In the latter half of the 1980s, just about every teenage guy wanted to be Michael J. Fox.
He had indomitable charisma. He had charm. He even made voice-cracking kind of cool. He was likable yuppie Alex P. Keaton on NBC’s sitcom Family Ties, and spastic teen time-traveler Marty McFly in the Back To The Future trilogy of movies.
Then in 1991, after Brian DePalma’s Casualties Of War, Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s Disease.
You didn’t find out about it until years later, because there are connections you’re meant to overlook. Powerful connections, to powerful corporations. The kind powerful enough to put ideas into your head as a child.
That’s a scene from a 1985 movie where product names are written into the jokes. These product names belong to Pepsico, who employed Michael J. Fox as a spokesman at the time. He appeared in commercials for Pepsi where he rode a skateboard, did a snap-snap-pop thing with his hands that I learned to imitate, and generally affected the same endearing posture he did as a sitcom actor. Starting around this time, Michael J. Fox began to drink a lot of Diet Pepsi.
Diet Pepsi contains aspartame. They took it out in 2015, and put it back in this year. Thirty years ago, if a guy wanted to be cool, there’s a tremendous chance that he’d imitate Michael J. Fox by drinking Diet Pepsi. You’ve seen it quench his thirst in commercials. Pretty soon you’re buying it in six-packs, so you’ve always got one ready. Pretty soon you come to crave that artificial cluster of cold bubbles, rather than the dubious benefits of plain ol’ water. Pretty soon it’s all you drink.
In January of 1980, the F.D.A. advisory board banned aspartame, because their research showed that it caused brain tumors. This decision could only be overturned by the commissioner. Then, in November 1980, Donald Rumsfeld was hired as part of the transition team for President Ronald Reagan, prior to which, he had been the President of Searle (the company that created aspartame). On the first day of the new administration, the previous F.D.A. commissioner’s authority was suspended, and Rumsfeld assigned Dr. Arthur Hayes as the new head of the F.D.A. Hayes was previously just a defense contractor, but he had a close relationship to Rumsfeld because they had worked together under the Nixon Administration in close contact with the President of Pepsico. Hayes’ first decision was to approve aspartame for dry foods, and by the end of 1983, he had approved aspartame for soft drinks too. He was later forced to leave the agency, due to media pressure for his acceptance of corporate “gifts”. The defense contractor then went to the Searle public relations firm as its “senior medical adviser”. Shortly thereafter, Monsanto purchased Searle. Rumsfeld received a $12 million “bonus” for his help in ram-rodding the F.D.A. into unbanning aspartame. [Collectively Conscious]
Such a simple thing; an entertainer endorses a product. It’s been a part of the picture since radio days. It’s so normal you don’t even notice a toxic poison joked about by the man it’s killing, in a 1980s time-travel comedy.
In addition to its ability to cause Parkinson’s disease, it may also cause multiple sclerosis*, diabetes**, fibromyalgia, reduced intelligence, obesity, asthma, muscle spasms, and a total of 92 symptoms that even the F.D.A. was forced to confess. There is a great irony that obesity is one of the side effects of aspartame, considering it is used exclusively in diet products. [Collectively Conscious]
*My mother, who suffered very bad MS, drank gallons of TAB.
**My dear late friend Phil, voice of “Loofah-Lad” and others in my movie, suffered diabetes, and drank almost nothing but Diet Coke, which contains aspartame as well.
“Diet”. Four letters than imply health, exercise, and proper nourishment. You can slap them on any old poison you like, and people will drink it. If it makes enough money, no one cares how much death or despair it causes. Money is more important than people, or health.
What happens when an endorsement is recanted? Simple. The endorser is expelled from the reality that the industry has created. If you act as the face of a company, then you do what they say. You hide your injuries from the world, like a good boy. Otherwise you won’t exist anymore, in any capacity. Not even as a joke. They won’t have to kill you. You’ll die on your own.
Such is the fate of the Face of Endorsement.