“When our idea of danger is eating gluten, there’s trouble afoot,” Nick Offerman ( Ron Swanson on"Parks and Recreation") proclaims in his best drill-sergeant snarl, standing before a large American flag .“Yes, we the people have gotten soft.” That's his message. We should eat exhaust pipes not omelets for breakfast, wash'em down with rust remover and chew tires , not bubble gum. We're a nation of pitiful wussies. Full of bluster and bravado, there's a good reason Offerman doesn't quite cut the commanding figure of granite-jawed General Patton. Inside he is about as soft and spongy as a loaf of Wonder Bread. That's what the actor does best, send up the macho male. The contrast between the spiel and the schlemiel is the joke, how can anyone not fail to get it? NASCAR got it. In fact it hired him to star in this Super Bowl spoof of its own Duck Dynasty image in a 60 second commercial that mocks and celebrates the beer-top popping, tailgate-party, smash-mouth, love-it-or-leave-it ethos that NASCAR fosters and embraces..
All in good fun? Not according to the 16,000 or so who signed a Change. org petition claiming Offerman's gluten put-down "implies we're soft...we're weak...we're part of America's problem. When all we're trying to do is manage our disease. Celiac can be a true pain..." Time out! That's cheating. The commercial does not in anyway ridicule the suffering of those afflicted with the severe autoimmune condition, triggered by eating gluten—less that one percent of the population. Its quite obvious target are food faddists who suddenly freak out about eating a slice of bread because they buy into the current hysteria, even if they're not sure what gluten is, exactly, or why it's supposed to be bad for them. But these days, willfully missing the joke, any joke, seems to be the newest expression of righteous indignation for some, as if our patriotic duty depended on our block-headed refusal to tolerate a satiric jab or to laugh at our own frailties.
Laughter, as Victor Borge reminded us, is the shortest distance between two people. That appears to put some serious yardage between me and those offended petition signers. I like to laugh, especially at myself. I'm a constant source of amusement when I hunt all over the house for car keys that I've tucked into my back pocket. Not funny! they'd say. You're implying that aging brings about mental dysfunction, that Alzheimer's Disease is fodder for stand-up comedians. Which is one of the many reasons I don't work for NBC s Advertising Standards Department, where they yanked out the front teeth of the NASCAR commercial without anesthesia to rid us of the offending gluten reference, heard first online in a Super Bowl preview. Tugging at the heartstrings of America, "Gluten Dude", who launched the petition, tried mightily to get us reaching for our hankies. "I think about all of the gluten-free children getting bullied for being "different," when all they want to do is feel better and fit in," he wrote.
In my Northern California neighborhood, you're more likely to get teased for eating a non-organic cumquat.
Sure, there are negative reactions to gluten that about six percent of us who are non-celiacs may (or may not, there are no definitive tests) experience. They include joint aches and fatigue. Anyone who stops eating wheat and finds they feel better is of course advised to stay away from the grain. But as an investigative journalist, when I took a long hard look at the gluten-free movement while researching Grain of Truth, I came away startled by the gap between what we know based on fact and what we're willing to believe based on fear, and that, to me, is no laughing matter.