I’ve always believed that you can gauge the economic prosperity of a country not by its Gross Domestic Product, but by whatever object the 9-year old children of that country use to play soccer.

In America, our children are lucky enough to use actual soccer balls. In Ireland, the children use a tattered rubber kickball from the early 90’s. In Croatia, that ball is from the early 80’s. In Russia, the children play soccer with an old vodka bottle in the Chernobyl parking lot, and in Rwanda, the Tutsi youth gleefully bank the severed head of the recently murdered Hutu chief off of goal posts made from antique German Muzzle loaders from 1894.

Obviously, that hyperbolic contrast is about as accurate as Bush’s missile defense system, but it proves a point — we live in the most wealthy country in the world with the most expensive soccer balls in the history of the human race.

Accordingly, patriotism is at its 50-year zenith.

With the pins and the buttons, the sweaters and the stickers, the flags and the thongs, America is still showing its solidarity in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, especially with the arrival of the winter Olympics.

Is this good for America and its ongoing healing process?

Of course it is.

And via the media, are companies manipulatively taking advantage of this deluge of patriotic fervor for their own financial gain?

Of course they are.

By catering to the red, white and blue upswing, companies are tacitly gouging the emotional wound left by the attacks in a deplorable attempt to market their products.

Take for instance a commercial that is currently running by Ralph Lauren Polo. Accompanied by rich, triumphant, Copland-esque music, Ralph Lauren models of past and present are shown in a montage of catalog photos partaking in cliched American activities — swimming, relaxing on a farm, bathing a dog, shaving and waxing grandpa, etc.

And in every couple of frames in this lame, hyper-Americanized, “we’ve been there all along” travesty, a giant American flag is zoomed in on with an unrealistically attractive model in the foreground.

First of all, any clothing company with a man playing polo as their logo can’t be all that in touch with the common American. Man, “polo” has sure proven to be America’s pastime. Nothing like getting your friends together for a quick pick-up game of “polo”.

“Hey Mike! You call the guys and get the polo sticks and oddly shaped helmets, I’ll just be around back in the stables, rounding up the horses.”

And every little kid on Christmas morning hopes to wake up and unwrap a shiny new polo stick. Who does Polo think its marketing to, British Royal India?

And I guess these models in the commercial are somehow supposed to embody the American ideal.

I don’t know about you, but to me, nothing screams America like a waif, uneducated late-teen Czech model standing bravely in the wind, wrapped in old glory, just long enough to be captured on camera before the acute pang of heroin addiction beckons her back to her opium den, where the rest of her overpaid, vain, honky model friends are languidly ensconced playing tiddlywinks with pills of ecstasy.

Call me cynical, but I just have a tough time believing the ad executives at Polo thought up this commercial in a moment of true patriotic concern and moral clarity. Rather, it’s a cheap, exploitative ploy to sell more overpriced, expensive clothes to an emotionally patriotic and vulnerable consumer.

Another example is a Budweiser commercial that debuted during the Superbowl. I’m sure all the normal people at Yale who were actually watching the Superbowl saw it.

This gem of advertising featured the mighty Budweiser Kleidsdale horses being saddled up in the countryside, then starting an epic, wintry journey that somehow ended up at Ellis Island facing downtown Manhattan where the World Trade Center Towers once stood. The horses then stop, stomp their hooves briefly, and then kneel in homage on their front legs.

While the ad is mildly touching in a sappy way, c’mon now, Budweiser. Let’s not purport to be operating on some humanistic high ground here; your sole reason for existence is to get people drunk and make money from it. You are very much responsible for the massive dumbing-down of America. Making a maudlin commercial does not absolve you from killing billions of people’s brain cells, including my own, every weekend.

I actually would have liked to see the whole journey — from the horses getting glass bottles thrown at them by the indigent of Jersey City to the freaking out of some inner city kid from Staten Island who has never seen a live horse before and thinks it’s a giant dog with hooves.

I should probably just relax and not be so skeptical and analytical, but it just incenses me when I consider the true motivation for the running of these commercials, especially when true, untainted patriotic altruism many times goes unnoticed. It’s as frustrating as trying to bicycle kick an old vodka bottle.

John Phillips is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. His columns appear on alternate Fridays.