Monday, September 11, 2006

The Era of Our Discontent, Part I: False Hope and Discontent


Last week I had planned to continue blogging on Claude Bristol’s “The Magic of Believing,” an important book which I think can be truly life-changing if read with care and applied to daily life. However, a chance encounter with a couple of television programs over the weekend pointed me in a different direction (sorry, Claude), so Chapter Three will have to wait a little while.

Years ago I heard someone who was laid up at home with an illness describe daytime television as “a vast wasteland.” Following surgery in September 2000, I was in full agreement. Following this past weekend, I would have to amend his statement to include some parts of “late night TV” in that description, not just for the cheesy sets, stilted dialogue and highly dubious claims (I could devote an entire entry to the latter alone), but for what’s being sold along with the featured products – false hope and discontent.

The evening was proceeding normally enough when, comfortably ensconced on the family room couch, I channel-flipped over to The Discovery Channel and lit on “Strictly Sex with Dr. Drew.” Dr. Drew is Drew Pinsky, a physician and addiction medicine specialist who teaches at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and hosts the nationally syndicated radio show “Loveline.” Having seen him on TV before and finding it interesting, I stopped clicking the remote to learn about people who undergo various surgeries in order to improve their romantic lives.

I expected to be surprised, startled, bewildered and occasionally downright amused at some of the stories I heard, and I wasn’t disappointed. But it wasn’t until after the show had ended that my mental wheels really began to churn.

This was because of one woman’s testimony, or, more specifically, one woman’s comment. In an attempt to keep this blog at least PG-rated, I’ll say only that the body part on which she had surgery is peculiar to the feminine anatomy and not one that is normally displayed except for under intimate circumstances. And if she wanted to “enhance” it in some form, that was strictly between her and her husband, or so it should have been, in my old-fashioned opinion. What struck me was not just the nature of the procedure – one that I’m guessing many women haven’t even heard of – but her reason for having it done, in spite of her husband’s persistent denials on the show that there were no sexual problems in the marriage: “I didn’t look like the women in magazines.”

Almost immediately I wondered, “What magazines?” The only ones in which I’m familiar with the applicable body part being shown are medical journals or hard-core pornography, and I strongly doubt, as a woman, that women in general are drawn to seeking out these types of images for comparison. That left the possibility that the husband had brought things into the home that were making his wife feel physically inferior. If so, that matter is also strictly between the two of them. In the meantime, while feeling like something of a voyeur, I was riveted much as people are by train wrecks. The show continued from a male point of view, with another guest admitting to his search for physical enhancement. Finally, Dr. Drew’s last guest appeared, a plastic surgeon named Jan Adams (male, in spite of the first name). I was astonished to hear of further procedures that are either being researched or currently used, in particular, one of which involved the injection of collagen into another region that is normally accessible only under the most intimate of circumstances, if it even exists (that being a controversial matter in itself). The program ended with Dr. Adams’ somewhat laughing assertion that, no matter what problem assailed us, "there would always be someone out there to work on it."

That statement stopped me in my tracks.

Fast forward a few minutes to another channel – and no, it wasn’t the Playboy channel – where a man and woman were co-hosting a program dedicated to the wonders of a “natural male enhancement” product. While admittedly feeling more voyeuristic than ever, I was amused by the fact that the body part which one would guess is said to benefit from this product was never actually named. After several instances of this, it finally dawned on me that this was a classic advertising trick designed to avoid lawsuits from something that likely doesn’t work, as if the small print advisories that “Results may vary,” etc., and the repeated use of can rather than will statements were not sufficient alerts. I didn’t stick around to hear all the testimonials, but went to bed, where I found myself unable to sleep, largely due to the avalanche of thoughts and memories that these programs had unleashed.

Perhaps you’re wondering what a person’s choice to have sexually-based surgery has to do with this blog’s overall theme of fitness. What it really has to do with is the concept of contentment, or the lack thereof – something that can certainly interfere with our mental, physical and financial fitness.

I should know. While it’s tempting to point a derisively amused finger at the television set during programs like the ones I’ve mentioned, I’ve plunked down my money on products that promised I could have abs so flat they were almost concave, or upper arms like Linda Hamilton’s in “The Terminator” – just like the models on the cover. And I’ve done it in spite of the “Results may vary” or “Results not typical” disclaimers, if I even spotted them.

Why? Because of two things: discontent, and hope. Discontent with the present, hope for the future. A nearly universal condition, I suspect – one that is essentially at the root of all advertising. Unfortunately, the discontentment didn’t vanish when a product made me jittery, or gave me an upset stomach, or when I discovered that the cover model on one product was a model indeed – of the fashion variety – leading me to suspect that she probably looked that good before she started the fitness program in question…the one I could barely perform.

But does that mean that discontentment is always a bad thing? Surely we should want to be our best, and if a product or products can help us achieve that goal, then is any financial cost too great?

That’s where it started to get interesting…and too involved to cover in just one entry. So I’ll be talking about contentment, or the lack of it, again next week – along with what conservative Mennonites who opt for plastic surgery despite the raised eyebrows of their congregation, and the “hair and makeup secrets” of Beyoncé Knowles, have to do with the subject. I don’t profess to have all the answers, or even very many of them, but I’ll have some thoughts, and I would love to hear yours as well.

* * * * *

Web Site of the Week. Last night I tried a crock pot recipe that I’d like to share with you, courtesy of Internet health guru Chet Day. For those of you who’ve never heard of Chet, he has a vastly informative home on the Web called “Chet Day’s Health and Beyond” at www.chetday.com. While you’re there you can check out his personal blog, his “Recommended Natural Health Tools,” health articles, skin care products, recipes, and weight loss tools. You can also sign up to receive his twice-weekly “Chet’s Crock” newsletters, each of which features a low-fat crock pot recipe, quotation, and health article. The following recipe came from a reader named Joan Elder.

Pineapple Salsa Chicken

3-6 skinless chicken breasts
One can of tidbit pineapple, drained
One can of black beans, undrained
One 32-ounce jar of mild to medium chunky style salsa

Place chicken breasts in the crock pot and add the rest of the ingredients. Cook on low for six to eight hours. Serve with warm tortillas and some rice.

Note: I used rice only, serving the mixture over it, but you can also pile it into a tortilla for a nice chicken burrito. Also, as the mixture turned out to be soupier than I had expected, I’d experiment with decreasing the amount of salsa, as well as increasing the amount of pineapple for flavor.

As always, if you find a web site you’d like to share or see featured here, please write and let me know.

Hope to see you again next week for "The Era of Our Discontent, Part 2: When Knowledge is a Double-Edged Sword." Until then...Keep on Treading!

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