Last night, in a computer forum, someone challenged me as to my opinion on racism, and I didn't have an opinion handy, which was disconcerting. So today, after work, I stopped by our local franchise of the Dan Rather Prefabricated Opinion Store, to see what I could find.
I wanted an opinion about racism that I could respect and that others would respect as well. I thought it would be great if I could show it off, bruit it about proudly, retort that other people had bought this same opinion. It'd be great if this new opinion was also open to further growth and change if need be. It turns out that finding such an opinion was difficult.
The Dan Rather Prefabricated Opinion Store(tm) was a strange place. I'd never been there before, though I'd peeked in the windows once or twice. The opinions were kept in boxes on the shelves. The place was well-lit and clean, but it had a stuffy, don't touch, and for pete's sake, don't-read-the-opinions-while-standing-there feel to it. It was a sterile environment, but there were lots of people in the store, so I thought I had come to the right place.
The opinions on racism were near the front. There was the standard opinion, that "racism is bad," on sale for $2.95 this week. The store also carried the prefab notions that "whites are smarter and work harder" and "blacks are never guilty; they're just victims," for $5 each. Also available were "blacks are cool and hip," "minorities are inherently preferable to whites," and "I don't care what you say, I'm still glad I'm white." The OJ section of the racism opinions also had "OJ was GUILTY" and "OJ was NOT GUILTY," available. The opinion that I would have bought, the "OJ was probably guilty, but so were the cops and the whole trial was a farce and a disgusting example of American jurisprudence" wasn't anywhere to be found.
Sigh. I could tell this was going to be a frustrating consumer experience. These opinions weren't exactly what I was looking for. What I wanted was something along the lines of "racism is bad, yes, but it is bad because it is stupid, unproductive, it gets in the way of being neighbors and getting things done--who cares what the skin color is" opinion.
So, being a pushy redhead (which is what I am, and not an opinion on redheads--I'm on a budget these days), I up went to the clerk, who looked a lot like Dan Rather, come to think of it.
"Where are the other opinions? I'm looking for a certain kind of opinion on racism," I said.
Dan Rather-ish frowned at me. "We only carry these opinions, ma'm. They work for everyone else. I suggest you look again."
I frowned back. I told him what I was looking for--an opinion that sort of agreed with the "racism is bad" option, but also explained why it was bad, that it was dumb and unproductive, etc.
"Too complicated," sniffed Dan-ish. "We wouldn't sell too many of those, not at that price. People come here for our brand-name opinions, that is why they shop here, m'am. However, if you must, you can always purchase the standard "racism is bad" opinion and then modify it. Of course, no warranty is available if you do that."
Warranty, schmarranty. It figures. This struck me as a dumb way to do business. I wanted a certain opinion, and this store, a purveyor of patented, provable, or at least discussable opinions, couldn't sell me what I wanted! And what I wanted wasn't all that complicated! But I could see that modification was the way I was probably going to have to go.
I had wanted a prefab opinion for a reason. People simply are more comfortable with them, and the Dan Rather Prefabricated Opinion store had been recommended to me. But I could see that none of the opinions available for purchase were going to suit me. It's the same problem I have with clothes. I'm between a size 6 and a size 8, so things are either tight or loose, but they rarely fit exactly.
As an avid reader of Consumer Reports, I knew that I shouldn't give up just yet. I decided to check out the competition, and see what their merchandise was like. To my dismay, the HighEnd, Deluxe Washington Pundit Establishment of Savvy, Intelligent-Sounding Opinions didn't have what I wanted either! This store was much nicer, with better lighting, carpets, and a couple of easy chairs, where you could read thru some of the opinions before purchasing. Unfortunately, the opinions themselves were just as bad as the wares at the Dan Rather Prefabricated Opinion Store, only couched in polysyllablic words. Some of the opinions here were so vague as to be nearly incomprehensible, but that, really, was no surprise.
The HighEnd store seemed to contain only one opinion per section, that is, there were no opposing viewpoints at all. However, the opinions offered did come in many different wordings, so they would sound like they were different points of view if you weren't paying attention. They were all priced according to the number of syllables in the words, how intelligent you wanted to sound and whether you wanted to sound like you went to Ivy League or State. This store was MUCH more expensive, probably due to the overhead, since the quality of the opinions themselves seemed pretty flimsy to me. Not to mention there was only one overall viewpoint.
Needless to say, I couldn't find any opinion that suited me here either.
Back to the drawing board. If anyone out there has a good, solid opinion they'd like to barter for back issues of Consumer Reports, let me know.
25 April 1996
© Patricia Neill, 1997
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