Self-Fulfilling Headlines

“A person is smart. but people are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.” – Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black.

I often sit around with friends talking about “the good old days” of Hollywood, the days when risks were taken, breathtaking advances were made and iconic movies defined our summer vacations. It was the age of “Star Wars,” “Top Gun,” “Back to the Future,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Star Trek,” “Footloose,” “Indiana Jones,” “The Princess Bride,” “Dirty Dancing” and “Field of Dreams,” to name just a few of my favorites. These are the movies that are now being remade, prequeled and sequeled. Quotes like “If you build it, he will come,” “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” “I am your father,” “Inconceivable!” and many others permeate our culture, used even by younger generations who may not know the origins of such quotes.

“Men in Black” didn’t come along until 1997, but like the iconic films of the 80’s it took some risks, worked outside the box of Hollywood blather and spawned a franchise of sequels and even garnered an attraction at Universal Studios. In an early scene, Tommy Lee Jones reveals to Will Smith that aliens are actually all around us and he works for a government division that keeps track of them. When Smith’s character suggests that people are smart and the government should just let the proverbial cat out of the bag, Jones delivers one of my most often contemplated movie lines (see above).

To find evidence to support Jones’ claim that people are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, one need look no further than last week’s litany of “shortage” headlines. Chicken sandwiches, Chik-fil-a sauce, gasoline, diapers, new cars, lumber, chlorine … it seems every day the news can’t wait to tell us what we won’t be able to buy next. Of course, by placing a screaming headline at the top of their websites that says “Gas Shortage Imminent!” they absolutely trigger the only action that is guaranteed to bring about the shortage. Dumb, panicky people drop what they’re doing, grab their plastic grocery bags and streak to QT to fill ’em up!

My regular readers know that I enjoy a bit of hyperbole now and again, but you can look this one up. A woman in Houston actually filled white plastic grocery bags with gas at her local Kroger’s. I also saw plenty of pictures of people across the East Coast filling every container they could get their hands on, including even Tupperware food storage items with gasoline. One person filled their Hummer with as much gasoline as they could get their hands on and promptly got into an accident….in which the Hummer-turned-bomb exploded.

All of this because a pipeline was shut down by a ransom hacker, a situation which lasted something like 48 hours. By the end of the week everything will be back to normal, and had everyone not panicked there would have been no shortage at all. What will those idiots do to use up all that gas they hoarded? It’s really only for 2-3 months and then it will no longer function as fuel. It also can’t be stored in plastic because the plastic will dissolve. As for plastic bags, well, natural selection is bound to solve that problem sooner rather than later.

When COVID-19 shut down the US last year, there were all kinds of shortages inspired by ridiculous panic buying. It took months for toilet paper suppliers to catch up to the sudden rush of everyone in the country buying as much as they could get their hands on all at once. You see, suppliers study consumer demand and create the supply based on that research. If 100 million people all rush out to buy something – no matter that it is – there’s going to be a short-term shortage while the suppliers try to catch up.

The real issue was not COVID-19, it was the media screaming at us to go out and buy every roll of toilet paper or container of Clorox wipes we could find RIGHT NOW!!!!! The cyber attack on the Colonial Pipeline last week would also not have been an issue if the national media hadn’t sent people screaming for the nearest gas station, grocery bags in hand (even people who didn’t live in areas impacted by that pipeline).

I have a lot of family in North Carolina, and as such I tend to read stories that come from the Tar Heel State. I ran across a story last week where a gentleman in NC said he just didn’t know how the state would survive because some fast food chain was about to be out of chicken sandwiches due to some supply shortage. I can’t imagine someone placing that kind of value on a fast food chicken sandwich, especially in a state that has some of the best BBQ pork on the planet, but would there be a shortage if the news hadn’t triggered everyone’s hoard response?

Take a deep breath, people! It’s not the end of the world is Chik-fil-a is running low on Polynesian Sauce. If you don’t hoard it, the supply chain will catch up. Understand that the news is a for-profit enterprise, geared towards keeping you on edge so you keep clicking on their ad-laden sites for updates on the latest manufactured emergency. Resist the urge to transform into the dumb, panicky, dangerous animals of Tommy Lee Jones’ nightmares.

Namaste.

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