Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lies, Omissions and Sensationalism: The Story of Stuff

My 7 revolutions class was shown the video “The Story of Stuff” in class. This video, produced by the Tides foundation and presented by Annie Leonard, criticizes the structure of the materials economy. I believe that this video is too ideologically narrow and demagogs the issues it covers. Most troubling, it was presented to our class as fact when it is actually a string of far-left opinions. I do not reject the roll of opinions in informing the public, but I do believe that we must listen to opinions from across the ideological spectrum. No video was played to show the counterpoints to the opinions given. But even more importantly, an informed public must be taught to differentiate fact from opinion. Our media has done a horrible job at doing this, so it falls to our educational system to properly delineate the two. This is why it is more important than ever for teachers to make sure that they tell their students the difference between fact and opinion.

The Video begins with blatant misinformation. Annie Leonard states that more than 50% of our federal tax dollars pays for the military. That is just not true. The department of defense only takes up 18.74% of our federal budget. 61% of our federal budget is spent on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on our national debt, and other mandatory spending (2010 United States Federal Budget). These programs are paid for by taxes. I do not believe that an advocacy organization like the Tides Foundation wouldn't know the most basic facts about the federal budget. Therefore, the inevitable conclusion is that Annie purposely misrepresented the discretionary federal budget as the total federal budget in order to support her ideological position that we spend too much on defense.

“Extraction is a fancy word for Natural Resource Exploitation, which is a fancy word for trashing the planet.” Non-renewable resources are among many countries greatest assets, and refraining from using them would hurt the developing world's economic development. This is a classic example of using loaded words that are used to evoke a feeling rather than a meaning.

In the section Production, Annie states that only a handful of synthetic chemicals have been tested for human health impacts. Nevertheless, she states throughout the video that our products are laced with toxics. By definition if they haven't been tested, we can't know if the synthetic chemicals are toxic. She could have avoided this by saying that our products are full of potential toxics, but that would undermine the emotionalism she is determined to portray.

She criticizes corporations and free trade policies for creating horrible labor conditions and destroying the environment. “In this system unless you buy a lot of stuff or own a lot of stuff, you don't matter.” Drawings of people are crossed out as she speaks. She leaves out the fact that free trade creates jobs in developing countries and develops their economies. The points she raises are important, but looking only at the costs and at none of the benefits distorts reality beyond all recognition.

The most troubling moment in the video was when Annie criticized the economist Victor Lebow for proposing consumption as a way of sustaining growth in the American economy. “Eisenhower’s council of economics advisers chairman said that the American economy's ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods. More consumer goods...our ultimate purpose? Not health care, education, safe transportation, sustainability or justice?” There is no way that the purpose of the economy could be education, health care, or any of the other things she lists. The purpose of the economy is to produce wealth and create jobs. The tasks she lists are the jobs of government, not the economy.

Another painful moment in the video is when Annie criticizes George W. Bush's speeches after 9/11. “After 9/11, when our country was in shock, and president Bush could have suggested any number of appropriate things; to grieve, to pray, to hope, no, he said to shop!” In fact, George Bush DID call for us to pray (Bush). Whether this lie was due to ignorance or to malice, it is an unacceptable attack upon our former president. Moreover, the call to shop came from the fear that the collapse in demand would cause a recession. In calling upon Americans to prevent this from happening, George Bush did the right thing. Moreover, Bush's speeches after 9/11 were among the best moments of his presidency, eloquently expressing the dismay and horror that America felt after the most devastating attacks in our history. There are many reasons to be critical of George Bush, but this is not one of them.

She claims that the point of advertisements is to make us unhappy with what we have. However, the real point of advertisements is not to make us feel bad about ourselves, but to feel good about their product so that when we really do need something new will think of them. Also, advertisements pay for the services we love. Newspapers, television programs, e-mail providers, and radio shows are all paid for by advertisements.

She also claims that our primary identity is that of the consumer. I know that isn't true because advertisers use our primary identities as parents, teachers, employees, and students to persuade us of the importance of their products. If our primary identity were that of a consumer, they wouldn't need to do so. She also claims that women who don't keep up with the latest fashion are mocked for not contributing to consumption. I do not know why some women act in this way, but I do know that it isn't because they are neo-liberal economists dedicated to product obsolescence.

The sad thing is that I agree with most of her positions on trade, labor, and environmental policies. However, I will not support someone who makes her case by lying, using excess emotionalism, and ignoring the potential costs of the policies she supports. I can and will call out people who are damaging our country's civil discourse, whether I agree with them or not.

Works Cited

"2010 United States Federal Budget." Wikipedia. Web. <>

Bush , George, W. "A Great People Have Been Moved to Defend A Great Nation." 9/11 address to the nation. Oval Office, Washington D.C.. 11 Sept 2001.Address.< /gwbush911addresstothenation.htm>

"The Story of Stuff." The Story of Stuff Project. Web. 27 Nov 2010. <>.

1 comment:

  1. One of the best rebuttals I've read on this Story of Half Truths and Lies. Nicely done!