Lie To Me

Posted: July 1, 2011 in In my opinion...
Tags: , , ,

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.

And it’s all a big fat lie – or as they say in New Zealand, “not even, ow.” (You’ll find a few reasons why it’s a lie here, here and here.)

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”.

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Comments
  1. E.Markham says:

    I’d like to disagree that you’re lying at all! A work of fiction is what it says it is – fiction – and no one expects that the strange worlds and creatures we spec-fic-ers create actually exist. (Well, you’d question their sanity if they did, right?)

    Authors of fiction don’t lie unless they pass their creations off as fact, and I guess that’s the difference between lies and fictions… a lie is created to decieve.

    As for ‘big tobacco’, while I’m quite sure some of their executives inhabit a fantasy world where smoking is harmless and they are just trying to earn and honest living, the rest of them must just spend an awful lot of time lying. Not least to themselves.

    • John Irvine says:

      It doesn’t matter what pathetic governments legislate… people will still smoke while it’s legal. Changing the pack colour won’t make a scrap of difference. Notice that they aren’t game to tackle alcohol drinkers?

      • Oh boy. This is a never-ending debate. Cigarettes vs. alcohol. Alcohol vs. illegal drugs that are arguably less harmful. Freedom of the individual vs. the government’s obligation to protect people from themselves (and to protect the healthcare budget). Freedom of choice (or the illusion of choice) vs. the nature of addiction.

      • John Irvine says:

        An insoluble dilemma…

  2. […] a fellow member of the Hopefull Monsters writing group, posted a fascinating blog entry about lies and advertising.  She elegantly ties pending legislation in Australia that would to limit the way cigarettes can […]

  3. John Irvine says:

    The difference between you and Imperial Tobacco is that reading your books won’t cause lung cancer. It’s that simple. You can’t lie enough in your books to cause terminal illnesses… no disrespect to your writing intended.

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