Light is Right Joe Campbell

Light is Right Joe Campbell

I’m really impressed when automakers, drug producers and meat packers recall faulty merchandise and repair or replace it free of charge. Cynics say they are just trying to limit their liability. Either that or they’ve discovered that massive recalls with riveting fanfare are good for business. I’d rather believe that these intrepid entrepreneurs are developing a social conscience. I’d rather believe it, but I’m inclined not to. Anyhow, I wish that educators, entertainers and journalists would follow their lead.

Cars that burst into flame when rear-ended should certainly be recalled, but what about high school graduates who break into gibberish when spoken to? Shouldn’t they be recalled as well?

How wonderful if an acclaimed university were to recall a generation of high school English teachers and replace them with new ones capable of flushing the fog from student writing, not to mention their own. How delightful if a leading high school were to recall, say, the Class of 2010 for syntactical realignment and the removal of clichés.

Indeed, how merciful if liberal seminaries were to recall decades of the ordained for doctrinal clarification and pastoral reform.

It’s reassuring when pharmaceutical firms recall pills that fail to make us better. Why don’t comedians recall jokes that fail to make us laugh? Some of the jokes repeated endlessly in TV re-runs are beyond repair. They need to be replaced, but the writers who create them and the performers who tell them refuse to take responsibility. They apparently don’t worry about limiting their liability. Maybe they should. If we can sue over drugs that make us ill, why not over jokes that make us sick?

When I inadvertently tuned into a country radio station recently, a grief-stricken cowboy was bawling about lost love and missed opportunities. I assumed he was a cowboy, not because he herds cattle – I don’t know what he herds – but because his voice was decidedly bovine and the lyrics of the song he was bellowing betrayed a bovine mentality. That song should be recalled and put out to pasture. It has no redeeming qualities. I suspect the cows would agree.

Nobody wants contaminated poultry, but neither does anyone want tainted news. If meat packers can recall infected turkeys, editors should recall slanted stories. Even better, they should recall biased reporters and turn them into proofreaders if they refuse to behave. Oh, I know that news outlets often correct stories that contain factual errors. But they do it reluctantly, not enthusiastically. There’s so little fanfare we easily miss the corrections and the stories are rarely, if ever, repaired and re-issued. Such stories should be recalled boldly and with panache, the way the automakers, the drug producers and the meat packers perform.

Besides recalling faulty products, some firms limit their liability by issuing warnings. The drug companies are way ahead of the others. Pharmaceutical literature is full of such warnings as “may cause low blood pressure, may produce dizziness, and may bring on intestinal bleeding”. The only side effects consistently overlooked are financial: “may deplete bank accounts.”

Automakers are not in the habit of warning their customers and meat packers seem totally against it. It will be a long time, I imagine, before the advertisements for new cars routinely say “may run into each other” or the labels on fresh poultry regularly say “may contain salmonella.”

Producers of processed foods, especially candies, chocolates and baked goods, tend to the other extreme. It seems that whenever I pick up one of these products the label says “may contain peanuts.” Concern over allergic reactions has reached the point where some consumers see peanuts in all sorts of unlikely places and some companies warn about their possible presence if they come within a mile of a food factory.

Disclaimers are even more common than warnings. It’s one thing when luggage checkers disclaim responsibility for damage or loss and appliance makers for deterioration due to normal use. It’s quite another thing if travel agents disclaim responsibility for bad weather and marriage brokers for divorce. But we are all so litigious these days, one of the first things we think about when interacting with others is how to avoid going to court.

I couldn’t help thinking about this when I had to buy a new piano. I wondered whether the warranty would disclaim responsibility for wrong notes. It was much the same the last time I visited the zoo. I wondered whether a sign would be posted above the cage of my favourite African monkey saying, “may contain peanuts.” I wouldn’t want his keepers to recall him.