So I’m sitting on the couch last Saturday evening watching the World Series game with my friend’s eleven year old daughter. My night for childcare, you see. It’s a lot different for me this year since the Boston Red Sox are out of the mix after the first three games of what Major League Baseball (MLB for you non-sports fans out there) calls the postseason. My child care charge tells me it’s a lot more fun for her to watch games with me when the Red Sox aren’t playing. Says I don’t get as excited one way or the other when they’re not playing. No cussing at the television. She’s right. Rationality takes over because I don’t care who wins. Anyhow, back to the game.
We’re listening to the so-called “color” guy repeat everything the play-by-play announcer says and then add his own take on the just completed selection of pitches. Nowadays FOX Sports–the network that carries most of the big professional sporting contests in the US–add these obnoxious animated features to their explanatory narrative. Some yellow baseball with a face that FOX named Scooter explains various pitches to the uninitiated. Of course, every little extra feature like Scooter is sponsored by some damn corporation. So, the “color” guy says something like: “Let’s see what the EXXONMobil Scooter has to say about the Ford Motor Company pitch selection to that last batter…..” When he’s finished, the play-by-play guy says something like this, “Now, we’re going to take this game sponsored by the Army of One and Ameriquest Mortgage to a commercial break. Be right back in a Xanax minute. Now, I don’t have the exact corporate sponsors there, but you get the point.
My eleven year old charge looks at me during the commercial and asks point blank. “Why does everything have to be sponsored by someone? It’s like at our school, where they have billboard like advertisements painted on the cafeteria walls.” So, I explain to her about how the government used to pay for a lot of things that they don’t pay for anymore–like schools. Since the government doesn’t pay for these things, the schools have to go find funding somewhere else. Which means they go to big companies and corporations that never give away anything for nothing. Since they never give away something for nothing, the schools offer to provide advertising. As for the big time sports, well, the reason they have corporate sponsors for so much is because the owners are just plain greedy.
I then proceeded to tell her a little story about the public schools in Burlington, Vermont where we used to live. Since it was about Burlington she listened for a little while, ’cause she misses her friends from up there. What happened was that the schools did not have enough money in their budgets to buy new books every year, especially for the various school’s media centers (that school libraries for you old timers) so they asked for corporate donations. The corporation that stepped up was one known for all of the good its done for humanity–General Dynamics, war merchant extraordinaire. Now, I’ve written about this corporation before. It makes nothing that has any redeeming social value. All it makes is weapons and systems to deliver them. One of its plants is located in Burlington, Vermont. This plant has been the target of antiwar and anticapitalist protests over the years, but it remains a (now downsized) stalwart of the city’s economy. Progressives in office have never openly challenged it and neither have Democrats or Republicans. Anyhow, back to the story.. General Dynamics donated some money to the book purchasing cause, but with one stipulation. The books had to have a sticker placed in an obvious place that said something to the effect that the book was generously donated to the school by General Dynamics. You know, just to make kids comfortable with the brand name. Kind of like German kids during Hitler’s reign getting comfortable with the Krupp and IG Farben brands. I could see that I was starting to bore my young friend, so I jumped to the conclusion of the tale. Some parents didn’t like this attempt by General Dynamics to legitimize their war profiteering and challenged the process in community and school PTA meetings. Indeed, it was the daughter of one of these parents who brought up the issue in her classroom right before some General Dynamics employees came to read to the students. Why, wondered this eight year old, are we making heroes of people who make bombs? The teacher’s response was to make the child sit alone in the classroom while the other children attended the reading session. Apparently, the teacher was afraid that the girl might ask the General Dynamics employees an “embarrassing” question. Seems to me like they need to have those kind of questions asked more often. Eventually the issue went to the school board, where a debate raged. General Dynamics played usual corporate tricks, even having the mother of an elementary school student advocate for the stickers. Turns out she is the chairwoman of the Burlington Republican Committee–one of the few groups in Burlington that supports the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I don’t know how the issue was resolved up in Burlington, since it was still being debated when I moved out of the area. I do know that most of the folks who work at the plant, just like other war industry employees throughout the world, are good people and probably truly enjoyed the chance to go into the city schools and read to kids. I also believe that most of the Germans who worked for the Nazi war machine were good people. Somewhere, somehow, though, we must take responsibility for the work we perform and the consequences of that work. It’s like that old poster said: What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Anyhow, back to that corporate naming business. I was with my young charge again on Monday and we were listening to some commentary on the radio about an effort to get corporate sponsorship for the national parks. Seems like the federal government doesn’t have enough money to pay for them anymore. So, the next time I head up to the Great Smokies I might be entering Kerr-McGee National Park. My young friend listened to the story on the radio and then we began playing with the idea–matching corporations with various national parks that we could remember. Then she stopped. “This isn’t funny, Ron. In fact, it sucks.” I agreed. “You know what?” she queried. “They should stop using tax money for their wars and make the companies that make money from them pay for them. Then they could use the taxes for schools and parks and helping people.” I beamed a bit. My words were being heard by this youngster. Imagine. Halliburton and ExxonMobil and General Dynamics and all the rest of those war profiteers paying for their own wars. Who knows, maybe they would stop lobbying for the damn things if they were paying for them instead of making money off ’em.