Parting Perspectives from an Aging Editor (& Thanks for All the Fish)

By Rotfeld, Herbert Jack | The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Parting Perspectives from an Aging Editor (& Thanks for All the Fish)


Rotfeld, Herbert Jack, The Journal of Consumer Affairs


Unlike the dolphins in Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers' Guide to the Universe who originally expressed the parenthetical phrase of the title, the editor is not deserting the planet. But becoming a non-editor means a departure from a special world that filled so much time for so long. And after a long academic life including over 35 years of membership in ACCI, one gets a skeptical perspective to hear young scholars confidently predict the future of consumer issues, which in many ways looks like the past.

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In the prior editorials, some readers were offended, others were inspired and some wondered from where the ideas arose. Many times I thought I had composed something of rousing provocation, only to be greeted by a collective yawn, while reactions to the more numerous expressions I considered mundane generated strong reactions from people saying that it is "unnecessarily" controversial. Yet, how can any scholar in this field be satisfied with the predictable, mundane and uncritical. Past editorial punditry, the product of the editor's job as itself being a scholarly endeavor, produced perspectives on a plethora of practices. Reading thousands of research manuscripts provides a different type of personal research.

This time its about me. The public events during my life are significant not for their public importance, but for providing key points of irony or inexplicable idiocy that remain burnished into top-of-mind awareness.

A Personal History

Each generation likes to think that it lives in a unique time, as they impose views of the current years on the situations long past. But somehow, in some ways, things do not change all that much.

When I was born, "prescription drugs" as we have come to know them today did not exist. A physician could write a prescription, but the prescription was not a prerequisite for buying the drugs. Today, many drugs sold only behind the pharmacist's counter moved there for reasons unrelated to patient protection, such as goals of "protecting" the public from drug abusers, regardless of the consumers' legitimate need for low-cost and easy-to-purchase relief from allergic reactions.

In that same far-off year of my birth, my home town had six daily newspapers and five television stations, though none of my relatives owned a TV; all television was black and white and no politician had ever used it for campaign advertising. Network radio drama and comedy programs were the popular evening entertainment for everyone and a powerful advertising medium. By the time I started school, or maybe even before, people predicted that television would bring culture to the masses--as also was later said of the Internet, which I guess was true, but not the culture that anyone expected--while it was also predicted that all radio broadcasting would soon end due to a lack of audience. Of course, radio did not die, but it did have to change its business model.

When I was in grade school, President Eisenhower expressed concern that the youth of the day were becoming fat and lazy (though not in those words), which led to an annual national physical fitness test for schools to administer to children. Illinois, and only Illinois, responded with a state-wide requirement for all students in grades one through college sophomore to take a daily class in physical education. No one back then talked of concerns for childhood obesity, but the decades of a national annual physical fitness test did not seem to have any effect, later becoming a part of education apparently left behind when considering no child left behind.

In that same period, the U.S. Congress and some state legislatures held hearings in contemplation of banning comic books as harmful to young people, for the same reasons as was done a couple decades later by Congress and regulatory agencies regarding child-oriented television, and ongoing today with a parental focused on the Internet. …

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