The title of this piece is an expression dating back to the decade of the Great Depression (circa 1930s). Although the origin of the use of coins minted of wood is not clear, it is reported that they were sometimes issued as promotions by merchants and redeemable for some specific product, similar to how we might currently use a grocery store coupon. It is also held by some that local banks and chambers of commerce minted wooden nickels in that era in order to facilitate change-making during unstable times. In any event, the adage is simply a reminder to take due care in one’s dealings—that is, if someone offers you a coin reputedly cast from actual nickel, you might be well advised to give it a bite to make sure it is as real as advertised.
I recently wrote an article entitled “Connections” regarding certain quotes from each of President Obama and Governor Romney regarding how business owners and Olympians become successful (you will find it under the Polity section under the Bookshelf dropdown menu). In doing so, I thought my readers might find it helpful if I were to provide Internet links to the actual text or speeches themselves in order to assess on their own the meaning and context of those comments. Interestingly, I found it unexpectedly difficult to find such straight-forward content. Virtually all the texts I found came parsed and neatly wrapped in some pundit’s opinion. And, of course, there are tens of thousands of them out there, including mine, I suppose. (I should mention that the White House did, in fact, publish on its official site a full, unadorned transcript of President Obama’s speech, which was delivered at Roanoke, Virginia.) Virtually all of the authors of the articles I read ranted that one speaker or the other was taken out of context—that what each said, in those few words, isn’t what he meant—or that one was taken out of context but the other one should be taken literally, or vice versa. And so on.
After fifteen minutes of Internet surfing (as you know, I have my limits on this research business) I found not a single article that did not “spin” the meanings of the words of each of the speakers. This, of course, does not mean there aren’t any such articles out there—but it does indicate how difficult it can be to find a neutral representation. My personal favorite in this quest was the self-proclaimed “spin decipherer,” who took it upon himself to “de-spin” all this. His article explained how one party has misrepresented the intent of the Obama speech, only to promptly put his own spin on it. Oh well. And now the super PACs, which are promoting one candidate or another, are using their own interpretations of these and other speeches in their onslaught of advertising in an attempt to influence voters.
Advertising in general, as we all know, has taken on a life of its own in the digital age. We are bombarded with opportunities to buy products we didn’t even know existed. Two for the price of one. The best value for our money. Buy now and save. Up-selling. Cross-selling. Introductory rates. Vote for this candidate. Don’t vote for that candidate. All of this, of course, is the natural state of a free and mature economy where the art of marketing and selling has been honed to a fine point. But consumers and voters, at least some of us, can often be pretty good at dismissing those ads and promotions that, well, smell funny. Nevertheless, one must be constantly on guard to make sure that the information that is being presented to us in one form or another is the real McCoy. Just like those Olympians who bite their medals—just checking.