I’ve written before about darlings, those bits of our own rhetoric we love but that serve no purpose in our novels. This speech, orated by the verbose character Harrison, is another of my darlings from More Deaths Than One. By the time I got rid of all his unnecessary speeches, he went from being a major character to a minor one.
“All through history, people made clothes to fit their bodies, but with the advent of ready-to-wear in the twentieth century, people now make their bodies to fit their clothes. This aberrant behavior has become so ingrained that everyone takes it for granted, as if it has always been so. In fact, women take great pride in being a perfect size zero or four or whatever.
“I was strolling down a street in mid-town Manhattan not too long ago, watching the power-suited, whippet-thin young men and women hurry by, and it occurred to me that the sign of a prosperous and pampered nation is this fashionable gauntness rather than corpulence, as is commonly believed. Only in a country assured of an ample and continuous food supply can its citizens starve themselves to the point of emaciation simply to serve the fickle gods of fashion.
“But perhaps it’s not their fault. Advertising is a powerful behavior modification tool. Take the story of the match king.
“In the early part of the twentieth century, Ivar Kreuger, a match manufacturer, managed to corner the match market. Through various deals, he ended up with the exclusive rights to sell matches in many countries, including most of Europe, but this monopoly was not enough for him. Back then, it was a common practice for two or three people to light their cigarettes from the same match. Ivar realized that if he could somehow keep that third person from using the match, he could greatly increase his sales, so he had his advertising department start the rumor that it was unlucky to light three cigarettes from the same match. Tales were told of dreadful things happening to the third person who used a match, like the bride who had been left at the altar and the soldier who was killed after each had lit a cigarette from a match which two others had already used. Even today, though most people use lighters, the superstition that it’s unlucky to light three cigarettes from the same match still persists. That’s the power of advertising: the ability to control the behavior of vast numbers of people.”