You've Been Warned
by Mad Dog
are plastered with so many warning labels there should be one that says:
“WARNING: Reading these warning labels while standing on this ladder
may cause injury or death.”
Reading this article may cause giggling, titters, guffaws or, in extreme
cases, uncontrolled laughter in laboratory animals, sedated test
subjects, and the three people who own the complete Porky’s
boxed set including the director’s cuts.
It may seem silly to put a warning
label on a humor column, but upfront disclosure is a good thing. And
that doesn’t mean stenciling “Objects may appear larger than they
are” up front on your underwear. I’m starting to think they passed a
law about warning labels while I was preoccupied with trying to figure
out why we elect our president for four years and the campaign takes up
three of them. And no, that’s not a Zen koan, I want an answer.
The existence of a warning label law
would go a long way towards explaining why any object that sits still
long enough to have a cautionary label slapped on it has one. This is a
problem not only because we start to suffer warning label fatigue so
anything we see that’s yellow and black is automatically ignored —
which is bad news for the Yellow Pages, “Slow children” signs, and
Big Bird — it also means that since most things don’t have any need
for a warning label, most of the ones we do see are lame and
meaningless. For example, anything that gets plugged into the wall now
comes with a sticker that says: “Caution: May cause electrical
shock.” Duh. Ladders are plastered with so many warning labels there
should be one that says: “WARNING: Reading these warning labels while
standing on this ladder may cause injury or death.” Maybe there is,
after all, it’s a safe bet no one’s ever read all of them. Why not
just put one big fat label on the ladder that says: “If you fall off,
it’s your fault. If it breaks or collapses while you’re on it,
it’s our fault.” This is simple, direct, and short enough that we
might just read it.
in the U.S. we prefer wussy warnings, such as “Cigarette Smoke
Contains Carbon Monoxide,” “Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces
Serious Risks to Your Health,” and “We Really Wish You Wouldn’t
The government of Singapore understands this, which is why they
decided it was time to make sure everyone gets the message about
smoking. As of August 1st, all cigarette packages are adorned with large
color photographs of such appetizing images as a cancerous lung, a dying
baby, and a brain oozing blood. And no, it’s not an advertisement for CSI:
Singapore. Just in case that’s not blunt enough, the packages also
have written warnings, including “Smoking can cause a slow painful
death” and “Smoking harms your family.” Now these are warnings.
It’s easy to tell when someone’s
serious about a warning and not just doing it because a lawyer told them
to. Take the sign that looms above you the moment you step off an
airplane at Chang Kai Shek Airport in Taipei: “Drug trafficking is
punishable by death in the R.O.C.” Now that’s what I call a drug
policy. And a blunt, easy to understand warning. You’d have to be
pretty damned stupid to try to get away with a shrug and a “Hey, I
didn’t know that” defense in Taiwan.
Singapore has a longstanding
reputation for direct warnings. Signs warn you not to litter, jaywalk,
neglect to flush a public toilet, urinate in an elevator, or bring
durians into hotels, buses, or the subway. It’s true. The
international symbol of “No durians” is a drawing of the smelly
fruit with a red circle and line through it, and you see it all over the
place. Sure it might be a little more accurate if it had wavy “stinky
smell” lines emanating from the durian, but anyone who has spent more
than 20 minutes in Singapore knows the fruit smells like rotting sweat
socks when you cut it open, so it’s unnecessary. The point is, the
signs don’t say: “Warning: Bringing a ripe, open durian in here may
make other people retch.” No, it simply says: “No durians.”
FBI warning at the beginning of every video and DVD should just say:
“Copy this and no one will ever see you again.” Your favorite cold
medicine should caution: “Why are you even thinking about driving a
car or operating heavy machinery? You’re sick. Stay home.”
Here in the U.S. we prefer wussy warnings, such as “Cigarette
Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide,” “Quitting Smoking Now Greatly
Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health,” and “We Really Wish You
Wouldn’t Smoke.” The problem is we’re too politically correct to
be direct. Take the Los Angeles county purchasing manager who asked
computer and video equipment vendors not to use the terms “master”
and “slave” when referring to electronic devices which control each
other because he thinks it’s offensive. Oh please. With thinking like
that, is it any wonder our warnings are so delicately worded?
We need better, more direct warnings.
Instead of political TV ads ending with “I’m [fill in the blank]
and I approved this ad,” they should have to display a more truthful
Warning: This commercial may contain distortions, quotes taken out of context,
inferences that make non sequiturs seem intimately connected, and
blatant lies which we hope you won’t question.
The FBI warning at the beginning of
every video and DVD which no one including the FBI’s lawyers has ever
read should just say: “Copy this and no one will ever see you
again.” Your favorite cold medicine should caution: “Why are you
even thinking about driving a car or operating heavy machinery? You’re
sick. Stay home.” And plastic bags at the grocery store should change
their warning to: “Caution: This is not a toy. Nor will you ever be
able to separate the top so you can get it open. Even if you do, it
won’t hold your vegetables without the bottom splitting open.”
It’s time for blunt honesty.
Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
©2004 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Read them while you can.