Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Letter to Nick Jonas

First, be advised that some of you may not like this posting. If you don't, feel free to read something else. I don't expect Nick Jonas or his Disney-paid publicist to notice it either, but I need to get this off my chest.

I openly admit it: I think Nick Jonas (and his brothers) is creepy, and I also side with comedienne Kathy Griffin on their so-called "purity" rings (the rings supposedly signify that they will wait until marriage to have sex), see her "colorful" comments on that here. As it turns out, the acerbic, red-headed comedienne was right, this is/was pure bull$#!t -- catch this excerpt from a British teen-tabloid for more on that. But I'm not naïve: I realize they're the latest boy-band craze that makes pre-pubescent girls' hearts flutter, and I could live with that. But what gets me is when all of it's just a snow-job presented as legitimate philanthropy.

They're just the latest in a long line of boy-band and singer sensations. History is full of them: the Jonas Brothers aren't the first, and most certainly won't be the last, and like it or not, their days in this role are numbered, as there's many eager would-be stars only too ready to replace them. We need look back no further to 1997 when another brother band called Hanson dominated the charts with a song called "Mmm Bop" that had the same effect on tween girls at the time.

Back in the 1970's, my sister was briefly in love with another teen idol by the name of Shaun Cassidy, when he performed his #1 hit single "Da Doo Ron Ron" and then later appeared on TV on the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew show, I thought the shreeks coming from her would deafen me. Fortunately, they didn't. Two decades earlier, there was another teen boy-idol named Ricky Nelson, who began his career on his parents' Ozzie & Harriet TV show, and then later cashed in on his celebrity by extending it (quite successfully) to music and enjoyed success into the 1960's. My mother claims she thought (at the time) he was soooo cute.

But the sad reality is that the Jonas Brothers aren't entirely organic (and they weren't all that successful) until a senior Disney exec named Bob Iger came along with lots of cash and a master plan to create and leverage tween "franchises" across multiple media channels that was well-documented in The Wall Street Journal and other business media (see here for one such story). This plan really began with "High School Musical", then "Hannah Montana" and has since been extended to the Jonas Bros. These figures are emblazoned on products galore and it just so happens that the whole diabetes thing fits quite neatly into this squeaky-clean picture. But be assured, Nicky Jonas (and maybe his parents) is cashing in on it.

The Jonas boys (and their parents) aren't stupid, but they aren't exactly as philanthropic to the larger diabetes community as they seem to suggest. In fact, it's rumored that Nick Jonas got a fat check for $500,000 from the JDRF to do the Congressional testimony although detailed evidence to back that up is hard to come by, as the 990 annual filings with the IRS for nonprofits on file for JDRF don't require that level of specificity. That cost (if it was incurred) could potentially be included in another line-item on the financial statements, and even then, it might have been payable to some other entity, like the firm who booked him for JDRF (or even to an advertising agency), and it might also be blended with other expenses in the same broad category, since line-item reporting is fairly broadly defined.

This past summer, there was all kinds of internet chatter on the web, Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere about how Nick Jonas' had testified with JDRF before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on June 24, 2009 ("Type 1 Diabetes Research: Real Progress and Real Hope for a Cure") about his fairly brief life with diabetes (at least one kid who was YOUNGER than him who also testified has lived more years with diabetes than Nick Jonas has). He also appeared at the National Press Club on August 21, 2009 and the news and video clips were then subsequently shown all over the web (which fits in perfectly with Bob Iger's original plans for the Jonas "franchise"), and plenty of bloggers wrote about it like it was really news. Truthfully, I really wanted to vomit from it all.

Yes, the supposedly über talented pre-teen idol even wrote and performs a 'touching' song about his oh-so optimistic outlook on life with type 1 diabetes called "A Little Bit Longer" about how we'll have to wait just "a little bit longer" for a cure, but that will be alright in the end. That's supposed to be an inspiration to all the other people with type 1 that, in his words (from his Congressional testimony) "they can live with diabetes and still make their dreams come true". More cheerleading is not what people with diabetes lack, what we lack is truthfulness and honesty about the situation from almost everyone. My friend Deb Butterfield (author of "Showdown With Diabetes") once eloquantly wrote:

"Using reassuring voices and sweet smiles, nurses convey the message that if you do as you're told, then everything will be okay – just as in the NDEP campaign, they are telling their patients that diabetes is controllable, and if they control it, they will be fine. But the truth is that no study, not even the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial, has ever been able to show that diabetes management can prevent complications."

It is this lack of honesty that helps to explain the meteoric rise of all the diabetes blogs and various other social networks serving the diabetes community, as thousands now flock to these things to share stories about what a crock the "5 year" promise is, and how no one believes it. But someone hasn't filled Nicky Jonas in on this little tidbit yet!

My response to Nick's supposed philanthropy: fine, if you were paid by JDRF, fess up, give all of it back and admit it, and if you're really so generous to the cause, donate all the money you now get from the Bayer Diabetes Care endorsements to JDRF or the DRI. Maybe, in 30 more years, and there's still no cure (which may be likely), you can then put your songwriting and performance skills into that. I have some ideas I'm more than willing to share (including one for a song listed below)!

Trust me, Nicky, even with millions of dollars from all your endorsement deals and Disney promos, those unsubstantiated claims aren't terribly comforting, they grow ever more irritating as time goes by. Plus, your "simple-wins" (the tagline from your Bayer Diagnostics campaign) may not be enough to protect YOU from complications, bud. Maybe you'll be able to extend your window of fame, but the odds aren't really in your favor -- if you don't believe me, just ask former 1970's teen-idol Leif Garrett, who was once in a similar place as you are now!

I have no complaint about legitimate philanthropy, but when you're getting paid (handsomely) by charitable organizations and also endorsing diabetes products, but acting like it's genuine charity work, then I take issue.

Nick Jonas may or may not be the next Leif Garrett (who got arrested in the Los Angeles subway system for heroin possession, talk about tween idols in decline), but perhaps in 30 years he'll consider writing a different, more honest song about life with diabetes entitled "It's always just 5 more years away!".

Who knows, I might actually PAY to download a song like that to my iPod, and I would definitely promise NOT to change the station if I heard it as I do with all of his music today!

P.S. It's not my intention to turn this post into a flame-war. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, as am I. But please realize that I DO moderate comments on this blog, so try to keep comments relevant and ideally, substantiated if you try to challenge me on something!


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading your blog, pointing out how impersonal and downright fallacious the JDRF has become. Corporate America (including the quasi-corporate charities) have recognized—along with our government—that the easiest way to manipulate and control people is to scare the hell out of them and then offer them the possibility of “hope.” In neither case is there truth nor any real possibility of a perfect outcome. Doctors use this technique everyday in their offices—depending on patients’ willingness to cooperate. Government uses this everyday to get susceptible human beings to step up for the next flu vaccination or the next latest-greatest protocol. Jonas, no matter how great his fame, has become nothing more than the next fly in the spider web.


Anonymous said...


I concur wholeheartedly. To have "newbies" represent the diabetic community does a disservice to all of us. Because celebrity affords one a bully pulpit doesn't mean that what emanates from that pulpit has much merit.

Last week I received a newsletter from Dr. Faustmann’s research group. Her work seems very promising and certainly does need support. At the same time, on Sunday I was watching a women’s U.S. Open bowling championship from Las Vegas. One of the participants who is married to a man who was the Men’s Professional Bowler of the Year (last year), was wearing a JDRF emblem on her bowling shirt. The announcer mentioned that she now served on the advisory board of JDRF because one of her sons had become a T1 diabetic.

The following is a rant I promise never to repeat. JDRF is not a charity. JDRF is a political, educational and diversionary arm of corporate America. What group interested in finding a cure would place a well-known sports/athlete on an advisory board at the same time they are going through the trauma that one of their children has a serious disease? Do these “newbies”—because of their celebrity—really have enough knowledge to even pick the right insulin or pump protocol? Both of these parents are college graduates, but I really doubt that I want either one of them choosing where money will be directed to find a cure, based on their experience with diabetes.

I know this sounds egotistical on my part, but JDRF—our charity for cure research—chooses these people and places them in positions of importance in order that they (JDRF) can use their celebrity as advertisement to collect more money from the masses. At the same time, corporate America (now running our charities) knows these same people will support research which keeps protocols that are highly profitable (but questionable in terms of overall outcome) because they want their children to be “normal.” In fact, corporate America knows these people will lose sight of cure-research in favor of anything having to do with a more “normal” lifestyle and the promise of a longer life.

To me, this whole scenario is very similar to the largest church in town being the monetary funding behind and sole beneficiary of income from the local brothel on the opposite end of town. In fact, as parishioners, everyone at some point begins to wonder why the local minister is spending so much time counseling the ‘ladies of the evening.’ The whole concept of charities in America has been a façade to extract money from individuals who want to help, and create a governing board of/by/for the rights of the corporate individuals that support the charity. This is the best example I know of giving someone a position—making them feel important, making them feel like they have influence over the direction of research to cure their child’s disease—and assuring that they will go out and hustle more money to be placed in corporate charities. The result is money spent by corporate America to improve protocols, in turn increasing profits, while cure research is forgotten to the point of “we don’t know what causes the disease; we don’t know what conditions may worsen its progression; and we certainly have no clue what will cure long-standing diabetes.”


Allison Blass said...

A few points:

1) Every celebrity (well you like the fact they are a celebrity or not) will receive cash for endorsements deals for any organization. This isn't just Nick/JDRF/diabetes. This is EVERYONE. It's true that it's horrible that they are paid so much money, but, uh, not a surprise. You think MTM or any of the other JDRF celebrities haven't been paid? Or any other non-profit in this country?

2) I don't see how the number of years someone has lived with diabetes dictates whether or not someone is allowed to advocate/educate on behalf of a group. I've had diabetes half as long as you, Scott. Does that mean I should shut up too?

3) I know for a fact that Nick Jonas has inspired teens with diabetes, and has helped educate non-diabetic teens about what diabetes is. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Teens need as many cheerleaders as they can get because more often than not they are being yelled at by their parents and doctors.

4) What "unsubstantiated claims" do you think Nick Jonas is perpetuating? All I've seen him to do is talk about how taking care of yourself is good and how people with diabetes can still live out their dreams. And this is bad... how?

5) "A Little Bit Longer" is the name of a SONG. It's not a proclamation of truth. He's a 16-year-old kid writing a catchy, hopeful song to people. Sheesh.

And lastly...

6) You reference a British TABLOID as a source of credible, reliable information? That's... desperate.

Allison Blass said...

Oh, one last thing:

I am NOT a fan of the Jonas Brothers. Their songs are way too sugary-sweet for my taste. And they're terrible actors.

And I agree with what you said about them being part of the Disney media machine. It's a proven fact that Disney "creates" super stars, not finds them. C'est la vie...

Anonymous said...


Get your feelings hurt much? Focus on the quick “insult” without seeing the deeper meaning? I don’t Scott was at all diminishing the need for optimism (and thus cheerleaders, to spread said optimism). As an oldie—not a newbie—I see that you castigate us for our cynicism and yet are very thin-skinned when we chastise you for your unmerited optimism. Please consider this: broadly speaking, WE have been where YOU are . . . you have not been where we are. We remember having our character challenged; we remember being given the worst of news; the best of news. (Diabetes can kill you; or you can put on your big-boy pants and ‘beat it’ or at least live with it.) We remember the “breakthroughs” with the promise that a cure is only five years away. Think about it this way: how many annual doctor’s visits have YOU made . . . and heard the bromide “a cure is just around the corner”? Five? . . . Ten? . . . Fifteen? Maybe you’ll have a change of heart, and ingest a healthy dose of skepticism AND cynicism when you’ve heard the same thing FIFTY years in a row! At some point, the expectation that I (or any of my fellow diabetics) may live a single day on this planet without sharing it with my diabetes-shadow wears very, very thin. Anything you can do today, using high-tech protocols, I could do 20, 30 or 40 years ago, with natural insulins. In the case of diabetes, “progress” is merely “newer” and more expensive.

I believe the balance lies somewhere between the newbie’s “can-do” optimism and the oldie’s experience-laden cynicism. I do tire of the exploitation of our newly-diagnosed brothers and sisters who—if they have any sort of celebrity attached to them—become a “valued” spokesperson for ALL of us . . . and without the experience to recognize their own exploitation. Some, indeed, are well-paid to sell us out to the corporate masters and medical industry that prey on all of us; some, naively believe that they are the anointed messenger. Until a single one of them breaks through and actually brings to all of us a meaningful BREAKTHROUGH in the treatment or cure of this disease, I cannot but equate them with anything less than whoredom. To begin with, since we all rely on bG monitors that have a +/- 10% error allowances (on either end of the scale), how about an accurate bG monitor . . . not one that is faster, requires a smaller sample, or comes encased in a bit of fashion accessorization . . . but one that is truly accurate? How about a non-invasive, continuous monitor? Or do diabetics just consider the 10-12 finger sticks a day as FUN?

I would be more impressed with MTM, or Jonas, or the former Miss America or whoever has been/will be the next valued spokesperson for all of us. . . if they spoke not about what diabetics can do to live with the disease . . . and assure us that if we run for a cure, walk for a cure, bike for a cure, donate for a cure . . . that a CURE, indeed, will come. Why don’t they state the truth about meters . . . or insulin choices . . . or any other issue that makes a difference in the daily lives of diabetics. Instead, we must walk, or run, or bike, or bowl for a cure that is still ‘just over the horizon.’ The goal is raising money and selling product—not finding a cure.

The truth of the matter is that like the discoveries of Fleming or Pasteur or Banting and Best or Salk, a cure (in my opinion) will come from a tireless researcher with the intellect and commitment to get the job done. Putting more and more money into the pockets of the pseudo-corporations that masquerade as charitable advocates merely enables their continued existence. In the minds of those leaders who head diabetes-related corporations and advocacy groups . . . diabetes is just too damn profitable to cure!


Gary Feit / JDRF said...


Thanks for all you do to help foster important conversations about type 1 diabetes and research. You mention in your post that everyone is entitled to their opinions about the Jonas brothers, which is certainly true. However, I want to take the opportunity to clear up one important fact.

When Nick Jonas testified before Congress at last summer’s JDRF Children’s Congress, he was not paid by JDRF, or anyone else. The same holds true for all other JDRF celebrity advocates. They work with JDRF because of a shared commitment to raising awareness about diabetes and the importance of research to bring about a cure.

You also mention your opinion that Nick share some of his earnings with JDRF or another cause related to type 1 research. In fact, that’s exactly what he’s done. The Jonas Brothers’ Change for the Children Foundation made a significant donation to JDRF this year in support of research.

If you hear of any other rumor like this in the future, I invite you to get in touch with me or anyone else at JDRF directly, to check it out. We’ll be glad to let you know whether or not it’s accurate.

Gary Feit