Declamation — January 30, 2014, 1:22 pm

My Oh My!

From my Maypo to my Aleve to myRA

The people recognise themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. —Herbert Marcuse

“Kevin’s Delivery” is a thirty-second television commercial for the painkiller Aleve, in which the voice-over tells us “This is Kevin. To prove to you that Aleve is the better choice for him, Kevin has given up Aleve for one day.” He has been asked to go back to taking Tylenol as he makes his UPS-type delivery rounds. During this introduction Kevin is coming down the stairs in his house at the start of the day, rubbing his knee. In his kitchen, a hand from nowhere gives him a small bottle of Tylenol. Already skeptical, even a little peeved, Kevin asks, “That’s today?” 

He goes about his deliveries. At one point, holding his hand truck, he pauses to say to the camera, “That was okay, but after lunch my knee started hurting again, and now I gotta take more pills.” Then there’s a cut to Kevin sitting on the back of his truck, ostensibly later in the day, and he says, “Yup! Another pill stop. Can I get my Aleve back yet?” Finally, we see Kevin at the end of the day holding up a bottle of Aleve. The camera pulls back, as if to show that Kevin’s story has wide application, and he says, in a triumphal way, “For my pain I want my Aleve!”

Why, you wonder — if you are an overthinker, like me — would Kevin agree to give up “his” Aleve? Why would he want to prove to us that Aleve is better for him than Tylenol is, especially when he appears to have already known this? Why choose a deliveryman to act as spokesperson/guinea pig for the product? Well, yes, the work he does is physical, so that makes sense with regard to knee pain, but maybe the ad-makers also knew that “delivery” is a quasi-medical term for the varying methods of administering drugs? And, finally, there’s that hint of whining in Kevin’s complaints about having to take more pills, to make “another pill stop,” and in the commercial’s dramatic high point:  “Can I get my Aleve back yet?” As if this voluntary “experiment” had turned into a cruel deprivation by disembodied hands and unseen forces.

I Want My Maypo! ad campaignBut it’s the use of the word “my” here that poses the most questions for the overthinker. It puts this particular OT in mind of another TV com­mer­cial — an old, less guileful ad for a breakfast cereal in which a cartoon child sits on a stool and declares, “I want my Maypo!” The child is at once powerless and proprietary — it’s “my Maypo,” as it is, for Kevin, “my Aleve.” But at least toddlers are entitled to talk like toddlers. “My” is of course everywhere in advertising and marketing these days, especially online: mymedicare, mygofer, mygolfspy, myregistry, myjailbreakmovies, mykleenextissue, mykrispykremevisit, myplymouth,  mytraderjoes, myslimquick, mybowlingvacation, mybayerjob, and on and on. It even crept into yourPresident’s  State of the Union address, when he introduced us to MyRA — the My Retirement Account. This locution has grown like marketing kudzu, becoming not only popular but almost necessary for promotional campaigns, government resources such as mymedicare.gov and mydmv.ny.gov,  and in advertisements for products and services. 

What is this mystuff all about? It may be obvious, I tell, er, myself, but it’s still worth making explicit: It’s a manipulative, essentially phony syntactical ceding of brand ownership to the consumer, an attempt on the part of ad people and marketers, witting or otherwise, to instill in us a (worthless) sense of proprietorship over the products and services we consume. To paper over any thought of corporations, production, bureaucracy, and profit. To make the customer feel hegemonic when in fact he or she is in economic terms more nearly peonic. 

There’s nothing to be done about this mytrend, except to object and hope it subsides. You might occasionally, in ordinary discourse, deploy “the,” or something else, or nothing at all before nouns relating to things that are genuinely in your possession. That is, not “my book” but “the book,” or “this headache” instead of “my headache.” It’s a skirmish at best, maybe to be joined only by this one lonely guerilla, but it feels good to try.


Daniel Menaker’s memoir, titled, unfortunately in this context, My Mistake, has recently been published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Share
Single Page

More from Daniel Menaker:

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2017

Facing the Furies

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The New Climate

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Dream Preferred

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Snowden’s Box

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

American Duce

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Prayer’s Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Snowden’s Box·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Illustration (detail) by Taylor Callery
Post
The Forty-Fifth President·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Photograph (detail) by Philip Montgomery
Article
A Prayer’s Chance·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Photograph (detail) by Robin Hammond/NOOR
Article
Bee-Brained·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Illustration (detail) by Eda Akaltun. Source photograph of Jairam Hathwar at the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee © Pete Marovich/UPI/Newscom
Article
My First Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

Percentage of Russians who believe the West is attempting “to weaken Russia with its economic advice”:

54

African elephants can distinguish the gender, age, and ethnicity of a human speaker from voice alone.

Three bodies were tossed from a low-flying plane in the Sinaloa state of Mexico.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today