- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

I'm not so sure I like living in the information age. I like the technology, but whether the message is delivered by television, Internet or telephone, I'm getting a lot more information than I need or want.
Take TV commercials. The medium has always been used to hawk miraculous cures for every ache and pain. But long ago when I was growing up (in the "Leave It to Beaver" age), the 30-second black-and-white spots delivered their message via snappy jingles that contained very little information. When it comes to discussions involving the digestive system, that's just the way I like it.
I still remember Speedy Alka-Seltzer's promised cure for a pounding headache. As he cheerfully danced, the cure was re-enacted via a silhouette of a stick figure's throbbing brain. Once Alka-Seltzer's bubbles hit the system, the brain was calmed. The bubbles worked. That's all I needed to know.
Stomach problems were soothed by Pepto-Bismol's pink coating. There was no need to describe vividly the symptoms that would drive someone to ingest that awful pink stuff. Just thinking of that jingle brings it all back "Away go troubles, down the drain." No, wait, that's Roto-Rooter. Well, close enough.
Today's advertisements have expanded from promotions for innocuous over-the-counter remedies to plugs for sophisticated pharmaceutical solutions. Some ads take an expensive minute to paint a glorious picture of how beautiful life could be, if only your doctor prescribed a particular pill.
Who wouldn't want to take Claritin? It obviously allows you to fly through the air like a glider and romp through flower-filled fields. The only problem is that when you demand the pill from your doctor, hoping to fill your days with glides and romps, he'll have to inform you that it's an allergy pill and you don't have an allergy.
While truth in advertising doesn't require that the pill's purpose be adequately revealed, it does seem to force companies to list a prescription medicine's side effects in excruciating detail.
I was struck by a diet pill's ad that refreshingly used overweight models to ask if I was "ready" to lose weight. If I was, they promised (even though they were still fat) that this pill would make it much easier. I was ready until I heard the side effects gas, bloating, an urgency to move my bowels and an inability to control them. Oh yes, sign me right up.
The other day, I saw an ad for a remedy for knee pain. Once crippled by pain, the women in the ad seemingly got a free trip to Europe to climb the endless stairs of some ancient ruin with her pain-free knee. Anyone seeking a similar solution would have to pause after hearing the ad's disclaimers "this should only be tried after every other solution has failed and should not be used by anyone with an allergy to chickens." Chickens? I don't even want to know.
Then there are those miracle hair-growing pills. Bald, geeky-looking men were transformed into thick-haired hunks simply by downing some of these pills. However, children, older people and anyone who has ever been sick should not take them, and pregnant women should never even be in the same room as them. That sounds safe.
The other night, I was watching television with my children, and an ad came on for a laxative. People were literally dancing down the street to the strains of "I feel good" after taking a pill the night before.
My 7-year-old wanted to know what pill could make her feel so good. This is a child who whispers in my ear the news that she has diarrhea because she doesn't want her siblings to know the intimate details of her digestive tract. On the other hand, I didn't want her to get the message in this just-say-no environment that pills of any sort could turn people into dancing fools.
So I told her, using the most delicate terms, the purpose of the pill and why these poor people were so relieved when everything came out all right in the morning.
"Why did you tell me?" she cried, covering her ears too late to avoid the message. "I didn't have to know that."
My point exactly.
Paula Gray Hunker, who works from home, is the mother of four children, the bemused wife of her amazing (but true) husband and a staff writer for the Family Times. She welcomes comments, suggestions and stories from her readers. She can be reached by mail at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; by phone at 202/636-4897; by fax at 610/351-1791; or by e-mail (hunkerc@erols.com).

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