Funny You Should Say That! A Disingenuous Discussion

Funny You Should Say That! A Disingenuous Discussion

By John Cadley

Disingenuous is an interesting word. It’s the opposite of ingenuous, of course, which means open, honest and candid. So a disingenuous person is one who wishes to appear ingenuous for reasons that are anything but.

I think of that word whenever liquor marketers urge me to “drink responsibly.” Now, liquor marketers are no dopes. They know that drinking is precisely what responsible people do when they’re sick of being responsible. They get up, go to work, come home, help the kids with their homework, pay the bills and take out the garbage, after which they say, “That’s enough responsibility for one day. I’m gonna have a couple of pops.”

Our friends at the breweries and distilleries are being disingenuous, are they not? They’re asking us to do something they know we won’t do, because it makes them look responsible. They are, after all, selling a product frequently associated with car wrecks, criminal behavior, terminal disease, broken families and office Christmas parties everybody spends the month of January trying to forget.

By asking us to “drink responsibly,” they can continue to promote their product aggressively (“drink”) while escaping all culpability for the ill effects of its consumption (“responsibly”). Notice they don’t say “drink less,” which is in fact the responsible thing to do. They leave it up to you to supply your own interpretation of “responsible” at the very time when you have no intention of being so. How disingenuous!

Much like another favorite oxymoron of mine: educational television. Let’s be clear about this. Television is the national narcotic. People watch television to induce a vegetative state just short of neuro-necrosis. To suggest that TV viewers want to be, or even could be, educated in such a condition is disingenuous with a capital D.

Why, then, the phrase? Well, here again you have an industry which is ever-so-slightly self-conscious about the nature of its product. First, you have the paradox of highly intelligent people using all their intelligence to craft shows that require no intelligence to watch. Then there is the actual content: sex and violence, unfunny comedies, sex and violence, imbecilic game shows, sex and violence, boorish reality shows, sex and violence, sponsor-saturated sports shows, sex and violence, opinion-saturated news shows, sex and violence, and crime shows full of sex and violence.

I suppose one could say it’s educational to see how many ways people can be murdered in an hour, but that’s not what they mean by educational television. Rather, the thought seems to be: Look, we know you hate yourself for wasting the precious hours of your life in front of a TV, watching shows that either bore, irritate or repulse you, right along with the commercials that insult the intelligence you’re not using. The truth is, we don’t feel so great about giving them to you.

So let’s make a deal. We’ll create just enough educational television so we can answer the critics who call us soft-core pornographers, and you’ll have something to put on a survey when they ask about your viewing habits. Who knows? Maybe you’ll actually like watching the migration patterns of the golden plover.

Yeah, maybe.

Disingenuous as these phrases are, however, they pale in comparison to an utterance by a Hillary Clinton adviser when it was still unclear whether she or Barrack Obama would get the Democratic nomination for president. The adviser opined that if somehow the two became deadlocked, they might engage in a power sharing arrangement. That’s right, power sharing. As if Stalin, say, had said to Trotsky, “Look, I’m thinking of conquering the world but I don’t want all that power, wealth and immortality for myself. You want in?”

People want power precisely so they won’t have to share. They’re sick of sharing. They shared once and they didn’t like it. The only power-sharing arrangement people enter into willingly is marriage, and we all know how well that works. No, the Clinton adviser was being disingenuous. Knowing her candidate was losing, she proposed a scenario in which the other candidate would look like he wasn’t winning, because anyone who has to share power clearly doesn’t have it.

It reminds me of the time when I was 8 years old and the neighborhood bully was beating me senseless. Staunching my bloody nose with one hand, I held up the other and said, “You look tired. If we quit now I’ll agree to call it a draw.” He was so confused he walked away.

Ingeniously disingenuous, don’t you think?

John Cadley is an advertising copywriter for an agency in Syracuse, New York. Reach him at