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Reeder: Lisa Madigan's coffee crackdown leaves bitter taste

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SPRINGFIELD – Lisa Madigan is at it again.

She is trying to keep the world safe from coffee mugs, and, apparently, from goofy parodies.

It seems she doesn’t like a coffee cup marketed by Urban Outfitters that looks sort of like a prescription drug bottle.

The mug is bright orange like a medicine bottle and has an Rx-type label on it. The prescribing physician is “Dr. Harold Feelgood.” The dosage instructions are: “Drink one mug by mouth, repeat until awake and alert.” And the quantity is “12 ounces of black gold.”

I first saw one of these mugs in the hands of a co-worker and found it mildly amusing.

She enjoys her coffee. I miss my caffeine.

I gave it up seven months ago for health reasons and find myself longing for it every morning. A good jolt of caffeine can really get you going.

And that’s the humor behind the mug.

Most caffeine users enjoy its mild stimulation properties. Those of us who have quit find ourselves jonesing for another fix.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that Madigan recently signed a letter along with 21 other attorneys general calling for Urban Outfitters to quit marketing the mug.

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

“As you may be aware, there is a national health crisis related to the abuse and diversion of prescription drugs. As Attorneys General, we have prosecuted and engaged in outreach to stop this epidemic. We are actively engaged in a campaign of environmental change to educate the public that abuse of prescription drugs is not safe simply because the medication originated from a doctor. By putting these highly recognizable labels on your products you are undermining our efforts. These products demean the thousands of deaths that occur each month in the United States from accidental overdoses.”

Looks like Madigan and her attorney general cohorts are calling out the parody police.

She doesn’t think this satirical novelty is particularly funny, so she is using the full weight of her office to stifle the errant humor.

Don’t get me wrong, drug abuse is a pernicious problem in our society. I’ve had too many friends ravaged by this affliction. But I fail to see how goofy coffee mugs contribute to the problem.

And in a free society, should government really be weighing in on what jokes are funny and which ones aren’t?

That smacks of totalitarianism.

After all, we are a free people. We ought to be able to laugh at what we think is amusing and spend our money in the manner we see fit without any interference from government.

Humor lies in the eye of the beholder.   

I couldn’t help but wonder what would constitute approved humor in the world Madigan would have us live in. Then I remembered a New Yorker cartoon.

The cartoonist Pat Byrnes drew an office worker with a meth lab set up on his desk telling a co-worker with a cup of java, “Meth doesn’t upset my stomach the way coffee does.”

If in the politically correct world the attorney general inhabits, equating coffee consumption to prescription drug abuse is bad, then a parody linking it to methamphetamine addiction must be horrible.

I asked the attorney general whether she saw a distinction between the parody she condemned Urban Outfitters for and the one Pat Byrnes produced.

Here is a portion of her office’s response:

“(W)e’ve taken action to stop efforts to normalize the use of dangerous drugs that are addictive and cause the deaths of far too many children and adults every year.

“As a result, we have challenged the promotion and sale of products such as Kool Mix cigarettes, Pot Suckers, Cocaine energy drink and Meth Coffee. Today, prescription drug abuse is one of the leading causes of addiction and death among young people. That’s why we have joined with other concerned attorneys general to question the marketing of products that make light of prescription drug abuse.”

Fair enough. It would appear that Madigan doesn’t like these kinds of parodies, which she believes trivialize substance abuse.

So will Madigan be sending cartoonist Byrnes a cease-and-desist letter anytime soon?

Probably not – he’s her husband.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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