The Packaging of America

The Packaging of America

At first glance, it’s a standard commercial for pain relievers—neutral background, earnest expert. Then, suddenly, this figure risks undermining the authority we had automatically ceded to him as he confides that “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Clearly, he doesn’t mean it as a joke, although at least one professional, and who knows how many amateur, comedians have substituted “president” for “doctor,” reinforcing one’s sense that the actor’s confession has somehow strengthened his authority after all. For neither jokes about the president’s being an actor nor his repeated confessions that he’s no expert seem to disturb the voting public. Last year, when 60 Minutes ran a humorous segment matching clips from Reagan’s movies with news footage in which he struck the same postures and mouthed the same lines, viewers were not amused. The responses aired on a later show all took the tone of How dare you! A taboo had been violated, not by stating the well-known facts of Reagan’s case, but by failing to create an atmosphere of neutrality that could thwart moral judgments and historical comparisons.

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Lima