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Jewish World Review June 29, 2001 / 8 Tamuz, 5761

Mark Lane

Mark Lane
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Consumer Reports

Nonshocking news hitting consumers -- FAKE "man on the street" movie raves? Phony movie review quotes? Why, I haven't been so disillusioned since the day somebody told me professional wrestling events are scripted!

Columbia Pictures has been -- oh, what is the journalistic phrase? -- rocked by scandal this summer. First, Newsweek uncovered the news that the film company attributed ecstatic reviews for four movies to a nonexistent movie critic. Then, it came to light that happy couples gushing in commercials for "The Patriot" were -- hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen! -- employees of Columbia Pictures.

We are shocked.

The couple in the television ads described the film as a "perfect date movie."

Now, I lack any certification as an expert in this field, but my experience is that no movie with protracted battlefield scenes qualifies as a "perfect date movie." I've rented "Gettysburg" twice, but I know better than to ask anyone to snuggle up in front of it.

Rule: If a long section of a movie's credits is a list of battlefield reenactors or the design team responsible for creating insects the size of mobile homes ... well, welcome to Girlfriend's Out of Town Theater.

The fake reviews were in praise of "The Animal" and "A Knight's Tale," among other film classics. (Note to Columbia Pictures: that was sarcasm. No fair printing " The Animal' . . . a film classic -- Mark Lane.")

This bit of deception would seem unnecessary since there is no shortage of critics who will say something good about most anything. Yes, there really are people who can watch a movie with "Saturday Night Live" alumni in it, type the phrase "busts the laff meter wide open!" and not think any less of themselves.

I'm sorry, I just report the news.

You can't believe critical praise in movie ads. You can't believe the testimonials of happy customers. And if all that isn't enough disillusionment, you can't always count on nutritional labels, either.

Big Daddy ice cream, a regionally marketed brand much in demand by dieters for its low calorie count, was found by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel to have three times the calories printed on the label and more than twice the fat. The company admitted its original numbers were wrong and promised a correction.

I'm going to run out and buy some while it still has a low calorie label. Soon it will be fattening.

Any student of junk food knows that the "standard portions" on the labels are rather Spartan. Multiply everything by two and live with it, is my rule of thumb. And accentuate the positive. This beer is fat-free. And that carb-bomb of a doughnut really doesn't have very much salt.

What all three of these marketplace scandalettes have in common is that few people believe strongly in the accuracy of any of the information in question.

Nutritional labels can tell you the rough difference between a cholesterol cocktail and health food but is not so good on judging the finer points between barbecue and mesquite flavored cheese curls. Movie ads? "Battlefield Earth" had critical raves in its ads. And anyone who believes commercials with "real people" on them should not be allowed to register to vote.

It is the nature of our commercial and media age that people walk around bombarded by dubious messages and commercial claims that defy common sense. Most of us numbly let it wash over us. We filter it without knowing we've turned the filters on. We apply the term "lie" only to bad information that angers us or makes it through the filter unexpectedly and makes us feel dumb.

That's why unremarkable disclosures like these are both useful and fun. It's a small unmasking that reassures you all is just as it seems. And it alerts you to the countless petty manipulations you take for granted in the course of the day.

The fight is staged, the movie stinks and ice cream makes you fat. The natural order is restored, if only for a summer.

Comment on JWR contributor Mark Lane's column by clicking here.

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© 2001, M. R. Lane