Get wise to the age

The biggest problem with these M&M’s used to be the notion of sentient food, but it’s become so much more complicated than that.

I tend not to subscribe to doom and gloom. Even as real world problems stack up, I know from history and experience that humans remain a crafty species, capable of adapting to all sorts of hardships. But there is one area where I think we struggle more than we know. As we humans grind through the meaty shank of the Information Age, I wonder if we are capable of detecting our own hooey.

It would appear not.

We already know how quickly false information spreads online. And I expect we’ve all been duped by hoaxes and “wishful thinking” speculation at one time or another. I certainly have. But what really gets us is a desire to believe even what we understand to be false. When emotional truth becomes detached from facts, well, it just keeps running wild. 

Some still believe there are litter boxes provided to students at Iron Range high schools. To some, this claim stands as living proof of a world gone mad. Now, this weird allegation — printed in the Mesabi Tribune last year — was widely and completely debunked. It’s a malicious rumor started in school districts across the country to belittle all students who are different. But it’s still going round and round like a loose boat motor. 

More recently, M&M’s. Perhaps you noticed a story a few weeks ago when the candy company announced that it was ending “controversy” by “pausing” its cartoon mascots in favor of a new spokesperson, Maya Rudolph. Of course, this was a winking acknowledgement of the Fox News commentary of Tucker Carlson. Carlson had lamented that “woke” female M&M’s switched out their stiletto heels and go-go boots for more sensible footwear. 

For days, people in my social circles and beyond argued about M&M’s. Then we all watched TV ads featuring Maya Rudolph that conclusively prove it was all a gimmick from the start. As for Carlson, he’s in the business of making people mad. If he doesn’t have something infuriating to allege, he’ll make up something, even if it means casting aspersions upon candy.

I’m not sure if most folks know how much effort goes into pumping monetized content into our brains. I’ve attended web marketing seminars that extoll terms like “search engine optimization,” “click rate,” “bounce rate,” and of course the almighty “hits” that power online content creation. Now we hear social media terms like “reach,” “engagement” and “follows.” My brothers and sisters, they’re talking about you! Research pinpoints exactly what people like to click on. It always works.

Then they track you like a wounded animal, only you still think you’re making conscious decisions. One conspiracy theory leads to another. Search for a tree, and they’ll show you a forest. 

People sometimes ask me why I show certain ads on my website. Those are Google ads placed by one of the world’s largest corporations based on your own browsing history. I’ve got nothing to do with the content. I just collect a $100 check twice a year. Big websites collect far more than your annual salary. Google collects billions.

If you’re seeing ads for plumbing fixtures it’s because you have a leaky faucet. If you see ads for Piddle Pads it’s because you have a leaky dog. Russian singles ready to mingle? Take it up with your teenage son or, more likely, the mirror.

Listen, maybe you knew all this. We’re all geniuses, after all. Can’t pull one over on us, am I right? But if you spent even one second believing that talking M&M’s were too woke, or not woke enough, you got fooled. And if you posted about it on social media you helped a multi-millionaire cable news host and an enormous corporation conduct a massive marketing campaign using your precious time, for free. 

You didn’t even get free M&M’s. You paid full price.

While millions of people engaged with this trumped up advertisement, all the problems of the universe remained right where we left them: unsolved and often unconsidered.

I’m not selling the “one true way” here. As I often say, honest people can disagree about politics, religion, culture and taste. But we must be able to discern facts from opinions, and to prioritize issues on our own without direction from our preferred opinionated content producer. We all, every one of us, think we already do this. But obviously we do not.

You might ask why the politicians and parties “can’t get along” or why they “won’t work together to solve real problems.” But if you’ve logged onto Facebook to share copy-and-paste memes inferring that people who disagree with you are subhuman, you are part of the problem. If you excuse bad behavior from members of your own party while criticizing the bad behavior of the other party, you are part of the problem. Sharing sensational content because “it might be true” is certainly the root of many problems.

Heck, in the ancient days they’d complain about town square gossips, people who spread bile and lies to build their own status. Even the Bible would call out this behavior; that’s how long people have been doing it. But in the Information Age our voices reach much farther than our whispered hearsay. We now interact with firehoses of content, smashing windows and good will with terminal imprecision. 

Worse yet, the most powerful among us — the high priests of cable news and viral content — profit from lies and hate more than they ever could from truth and love. As long as we tolerate such a twisted system we will suffer within it.

Enjoy the Super Bowl ads. But watch your back and keep tabs on your soul. You only get one.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. More media studies classes for students K forward. But if memory serves me you have brought this up. But keep doing it. We have heard of what is referred to by Black parents as “the talk.” It is time for another kind of talk in homes across the world. And who is this guy who they say gets us ? Ugh!

  2. Thank you, Mr. Brown. Well done.

  3. Always Minnesotan says

    This is another thought-provoking piece Aaron. Thank you.

    This paragraph struck me—
    “While millions of people engaged with this trumped up advertisement, all the problems of the universe remained right where we left them: unsolved and often unconsidered.”

    In other words, while algorithms keep us occupied down a rabbit hole on our devices, real life problems remain unsolved, not even tackled, because we’ve occupied our minds on (oftentimes) the silly nonsense articles/writings/advertisements we’ve been led to by an algorithm.

    On a personal level, I’ve got some problems and projects that need to get tackled so I’m promising myself (today and go forward) to fight the algorithm, set this device aside and start tackling my problems one or two or a time.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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