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Lying — Especially About Death — Isn't Funny, and This Commercial Sends a Bad Message

by on January 21, 2019 5:00 AM


With the snowstorm over the weekend, I took the opportunity to catch up on some movies. Watching network television inevitably means commercials, and there was one that shocked me. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

The commercial is entitled Hooky on YouTube. It starts out with a young boy and an older girl in what appear to be school classrooms. They are dressed in school uniforms. In several scenes, you see teachers and what may be administrators meeting with the children and appearing to deliver bad news. The children look sad as they are comforted by the adults. We then see those children walking out to get in the car with their parents. The voiceover refers “poor Uncle Edward.” We then learn that Uncle Edward has “passed  away six times this year.” In the next scene, a teacher or administrators sadly waves to the children from the school window.

As the kids rush to get into the car to meet their ecstatic parents and younger siblings, the voice over continues.  “We don’t even have an Uncle Edward and yet, somehow, I think this is what he would have wanted.” The camera pans from the kids with their arms up in the air in excitement in the car to those same kids sitting in a roller coaster, with arms up. We then see the car and hear the tag line. Volkswagen Atlas. “More room means more fun.”

I drive a Volkswagen Jetta and the whole thing makes me angry.   

The ad is wrong on so many levels. Sensationalizing a lie to authorities to get out of school for a day of fun doesn’t seem to be the message our collective society needs to be hearing or seeing or the best way to sell automobiles. How did this ad, coming on the heels of the billions of dollars in fines that Volkswagen spent in response to the unprecedented “lying” about emissions on their cars, make it through the management chain of command? Who thought this was a good idea?

In today’s culture of misrepresentation, “alternative facts” and what seems to be a collective acceptance that people, especially politicians, lie, is this the message we want to be sending?  

As a university faculty member, I’ve heard the excuse that Uncle Edward or Grandma or Aunt Bessie died again this semester, and it isn’t funny. There are websites where students can go to get ideas for “lies” to get out of class. Students can buy doctor excuses and papers written by other people instead of doing their work.

Those same students undoubtedly become employees who feign illnesses and injuries, make up excuses to be tardy or off work or to get out of work or figure out ways to fix a car emission system to show the wrong result.

Over the years, my colleagues and I have been both amused as well as horrified by some of the stories we’ve been told. I couldn’t come to class because I had lice. My pet was sick. I had to take my girlfriend or roommate to the emergency room. I have to go to court.  With so many years of teaching under my belt, I can even remember the student who used the 9/11 tragedy to get out of class. The case that haunts me is the student who said he was missing school and out-of -class group work because of receiving chemotherapy treatments. When I encouraged him to let his group know that he had some health issues, looking back, it makes sense now that he didn’t want to share it with them so they “wouldn’t treat him differently.” Long story short, in a series of fateful opportunities, the truth came out.  No cancer. He later tried a similar con with one of my colleagues.

In the end, the few who lie make it hard for the students and employees who do have serious family or health issues. The students who face the death of a loved one, a family illness or some other issue are put under greater scrutiny and demands for documentation. For most people, lying makes our brains and our psyches work harder. I encourage my students to just tell the truth. I would rather them let me know they are having a bad week or fess up to not doing the homework. Lying makes it all worse.

I can’t believe that a group of executives from Volkswagen around a boardroom table thought a commercial about lying was a good idea.

When our kids were little, we pulled them out of school for the occasional trip to Disney or for some other issue. Our school district made it pretty easy to do that. There is a form to fill out in advance and parents must make arrangements  about the missed school work. We still laugh about the year we surprised the kids at breakfast and said “Let’s not go to school today. What do you think about a trip to Disney instead?” After the screams, our little worrier asked “Mom, did you fill out the form?”  Thanks honey, I got it. No need to lie about a non-existent Uncle Edward.

Shame on you Volkswagen. It brings into question the core values of your company if lying is this embedded in your culture. I like my Jetta but I’m really starting to question Volkswagen.



Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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