Unknown Menaces to Civilization #4: Girl Scout Cookies
I am referring, of course, to Girl Scout cookies.
There is, first of all, an obvious point that need not be dwelt upon: that in an era when obesity, and particularly childhood obesity, is a growing national problem, the last thing in the world we should be doing is encouraging children to sell and consume baked lumps of flour and sugar. But let no one imagine that the problems inherent in these insidious products would be entirely eliminated if we could only prod the Girl Scouts to offer healthier fare—say, Girl Scout Granola Bars or Girl Scout Trail Mix.
Let us examine the dubious economic lessons being conveyed by the successful marketing of these dire confections. The blunt truth is that, if considers all of the delectable treats that one might purchase and enjoy today, Girl Scout cookies are not especially tasty, and could never compete honestly in the marketplace for consumer dollars. Yes, yes, I know, there are people who will swear that they think these cookies are delicious edibles, eagerly awaited each year, but let us recall that there were some Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps who were reluctant to leave their horrific compounds at the end of World War II. People become irrationally attached to all sorts of repugnant things (such as, to choose another random example, the sound of marching band music), and we must discount their deranged testimony and truthfully report that Girl Scout cookies are basically unremarkable and unappealing. If sold in supermarkets under a different name, they would have been driven from the shelves due to their extreme unpopularity decades ago.
So, how do these unremarkable goods attract so many willing customers? One factor is that they are often being sold by adorable little girls, which will lead many women in particular to think, "Awww, they're so cute—I guess I'll buy two boxes." Certainly, this is the only reason why my wife, otherwise a vigilant dieter, would ever spend money on a box of cookies. Now, if an ordinary business tried to sell its wares by recruiting an army of cute moppets as salespersons, they would busted in a flash for violating child labor laws; but the Girl Scouts get away with it because hey, it's all for "a good cause." (Actually, it isn't, but that's a point for another paragraph.) What is even more insidious is that these poor girls, driven by spurious competitions created by their greedy organization to win prizes for selling the most cookies and making the most money, ask their parents and adult relatives to market them to friends and co-workers, often by applying the worst sorts of improper pressure. Thus, a few years ago, my boss announced that he was selling Girl Scout cookies for his niece to all interested employees. Now, what worker would be brave enough, or crazy enough, to refuse to buy cookies from his boss? (As it happens, I was, but then again, that might explain why I never get promoted.) In an extraordinary act of courage, the venerable news organization CNN dared to suggest in an online article that, just perhaps, it might not be entirely ethical for employees to push Girl Scout cookies in the workplace; and surely, the only reason that their headquarters weren't burned down by angry protesters is that the Girl Scouts, committed to the official fiction that only their members are selling cookies, cannot officially acknowledge just how much of their profits come from adult vendors who are not actually Girl Scouts themselves.
As one aspect of their propaganda, the Girl Scouts have brazenly argued that selling Girl Scout cookies is a valuable activity because it teaches young women how to succeed in business: "Many successful business women today say they got their start selling Girl Scout cookies." However, it is widely acknowledged that nine out of ten new businesses fail within a year, which necessarily means that many more unsuccessful businesswomen got their start selling Girl Scout cookies. And might that be because of the wildly inaccurate lessons they learned from their childhood hustling—that you can earn lots of money selling any old sort of garbage as long as you have a winning smile and an army of relatives to foist your products upon otherwise reluctant customers?
And let us further recognize that this entire enterprise is fundamentally deceitful. After all, if you really represent a good cause, and need some money to pursue your worthwhile goals, all you need to do is to tell people about what you're doing, and they will happily and generously provide you with financial support, without any artificial incentives. When you put money in a church's collection tray, the church doesn't give you a doughnut; when you sent a check to your alma mater, the college doesn't send you a candy bar. People recognize that institutions like churches and colleges deserve money to carry on with their admirable work and freely donate funds with no other incentive except, perhaps, a desired tax deduction.
However, when you give money to the Girl Scouts, what are you really supporting? Let's face it, all you are doing is subsidizing the playtime activities of a bunch of girls who, in a vast majority of cases, have parents who earn enough money to pay for anything they might desire. I mean, what would you say to a kid who came to your door and said, "Please give me some money so I can buy some toys, learn how to sew, and go on camping trips"? Well, if you give money to the Girl Scouts, that's essentially what you are doing, and while I'm not saying that these aren't great things for young women to do, I don't think they cry out for a public subsidy. And quite evidently, most American people reached the same conclusion long ago, since the Girl Scouts obviously have learned if they simply approach people and ask them to donate five dollars to their organization, they generally decline. Thus, they were forced to devise this sinister scheme: if we charge people eight dollars for two boxes of cookies that only cost us three dollars, then we can extract that five dollars from them without their fully realizing what they have done.
What is even worse, the success of this dubious practice has inspired other less-than-worthy causes to similarly attract donors by bribing them with unhealthy treats as their dubious reward. It is not surprising, then, that one often finds marching bands (funny how they keep coming up in this context) are obliged to push overpriced candy bars as a way to get money to buy new uniforms and annoying arrangements of the latest hits. For what sane person would give up their hard-earned money for such stuff without the inducement of a forbidden pleasure?
We must also recognize that aggressively marketing products that will never be sold without aggressive marketing is not without its hazards for America's young women. It is true that the Girl Scouts, it seems, have finally realized that it is not exactly prudent to send little girls to knock on strangers' doors with only boxes of stale, sweetened flour to defend themselves from assault. But are they really that much safer when they sit at tables outside of supermarkets, vocally demanding the attention of strangers? And consider what recently happened in my home town: the city's major, looking out of her office window, saw that a team of Girl Scouts had set up to sell their wares in a place that was dangerously close to the traffic on her busy street. Understandably worried about their safety, and unable to persuade them to relocate to a better location, she called the police to forcibly remove them for their own good. Well. From the way people reacted, one would have thought that she had burned the American flag or beaten up her saintly mother in front of City Hall; and after being vilified for months because she had dared to interfere with the local cookie-pushers, the poor woman finally decided that she would not run for re-election and retired from politics. And we begin to appreciate the full dimensions of the problem that we confront: somehow, the selling of Girl Scout cookies has been sanctified as the quintessence of the American Way, never to be challenged, despite all of these reasonable concerns about the threats they pose to our health, our safety, and our ethics.
Still, it is high time for a few brave individuals to stand up and say to these diminutive scoundrels, no, I'm not going to buy any of your disgusting cookies, and you need to stop importuning people about this and instead devise some honest way to raise money for your organization. And, if enough people learn to "just say no" to this vile national addiction, maybe we can finally force the Girl Scouts to change the crumb-y way that they now do business.
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