Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mad Men

 “Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.”  –Don Draper, Mad Men 

My wife and I have been watching the AMC series “Mad Men” for a while now (we watch it at our own pace on DVD and are only on Season 2, so please, no spoilers!).  For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it centers around a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the late 50s/early 60s, the schemes employed by them to create ads, and the lifestyles of the various characters.  The show is quite entertaining.  One of its funnier aspects (even though they tend to overdo it) is how the writers portray things that were  supposedly commonplace in America in the early 1960s, but that today we would all view as absurd.  For example, drinking hard liquor all day at the office, not wearing a seat belt, the way women are portrayed both in the office and at home, and in every scene almost every character is smoking (including a scene with a pregnant woman presumably very close to her due date having a cocktail and puffing away at a cigarette!).  There was even a scene with the main character and his family having a picnic in a very nice park.  As they were leaving, he throws his empty beer can in the woods, and his wife simply picks up their blanket, shakes off all of their trash (napkins, cans, etc.) and walks away.

I’ve always assumed that the writers are intentionally over the top with their portrayal of just how “stupid” everyone was in the early 60s.  I wasn’t around in the 60s, so I don’t really know, but I doubt we've gotten that much smarter in the past 50 years.  Most of the time I watch and think, “This must be a gross exaggeration.  It couldn’t have been that bad! No one would be that stupid!” 

But then I started thinking of the things that we did just a few years ago (and that a lot of people still do today), and I wondered:  What would a show about endurance sports in the late 00s/early 10s look like forty years from now?  People eating eggs but only after removing the yolk, which happens to be the most nutritious part; eating a gel just before a run because they think they need those extra carbs to make it through their 40 minute workout; adding more and more cushioning to their shoes and getting more and more injured in the process . . . ; the list goes on.

I bring up those three specific examples because, like a lot of you, I fell victim to the false thinking that led to those mistakes.  Mistakes that, looking back, I cannot believe I was stupid enough to make!  What was I thinking!?  I will touch on the nutritional examples in a later post.  Today, I want to discuss shoes. 

I’ve been reading “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.  It’s a GREAT book—well written, entertaining, and very informative (Thanks, Ryan!).  If you are a runner, PLEASE (!) drop what you are doing, go to the nearest bookstore, and read Chapter 25 (then you can buy it and read the rest later).  Don’t worry; it will not spoil anything from the previous 24 chapters.  But it will explain some of the problems with running shoes today.

Honestly, it made me angry.  Angry that I spent years running in products that were most likely the very cause of my running injuries.  Angry that I spent thousands of dollars over those years searching for the answer and trusting that the “experts” knew what they were talking about.  Angry that I assumed that those same experts were looking after my best interests.  But mostly, Angry at the Mad Men who came up with these products and swore to me that I would injure myself without them; swore to me that I needed to replace them as soon as the cushioning wore down; swore to me that the more I spent, the more protected I would be; and all along the Mad Men were reading study after study telling them they were wrong on all accounts.

I trusted companies that made money when I bought their shoes, when they told me that I would injure myself if I didn’t buy their most expensive shoes at least every three months.  They never cured my injuries.  But I kept buying.  I cannot believe I actually fell for this.  I thought I was smarter than that.

Thinking back on it, I am in disbelief that I fell into their trap.  All I can think is, “This must be a gross exaggeration.  It couldn’t have been that bad!  No one would be that stupid!”

Fortunately, I now know better.  I've learned from experience, not from a book and not from a shoe salesman.

Consider this: If you put your leg in a cast, the muscles will atrophy and become weak.  Shoe companies have been selling us casts for our feet and telling us that it was a design flaw in our feet that made their products necessary.  The weaker it got, the thicker they made the casts.  We bought it.  And the more we bought it, the more we got injured.

Regardless of your beliefs in God vs. Mother Nature, the human foot is a brilliant work of structural integrity.   When will we stop arrogantly assuming that we can outsmart our creator?

“The deviation of man from the state in which he was originally placed by nature seems to have proved to him a prolific source of diseases.”  –Edward Jenner

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