On an international flight last weekend, United Airlines offered me a choice of lasagna or chicken. I took the lasagna. Imagine my surprise when the plastic wrapper covering the lasagna revealed that the pasta was “homemade.” I suppose some passengers did not focus and got a warmer feeling (starting from a low point to begin with – we are talking about airline food) about the pasta they were about to consume. But for those who focused, what were we to think? Clearly, this mass produced food is not homemade. The airline knows it and we know it and the airline knows we know it. How are we to respect the communications of an airline that does not respect us?
United Airlines is not special in this respect though this is a particularly blatant example of the commercial culture of manipulation in which we are embedded. Moreover, this culture carries over into politics. When Mitt Romney was accused of homophobic assault in his youth, he said he did not remember forcibly cutting the hair of a gay youngster or hurling homophobic insults. But, of course, he did remember, and he knows we know he remembers. Yet the cynical communicators at United Airlines and cynical politicians believe that insincere communication is better than straight talk. It’s a shame that these are not isolated examples, but typify our commercial and political culture.