Just My Desserts

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If you're devoted to the TV series "Mad Men," you probably realize that whatever one may think of the ethics of the advertising industry, its practitioners are not stupid. Some ads irritate by keeping you in suspense as to what they're selling and others appear to be simply brainless, repulsively ingratiating or both, but they are not manufactured out of thin air. Nature or nurture, whether ads create a market or a market creates ads, the result is not flattering. But annoying, pointless ads have their point: we remember them.

One of the most enticing lures ever dropped into the consumer pond is baited with the notion of entitlement. The ad biz prefers the word, "deserve:" it's not only yours by right, but you've earned it. You deserve a better car. A diamond ring. A new house. An expensive vacation. Deserving things easily slips into deserving a better life. More studious children. A partner who fits you like a glove or baggy pants -- you deserve either or both. You deserve relief from physical pain, once you survive product disclaimers of possible death or paralysis. You deserve to be at the apex of a lucrative pyramid scheme. And better sex. With better equipment.

There's no end to what I deserve. So what if I tanked my company? I deserve a bonus for just being there. If I am smart enough to hack your computer, I deserve its contents, the same for your car. We even tell other countries that they deserve democracy whether they want it or not.

Of course, not everything is an entitlement or a dessert. For instance, you definitely don't deserve to be driving a Yugo, although you may be entitled to it. And no one is entitled to get angry with you even if you deserve it. Much of this God-fearing country thinks that access to basic health care is neither an entitlement nor a dessert. Neither is public education. The Darwinian conclusion that only those who can afford them deserve them at all is a pretty hard sell, even for "Mad Men." And yet, clearly there are buyers for it. After all, everyone is entitled to their opinion no matter how dumb it is.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Friedlander.