and faith. A better question might be, Is What We Buy Good for Us?

In the cases of Shaw Floors and hydrogenated soybean oil, I'll have to say no.

Other posts on faux:
Great Gifts Faux This Christmas!
Locks of Love: Friend or Faux?


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