Yesterday’s post was not meant to stand alone. This one is the follow-up I’d planned all along. This is the explanation of the parable, if you will. The inspiration to write it came from the realization that the man of the tombs could be me. Don’t worry, I’m not planning to get an exorcism. But maybe I need some demons driven out after all. Read on.
I’ve been limping through the Gospel of Mark and came upon the tale of the possessed man. This story is one of the most powerful in a Book filled with powerful stories, all part of one Big Story. The image of the healed man, seated at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind, is the consummate picture of peace and the power of transformation.
As I read it this time, though, it struck me in a way it never had before.
The story is about a man who has become possessed, against his will and without his knowledge, by powers greater than him, forcing him to perform actions he never would have done on his own. To those who deny the existence of demonic beings, Hell, or the Devil himself, that’s all pretty far-fetched. It would be a different story altogether if this kind of thing were happening today.
I submit that it is.
It’s happening to me, to you, and to most of Western Culture. Advertising is Legion. We are bombarded with it and are nearly defenseless against its power.
Why defenseless? Because our defenses aren’t up. Companies spend billions of dollars advertising, backed up by huge investments in the psychology of manipulation. The science behind the psychology is well understood and effective. The money wouldn’t be spent if the sellers were not certain that it was giving them a return on their investments. That’s the way business works; they won’t spend a penny unless they are certain there’s payback of more than a penny. We are being manipulated whether we like/know it, or not. As “Psychology Today” put it in a past article: “When you don’t pay attention to ads, they affect you.”
Even if we thought we could protect ourselves from it, advertising is targeted at us in ways we aren’t even aware of. Every purchase, email, and Facebook entry has the potential of being tracked for the sole purpose of selling us stuff that we don’t need and probably don’t even want… until we’re told we do.
Paranoia? Look at your store receipts. They often include coupons for items that are related to what you bought on the current or a previous trip to the store. Ads on web sites are aimed specifically at you based on email you’ve received and sites you’ve visited. (Unless you have Adblock Plus. If you don’t, why the heck not???) That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. And it will get worse as the technology improves.Advertising is ubiquitous. Even when you don’t realize it, you are being marketed to. One minor example: I recently (and regrettably) watched the mega-super-blockbuster, “The Avengers”. On at least three occasions that I recall, there was an Acura SUV parked in a prominent place, spotless in spite of the mayhem surrounding it. Robert Downey Jr./Tony Stark drives a new Acura roadster (actually just a mocked-up “concept” of a non-existent model). Millions saw that and now have “Acura”, “cool”, and “powerful” inextricably connected in their minds. And they have no idea why.
That’s merely an anecdote, but hundreds of other examples are out there. When it’s that pervasive, it’s not an anecdote, it’s a symptom. Face it, most major movies are first and foremost commercials. Where else would the $200,000,000 budget come from?
Advertising is in the sky, on our clothes, in bathrooms, on the roads, in schools, at sporting events, in transportation systems. All we really need to know is that ads are on TV because TV is now everywhere – in almost every restaurant, on your shopping cart, on gas pumps, over urinals, in cars. You can’t get away from what we used to call the “boob tube”. That moniker is now more appropriate than ever, for more reasons than ever, yet the term has sadly fallen out of favor.
So next time you buy something (anything), think, “Why?” Why Dunkin Donuts? Sony? Microsoft? Taco Bell? (Why would anyone buy Taco Bell??) VW? Amazon? Coke? Geico? Walmart? MacDonald’s?
Why choose Subway over the Mom & Pop sub shop at the corner? Because Mom & Pop can’t afford to pay Michael Phelps or RG3 to advertise them on national TV. Like athletes would really eat at Subway of their own free will. Does anyone remember John Belushi endorsing “little chocolate donuts” as part of his Olympic training regimen? Is Subway any less absurd?
A legion of higher powers beyond our control or understanding, filling our minds and hearts every second, often without our knowledge, coercing us into buying and doing things that we would not otherwise do, often things that are bad for us. And we don’t even know why.
Who then is the man of the tombs?
(I don’t know if anyone noticed it, but clicking on the picture in yesterday’s post linked to a YouTube video of the definitive musical expression of the story. It’s by a brilliant but sadly underappreciated singer named Bob Bennett. Everything he does is good; this is one of his best.)
My favorite part of TV and the tsunami of ads is trying to figure how they are manipulating folks (me). Fascinating study.
Nice piece — but is is even more overwhelming when we realize that Culture is ambiguous. So many people have made culture their god; I for one, working in public companies perpetuated myths because we needed to protect shareholder value. The decision wasn’t based on whether or not this or that was advancing society…although sometimes that entered into it. It was largely about can we get a return on our investment? The difficult thing is to realize that culture, per se, isn’t corrupt nor is advertising — but the proliferation of ads keeps us good and distracted from the deeper purpose of life. Culture, while intoxicating — still gives us choice — it is about choice within the world of bread and circuses or putting our choice in the hope of the unseen. It’s funny, I use similar shots of Time Squares (with all those selling screens) to try and help kids understand that we are not actually being told the truth in the imagery that assaults us.
Hi, David. Thanx for your (as usual) well-reasoned thoughts. It troubles me when companies proudly put profits before people saying that if they can’t make a profit, they can’t benefit anyone. But if they harm society to make those profits, they condemn themselves by their own words.
As for having a choice, do we really have a choice if we don’t recognize how we are being influenced? As you infer, having that unseen Standard to go by is our only hope. It was “tomb-man’s” rescue and should be mine.
Brilliant, Bruce. If I were to write one more post on this topic, it would say just that: Instead of letting this propaganda slide by and into our subconscious, analyze it for what it is. For example, what are they *really* selling us? Sex, popularity, power, fame, significance, and happiness are the typical wares, not the beer, car, or clothing.
Another fun activity is looking at the characters in the commercials. More often than not, they’re superficial, anal, greedy, vain jerks. Is that the customer base they’re shooting for? Do I want to be counted among them?