Saturday, June 09, 2007

Think of the children!

Snake oil, but slicker

My mother and I had another one of those phone conversations where we stop listening to each other, but keep talking anyway. It's more sociable that way. I wonder if her genetic legacy ensures that I will develop her singular imperviousness as I grow older. (Perhaps I already have.)

The topic was, once again, my airhead sister-in-law. She has a peculiar susceptibility to nostrums and quackery of all sorts. It hasn't killed her yet, but it bids fair to shorten her life at some point. It came close to shortening my mother's when she skipped her flu shot because her daughter-in-law said she had heard somewhere that flu shots are dangerous. (Who is the bigger idiot? The airhead or the one who takes medical advice from an airhead?) Mom got a bad case of the flu that year and no longer skips her flu shots. (Mom, by the way, now disputes my story because she did, after all, get her flu shot that year she got sick: after she got sick from following her daughter-in-law's advice and right at the tail-end of the flu season. Just in time to be able to claim that she has never skipped a flu shot. Oh, right.)

It seems that my sister-in-law and a couple of her equally bubble-headed friends made an out-of-state trip to attend some QuackFest 2007. Of course, that wasn't its real name. More like FruitFest. A popular new health fad revolves about some exotic Brazilian fruit juice (“nature's perfect energy fruit”). Health secrets of the Amazon! Oh, goodie. The dupes flocked to the gathering to purchase products and set up their own dealerships. Yes, it's a pyramid scheme, although it sounds nicer to call it “multi-level marketing.” My mother assured me that my sister-in-law had read up on this marvelous new fruit juice and people swore it really helped them.

“Oh, good,” I said, my voice dripping disdain. “Nothing clinches a case like anecdotal evidence.”

Mom was undeterred. Like I said, she's impervious.

“No, really! It's healthy! They had a professor explaining the benefits of it.”

“Right. A professor. Professor of what, exactly? Professor of well-ology?”

“She said the professor had done studies, lots of studies, and he wasn't involved in selling the product at all.”

“Sure. I'm sure.” No, he was merely offering scientific truths at a marketing meeting. Right.

Mom was building up a head of steam and charging full speed ahead, yet was not getting steamed at me. She and I must have marvelous psychic calluses.

“The professor has even been on Oprah!”

“Well, golly! I guess that proves it! If it was on Oprah, it must be nonsense.” (You see, I know the secret: if Oprah endorses a health remedy, it's crap. Count on it.)

“Lots of people swear by it!” Oh, oh. Mom is letting me down. Her arguments have started to recycle. I guess she's out of ammunition. But, no! She's saved up the best for last.

“The company is selling the fruit juice to raise money to help the orphans in the Amazon. They're doing it for the children.” Wow! This is like the perfect scam, every button being pushed: natural fruit juice, endorsed by Oprah, validated by professors, and helping orphans. Won't someone please think of the children!

Funny how the Amazon has all these orphans. Did their parents die from not drinking enough Brazilian fruit juice? Or too much?

“And they want to help children throughout the world!”

Sure they do. That would mean they were selling their woo-woo juice everywhere. Toss a few cents into this or that children's relief fund and they're automatically providing charity as well as fleecing the sheep. Priceless. (Well, not really. Want to see a product catalog?)

We kept swinging at each other a while longer, but we were hitting only air. Mom doesn't take offense as I pour sarcasm all over her breathless claims and I try not to pound my head on the wall. It works out well for both of us. My parting shot:

“And next year you'll hear no more about it and people will move on to the next wacky health fad.”

“Oh, I don't know. People say that this juice is really good.” Blanks. Mom is shooting blanks.

We finally manage to drag the carcass of our conversation to the topic of our getting together later in the week. I haven't seen my parents since Easter. We'll have dinner or something. Other family members will be there. My sister-in-law? Can't attend.

Good. There won't be a pitch for magical Brazilian fruit juice from their newest local distributor. There won't be snide remarks from that damned brother-in-law who mercilessly mocks all of her idiotic beliefs.

See? There I go again!

What do I have against Brazilian orphans, anyway?


Anonymous said...

I'm in the process of formulating a magic vegetable broth fortified with Pamphobeteus reproductive hormone extracts guaranteed to improve the absorption and utilization of the anti-oxidents in the foods you normally eat. Just a cup with each meal will do the trick. Part of the proceeds go to the Rohan orphans.

Zeno said...

Sounds perfect. My sister-in-law will want to order a barrel. Maybe two.

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King Aardvark said...

My airhead sister in law wanted to start taking something Noni juice. It's from various polynesian islands and it's touted as healing everthing as well. I was going to write a skeptics circle post about it but got lazy.