Monday, March 14, 2005

Read Philosofickle, Play Again

Imagine for a minute you're sitting down to a delicious steak dinner. You've got a giant baked potato, with butter and sour cream, an ear of corn picked by hand from a beautiful field, rolls fresh from the oven, and there, in the middle of your plate, smothered with spices, is a gorgeous hunk of meat. You stick your fork into the steak, slice off a big piece, dip it into a little A1 sauce, lift it towards you lips, and stop, just short of your mouth, to quickly check the bottom of the meat for the words: "Buy T-Bone or Sirloin, Get One Free."

It's a strange phenomenon, "winning" when you eat. You can win when you open a candy bar. You can win when you drink a pop. You can win when you crack open a bag of chips. And finishing a box of cereal is as close to a guaranteed win as anything. Can steak be far behind? Soon enough cows will branded with the slogan "1 in 6 Get Free Heifer"

Only in America. And people wonder why we're an obese nation? It isn't that we're fat, it's that we're competitive. Food is all a big game to us. Opening a bottle of pop is practically a spectator sport. In fact, it's leading the race to replace hockey as the fourth major.

As far as marketing ploys go, this strategy isn't so bad. People like games. People like it when they win games. They like it even more when winning a game earns them a prize. And if they can win a game and get a prize for nothing more spectacular than digestion? Truly, is there anything sweeter? It's like a pie-eating contest without the stomachache or shirt-stains. And the blue ribbon for drinking Mountain Dew goes to... every third person!

Part of the appeal is that people feel so darn good when they win a contest. It doesn't matter if the contest is one of skill, strength, blind-luck, or yes, even mass consumerism. When people win they feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. "A temporary tattoo at the bottom of my Cracker Jacks? Yes, I really am that good."

The catch, of course, is that you always stand a better chance of losing than you do of winning. And let's not kid ourselves, because when you aren't winning, you're losing. There aren't any ties in snacking. Either you win or you lose. You never see "Oooh, that was a close one, tell ya what, we'll call it even" printed on the inside of a candy bar wrapper. No, the phrase is always something like "Sorry, this is not a winning piece."

And if the piece isn't a winning piece, then that means it must be a losing piece. Sure, they print their safe little "you didn't win" message on the wrapper, but we all know what they really mean. It's something more to the effect of "Ha-ha! You pathetic LOSER! You grabbed the wrong candy bar. You thought it was a winner, but you weren't even close. Missed by a mile. What a moron. If you can't even pick out the right candy bar, how are you ever going to succeed in life? Plus you're ugly and you smell bad. Loser!" And that's the trouble with Snickers. Because behind that sweet chocolatey, peanutty goodness there lies the malignant soul of a school-yard bully.

Frankly, that's not what I need from my food. My self-esteem is low enough as it is, so it doesn't help that every time I open a bottle of cherry coke I take a shot to my ego. If this were physical abuse we'd never stand for it. Here, have a bottle of pop. Either you'll get another one free, or we'll kick you in the shins! Good luck!

Maybe the reason we sustain the emotional abuse is because we're just stupider than the people selling it to us. Because now, not only do they deny you a prize and insult your ability to complete simple tasks, they actually take the time to encourage you to try again. "Drink Coke, Play Again" say the 11 bottle caps on my desk. They don't even bother to tell you that you didn't win because they're too busy lining you up for the next shot they're gonna take. In four little words they manage to get across a denial ("You lose"), an insult ("You're stupid") and a tricky hook that they use to reel you right back in ("But we bet you aren't so stupid that you won't play again!"). And it works too. After every one of those 11 bottle caps told me I was a loser I said to myself "But maybe I'll win next time. That'll show 'em!"

And sure enough, on the 12th bottle, I was the 1 in 12 who won a free coke. Yes, I really am that good.


Nate said...

Wow Matt,

This post is gold. They say that a good writer is able to elucidate a concept that the reader will connect with. Such is indeed the case with this, as with all your posts. I enjoy reading your blog, it is both humorous and thought provoking, a dynamite duet.

emnovak said...

You have low self-esteem? what does that say about the rest of us?

JAAndersland said...

Doh! I was going to say something to that effect Emily. Matt if you have low self esteem... well then the whole world must be depressed and have to start taking prozac. Well maybe not some lawyer is trying to say that prozac will bring out the darkside in you and make you kill your grandparents. Oh well there are plenty of anti-depressents out there. Such is the world we live in. :)

Matthew B. Novak said...

How in the world is that the one thing you guys pick out from this whole post? The point wasn't my self esteem, it was just that I don't need to be insulted by my food.

Gina said...

That was a good post, very enjoyable. As I was reading it though I was also thinking about commenting on your low self esteem really not being as low as you might think it is.

btnovak said...

yeah but can you win a free box of prozac if you happen to pick the lucky box on the shelf? if not can you imagine what that does to ones self esteem?

dyk said...

"Pop Prozac, Play Again! LOSER!" HA!
Now I see where Matt gets his creative genius.

Also, should I be extremely concerned that upon Matt's posting I was in the middle of writing a post about the merits of pinball offering a false sense of ccomplishment for those of us who prefer to wallow in our sense of insiginficance. (I was, it appears, the only one not taken aback by Matt's false sense of ego.) Have I been Kaufmaned?

Kajsa said...

At lunch, I purchased a bottle of Cherry Coke because it was on sale. I got back to our lunchroom and opened the top to find that I had won A FREE COKE. Since 1 in 6 wins I'm not quite as cool as I would be if the odds were half that, but these days I'll take what I can get. Chances are though, if history repeats itself, that the cap will be long forgotten in a drawer and then thrown away. I don't think I've ever actually redeemed any bottle top for a free beverage.