The speech from this video is very well written. It clasps the main contentions with moderate exactitude, thereby adapting itself to the medium, it insists on some points then glosses over others and the visual side of it is simply attractive. Adopting a serious posture at most times (“It turns out my Pantene contains a chemical linked to cancer”, “My bathroom is a minefield of toxins” etc.), then inserting mild ironies, interjections (“Gross!") and suggestive gestures, this video is a handful of arguments. While watching it, however, I got more anxious by the minute. I was receiving so many pieces of information at such a rate that I decided to watch it again.
First, vagueness. “Nasty”, “loaded with toxins”, “dozed”, “pre-poluted” are vage words. As important as they seem in general, they do not really matter in this specific situation. One could quibble over their meaning, but this would not affect the main direction of the video. Some other words and phrases like “linked to cancer”, “safe” or even “using” are vague in addition to being central to many of the arguments. These one should worry about. What does “linked to cancer” mean? I’m going to think like a five year old seal, but, in principle, if the truck transporting the products regularly passes by a mercury-processing factory, one could say – flippantly, yes – that that specific product is linked to cancer. The same, if some action does not equal being stabbed in the chest, one could say that (comparatively) it is rather safe. Or that a shampoo factory which offers beef burgers at lunchtime, is using beef burgers to produce shampoo. Estee Lauder may be using such-and-such chemicals to wash their cars. It still falls under ‘using to produce’.
Second, the rhetorical questions. I believe rhetorical questions in general cannot but be slippery. They use assumptions (as unexpressed premises) which, for some reason, are left aside by the interrogative form of the phrase. Why can’t one say it straightforwardly? [see what I mean…]. The rhetorical question from the airline analogy (“Would you fly in…”) made me think that we do not normally fly in chemicals, as we do in planes. If this is not a big difference, what is? [see…]. Again, the rhetorical question “Since when is oil an herb?” made me think the name of the shampoo is not “Only Herbal Essences”.
Many of these questions were actually answered. The video is just an overview of a more detailed and profusely footnoted text which can be found in PDF format here. I guess the unyielding scolder has a place to start from after all (not that it would certainly lead him somewhere).
But then, when Mrs. Annie Leonard started talking about those “responsible companies” which are “already putting safer products on the market”, I realized that the main standpoint of the speech was not “The-thing-X is such-and-such” but “The-future-action-X is such-and-such”. In other words, the standpoint was not evaluative, but deliberative. It did not (primarily) try to devaluate toxins, but (by means of this devaluation) to propose a course of action. What could this path consist of?
Hurry-scurrying form one link to another, I found The Compact for Safe Cosmetics. A summary of it can be found here, and more details from the same site here. In a nutshell, the Compact consists of six points (concerning safety, publicity, regulation) amounting to a pledge (!) which companies must have signed in order to appear on this list. The winners which underwent this hardship are not few! More than 1500 companies signed this pledge, which means that (at least at the moment of signing it) had wiped their slate clean. But then, if so many American companies are now allegedly in accordance with the European Norms, which struck everybody as way powerful and thus better, why the fuss? Answering this question should be easier if we think of two giant non-signers, Estee Lauder and P&G.