It’s the same every year: no retailer wants to miss out on the holiday sales boost, so they need new and exciting ways to tell us about their new and exciting deals. Two words that never seem to go out of vogue? “Insane” and “crazy.”
(Conway ad, 2012)
(Sears Website, 2012)
Let’s get one thing straight: “crazy” and “insane” are mental illness slurs. They serve to oppress, deride, and dismiss. They’re words that are used by people who don’t have enough education to have a real talk about mental health. They get used in the set-ups of insulting psych ward jokes, or to describe unthinkable crimes, and, apparently, to move merchandise. Their connotations tie directly to the worst stereotypes and misconceptions held about people with mental illness, and they drag up every unpleasant emotion associated these words every time they’re used. They can, and should, be avoided, and using them toward another person is inexcusable.
So what about using them in ads, promotions, and point-of-purchase media, like many stores and brands have? They’re not actually calling anyone crazy, so where’s the harm? Well, it’s a gray area. To me, it’s all about scope, context, and what message you’re actually sending. When ads like these use the words, what they’re really saying is something like, “These savings are so great, we’d have to be crazy to offer them!” In fact, in case you think I’m exaggerating, there was a Volkswagen ad back in the good old days of 1986 reading “To offer these deals we’d have to be committed.”
“Crazy” and “insane” aren’t inherently evil words, and using them doesn’t make you a bad person. When you say you “just had the craziest day,” you aren’t trying to insult anyone, and the odds that anyone’s feelings are actually hurt are pretty slim. The chances that you’re making someone uncomfortable trend a bit higher. I cringe every time I hear them, especially in the case of “insane.” I was recently at a conference where a speaker made a room full of people audibly gasp by letting “crazy” slip in a fairly innocent context. We didn’t hold it against her, but the tension was there.
So it’s concerning, if not outright annoying, to see them used in nationwide ads and posted all over stores. I don’t need to be reminded of the social struggles faced by people with mental illness when I just wanted to buy a sweater.