He’s almost right, and he knows it.
A billboard in my town has the famous bear with his slogan “Only you can prevent wildfires.” Just like when people misuse the word “literally” to make a point, it bugs me a little when exclusive statements are inaccurately presented for the same reason. It must have been a slow day in my brain because it occurred to me that fires can be started by lightning and volcanoes as well as people. If he didn’t have “Only,” his statement would be correct.
I found that Smokey was introduced to the U.S. in 1944 with the slogan “Smokey Says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires.” In 1947, the Ad Council determined that there was too much math involved to make the campaign a success (People who chew Dentyne sugarless gum must be smarter than the rest of us). So, they changed it to, “Remember – only YOU can prevent forest fires.” It was updated to the current slogan in 2001.
What Smokey has done isn’t a big deal in the scheme of things. It’s not like people are going to form a mob like in The Simpsons and start forest fires because this fictitious spokesbear intentionally mislead them. It’s the principle behind it that bothers me. I feel strongly about not adjusting the truth to appease an audience that is only interested in a watered down version. That practice hurts everyone involved, and in the Bible puts the blame equally on the speaker and the hearer.
A comment by Jeremiah in the Bible speaks volumes. To the people in exile in Babylon who were anticipating their freedom from exile in the near future because of false prophets, the real prophet says, “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams YOU encourage them to have. (Jeremiah 29:8, NIV, emphasis mine)”
The false prophets were giving bad info and they were culpable. But I love how Jeremiah brings it back on the hearers. They had been giving kudos to the misguided clergy for saying what was music to their ears. Why? Because the people didn’t want to accept what God was saying: to stay in captivity for a few more decades. But, like Jesus said, when the blind lead the blind don’t they both fall into a pit?
I’ll give Smokey some slack. He is only a bear after all. But you’re not. So are you doing what it takes to stay pit free?