Chernobyl model and alerts spur hysteria and show lack of taste

Capitalism and free-market economy operate on the concept of selling goods or services as long as it is profitable to do so. There are, however, some areas where even capitalism should hesitate to step, and common sense and tact should be more important.

Moss, a maker of models and collectibles, is such an example. The company proudly sells models of buildings that have been part of massive catastrophes on their Web site.

For the price of $95 (plus shipping and handling, of course), a model of the Chernobyl reactor that blew in 1988, contaminating large areas of eastern Europe, killing hundreds and creating health problem for thousands, can be yours. Wouldn’t that look great on your desk next to the photo of your significant other?

Other buildings available include the Unabomber’s cabin, where Ted Kaczynski manufactured incendiary devices, or the Alma Tunnel where Princess Diana died in a car accident in 1997. The latter structure includes a tastefully smashed car hugging a column.

And, of course, what collection of such models would be complete without a plane-damaged Pentagon or the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers (planes not included)?

The company claims that “souvenirs are important cultural objects” and, therefore, the miniatures of buildings related to horrible events are even more culturally important.

The phrase “limited edition” on the Web site apparently not only refers to the availability of the models, but also to the lack of taste and judgment demonstrated by the makers.

Admittedly, it is not as bad as New Yorkers selling shrapnel that fell off the World Trade Center on e-Bay, but it is still in very bad taste.

Elsewhere, other companies are not relying on past events to make a fast buck, but on the fear that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have engendered.

A prime example of a company making money based on the fear of others is AlertsUSA.com, a company that, for $4.95 per month, transmits the current homeland security status and other alerts to cell phones.

The company’s sample alert from their Web site has such helpful advice for Americans abroad as “to stay away from anti-American demonstrations” and “larger crowds.” If you need to be advised to not walk through a group of people chanting “death to America” while wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt, I guess you deserve to be ripped off by the company.

The company does not stop there, though. The alerts also provide pointers to make your family safe in the event of chemical or biological attacks. The items needed to survive such doomsday scenarios are conveniently available from Two Tigers Radiological, who are, coincidentally, the owner of AlertsUSA.com.

The fear that such events like Sept. 11 will occur again is only natural. So is the desire of people to be prepared for such events. But to make money off that fear is despicable.

Companies that exploit such fears by advertising pills that might protect you downwind of a nuclear explosion and highlighting that “children are the highest risk group,” will simply create further fears and possibly even panic. It might be a cliché by now, but if we kick up a panic, then the terrorists have won, as it is their goal to instill fear and panic in their enemies.

Such advertising techniques may also desensitize the public to news about genuine terror threats. If a serious alert is issued by the Department of Homeland Security, people who have been endlessly exposed to advertising that whips up hysteria may not take it as serious as the situation should warrant.

Sebastian Meyer is The Oracle Opinion Editor.

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