Remember those old ads featuring that poor, dilapidated old woman who seemed to suffer from some rare form of hip dysplasia? She screamed the same line over and over again as if on cue: “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” as if there were a serious remedy for this problem. It was a great ad campaign because it got you thinking: “gee what if someone I know found themselves in that position?” without actually thinking about how rare an occurrance falling down without the aid of help really is. In the end it not only got you thinking about their product but about the circumstances in which you may need more of their product. It was all excellent ad placement, but it led to a syndrome in our country and that is the syndrome of constant necessity.
The Syndrome of Constant Necessity says that we in effect look for ways to over-dramatize our lives and at the same time look for ways to show people just how “rough” or “misunderstood” our lives are when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. The “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” ads ran before the internet caught on and well before the advent of Facebook, but Facebook has just exacerbated this condition to an unacceptable level. The symptoms existed well before the ad and before people fell down out of the reach and assistance of nearby relatives. This idea that we can’t be everywhere all the time was nothing new. It was a symptom of the Cold War. Just think of how absurd it was that we asked schoolchildren to hide underneath desks in the event of a nuclear attack. That act only helps two people and that is the parents of those children. They think: “well, we made them as safe as we could” and let them feel decent about themselves as they were also consumed by the ensuing nuclear holocaust and the thought has been with us ever since.
The time when things really got out of hand was the same as the time nearly everything got out of hand: during the Reagan administration. Remember when the Gipper would talk about the “Young Buck” walking into his local liquor store and buying Vodka with his left over change from his food stamps? What this kind of imagery was designed to do and still is designed to do is to scare you into believing that you live in a world where you have no control and the best that you can hope for is good circumstances brought on by careful planning and insane rehearsal of the most statistically rare occurrances. This was a time that gave us fire drills in schools when less than 1% of schools actually reported a fire and that 1% is cumulative for the entirety of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency. That’s right over eight years just one percent of our nations schools experienced a fire and of that 1%, 92% were grease fires that were put out with a fire extinguisher, but hey you’d rather be safe than sorry, right? That’s another expression brought to you by the Scaremaster-in-Chief: “it’s better to be safe than sorry.” Like the “Just Say No” to drugs campaign it was frighteningly simple and in retrospect an incredibly naive way of dealing with the very serious problems that things like increased violence in society posed. Did you know that it was in 1982 that the phrase “going postal” was invented after Ronald Reagan privatized the Postal Service and postal employees decided that their jobs (and subsequently their lives were so meaningless that they resorted to shooting up their workplace?) No wonder we look back on Mr. Reagan with such fondness.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Actually I’m falling behind or digressing or something, but whatever. Think about how difficult it is to be unable to get a hold of someone right now. Seriously think about it. Imagine that some life-threatening situation has happened or is happening and you need to get in contact with every person that matters in your life. Most of us would be able to assemble everyone by putting out an APB on our Facebook page, an emergency Tweet on our Twitter account or if we got really desperate we may have to text someone. But notice how nowhere in this hypothetical emergency situation that I’ve just outlined would you be forced to actually converse with another human being. At worst someone doesn’t respond to your text in which case shit gets serious and you’ve got to e-mail them with the subject line: “emergency.”
I faced an actual emergency a few days ago. It was terrifying, but the least terrifying part about the actual incident was figuring out how I was going to tell everyone about it. That I spent less than five minutes on – and as emergency vehicles sat in my driveway – I honest to God thought about going outside and taking pictures. My thought process was: “hey this will look great on my Facebook page and communicate to my relatives the sincerity of my emergency texts, posts and tweets.” Thankfully my better judgment took over and I did not proceed to take pictures of the nine emergency vehicles surrounding my house (though I kind of wish I had in a wow-that-would-make-an-interesting-story-at-a-cocktail-party kind of way) but then I realized that I do not go to cocktail parties and the few that I am forced to attend I do not enjoy. Thus the net benefit for me Instagramming the shit out of the emergency crews was relatively minimal, yet still I thought quite seriously about doing so. That, in a nutshell is what is wrong with our society. Don’t worry this isn’t one of those things we can fix, there’s no website you can go to in order to stop the scourge of constant necessity thinkers, but it should give us food for thought. These kinds of ideas are not normal (at least they shouldn’t be) and there ought to be something we can do about it (other than going postal.)