Editorial – Dishing Some Dirt

People’s fears and insecurities are a goldmine for marketers. Not that this is news; even The Rolling Stones were lamenting the fact back in 1965, when that man on TV was telling Mick how white his shirts could be.

But while the ?60s may have ushered in the Age of Aquarius, according to some psychologists what we’re living in now is yet another Age of Anxiety.

Ours isn’t fuelled by the Great War, or eloquently reflected in the words of Erich Maria Remarque. No, today’s Age of Anxiety has more to do with terrorism, Orange Alerts, global warming, and a dying planet.

So how to feel like You’re in control when the world is spinning out of it? Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and take a peek behind the curtain, because the marketing gurus have just the elixir to allay your fears. When you can’t control the big stuff, you can still feel a reassuring sense of order by controlling the small stuff. Actually, the very small stuff: germs.

That’s right, we’ve got everything you need to sanitize, clean, disinfect, and take your environment to the next level of purification. we’ll kill 99.9 per cent of germs, guaranteed. You can now find products to purify your bathroom, rule over the bacteria in your furniture, and even have a germ-free baby. And for those occasions when life forces you to handle objects that other people have touched, you can stock up on handy little bottles of sanitizer to purify your hands. (One website even offers advice on how to keep your cleaning sponges clean, reassuring readers that ?there’s no need to live in fear of a little cellulose square.?)

Translating our bigger worries into a desire to control every last microbe is a marketer’s dream; it plays into many people’s very real anxieties while turning a hefty profit. But it also dangerously ignores the fact that bacteria are vital to good health.

As this article from The Ecologist Report reminds us, ?many of the germs inhabiting the body are closely related to known pathogens in the environment, and many trigger an immune response when they inadvertently move from one part of the body to another.? As you reach for that bottle of sanitizing mouthwash, you might be interested to know that ?Streptococci bacteria living in the mouth inhibit the growth of Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can cause pneumonia, and Streptococcus pylogenes, the instigator of ?strep throat?.?

Besides the damage that uber-sanitizing and rampant antibiotic use can have on our health, marketers are also selling us a losing battle. As a recent New York Times article reveals, as many as six tribes of bacteria live on the skin in the crook of your elbow. Even after washing, ?there are still one million bacteria in every square centimeter.? Not even NASA can win at the germ-killing game: researchers have found surprising numbers of ?hardy bacteria? in the space agency’s supposedly sterile clean rooms.

So when the inevitable commercials appear offering products to sanitize the inner elbow (the newest battlefield in the war on germs), I think I’ll take my chances?and keep my bacteria-laden money firmly in my pocket.