Yesterday I saw something that made me mad. It was a television advertisement commissioned by an entity called Imperial Tobacco Australia, exhorting people to contact their local member of parliament to protest against the Australian government’s proposed legislation to package cigarettes in plain black and white packaging (the packaging will retain the manufacturer’s name but not the logo or colours). ITA’s argument is that selling cigarettes in plain packaging removes the adult consumer’s right to choose.
I posted about my outrage on Facebook. As I expected, it sparked a robust discussion which went off in several different tangents. One of the questions for discussion posed by a couple of participants was, “What if ALL products were displayed in plain packaging?”
What if… At first I thought it wouldn’t be all bad. Yeah, I thought, cut through all the bullshit, the spurious claims, the misleading and nonsensical information (“100% fat free, organic water!”) and the outright lies, and just give us the facts. What it is called, what it is made from (and no cheating by hiding behind code numbers on the ingredients list), where it comes from, how you prepare it or how you use it, how it is made, how much is in the packet, and how much it costs. And that’s it. It would be marketing “The Invention of Lying” style. I pictured a visit to the local supermarket. Row upon row of plain black and white packages, as far as the eye can see.
And then I thought…ew. How boring.
While in the shower this morning (because that’s where all the best epiphanies occur), I realized something – we like lies. We like the fairy tales and the fantasies, the pretty pictures and the glitter of things that are not gold. My job as a writer is to tell lies. I write about impossible things as if they were true and about invented people as if they were real. If I don’t on some level make you believe my lies (if only for the short time that you are reading them), if I don’t make you weep for my make believe people or flinch from my make believe monsters, then I have failed as a writer.
So what’s the difference between me and Imperial Tobacco Australia?
I ‘fess up before I even start that I am lying to you. It’s right there on the title page – “This book contains a work of fiction”.