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Cashing In On Patriotism

by Sarah Turner

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Madison Avenue wasted little time devising ways to draw customers to their products. Some of these efforts have bordered on the unseemly.

United Airlines is running a commercial about a firefighter who boarded a recent flight. The advertisement says that once the crew found out there was a firefighter on board, they placed him in first class and the captain announced, “There’s a hero on board.” The commercial ends with the sentence, “People are getting back on board United.”

A Chevrolet commercial shows dramatic scenes of firefighters before a shot of a Chevy cruising down a scenic highway. The advertisement ends by flashing the patriotic words, “Keep America Moving.”

Even Lee jeans has gotten in on the action. A Lee doll is featured in a commercial with a Band-Aid on his arm and a Red Cross sticker that says, “I gave blood.”

In a radio ad, Toys-R-Us encourages parents to bring their children into the store to color a flag.

The Food Network is running promotional commercials to encourage people to cook together to relieve stress and to watch their programming. The ad states, “We’re all feeling a little overwhelmed, but we have to keep going.”

Newcastle Beer has advertising posters in bars that say, “Drink Newcastle to help the victims of Sept. 11.”

This type of ad is now a common corporate tactic. The consumer is told that part of the company’s profits will be donated to a Sept.11 relief fund. Corporations should not prey on Americans’ desire to help the victims’ families by turning the tragedy into an advertising ploy.

The New York Stock Exchange is now running commercials that end with, “Let Freedom Ring.” Its associating the civil right’s movement with the bell that ends each day’s market speculation.

These ads want us to associate patriotism with consumerism. But there is something tawdry about it all, as when fast food chains like Arby’s and McDonalds place “God Bless America” on their outdoor signs right above “99 cent Double Cheeseburger Special.”

Many of the very corporations that are showing this fake patriotism are the ones that are undermining the foundation of American democracy. In each new election cycle, corporations spend millions of dollars in campaign contributions and on lobbyists to push their pro-business agenda in Washington.

These ads demean the memory of the more than 5,000 people who lost their lives on Sept. 11. CP

Sarah Turner is a weekly opinion columnist for the Daily Cardinal, a student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an intern at the Progressive Media Project. She can be reached at

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