Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On the pursuit of the approval of strangers

Sometimes I wonder which is the more noble pursuit:

Providing structured social commentary on the complex artifacts of the human society we live in, This includes things like keeping abreast of new technologies, discussing long-winded and entirely artificial constructs like records management, or:

Reporting the simple delights of nature. The things that make me smile, that ring with all of us. The underlying humanist principles that don't need to be hugely detailed, or have whole industries built around them, because they are so built into us all that we appreciate them anyway.

I've lost some of the piqueness I had when I set out to write this post, because I have spent the last few hours in a crowded bar in Dallas Airport, watching commercials(in between a game of American Football). Inspired by Wordsworth, and his boundless enthusiasm for the natural world, I idly both wandered and wondered the terminal, which is absolutely massive, and could almost be seen as a monument to the more contrived human behaviours, and yet - I found natural behaviour everywhere.

From the children, wide-eyed and enraptured at giant sundaes, to the young air hostesses, intently discussing their potential boyfriends in between flights. (I imagined two cave dwelling girls, 10,000 years ago, discussing their nuptial relationships with each other away from the campfire.) The struggling and almost certainly unnoticed triumphantly pathetic blooms of the shiny indoor plants. Family Reunions. Grandparents chasing grand-toddlers into amused strangers...

These things that are innate and understandable hold tremendous appeal and romantic lore, and yet the contrived complexities that human society creates also amaze and astound me. In a way, it was the difference between these two things that brought me to America. I know for a fact that I hold a deep and revered solace with human nature and the natural world. And yet, America is the home of every contrived complexity ever known to man. It is a shrine to human progress, and invention, to capitalism and progressive commerce. Whatever unnatural pursuit that ever there be, for sure you can find it here, celebrated.

And perhaps that is where I love and hate advertising. Right at that nexus where the commercial world tries to tap into human nature in order to generate more profit. Advertising, and marketing in general suffers from a near impossible challenge - the ability to manipulate the innate natural-ness of all people, without appearing disingenuous. And you can't fake human nature - it's implicit in every human. Your audience will always know.

And as I've looked in turn at each shiny fluorescent billboard, the underlying attempt to pull at the heartstrings of the intended viewer seems so transparent - all coming down to simple, basic human emotions - sex, comfort, food, and overwhelmingly, the approval of strangers.

So much advertising is trying to make people feel inadequate and sad. That you won't be a good person unless you buy this brand of speakers, or this brand of face cream. That you need an enormous house in order to impress people you do not know or care about the opinion of.

And for all our ingenious inventions and boundless talents with resources, it all seems a little shallow from my late night viewpoint here on a hard plastic airport chair. To have replaced our innate natural desires with fluorescent advertisements, Shopping Magazines, invoices and Profit and Loss statements seems profoundly hollow.

1 comment:

  1. I hear you man. This town is one of the worst offenders in the pursuit of outdoing your neighbors. Thats why everyone in the DC area are such workaholics. You work for the money, then you realize your next door neighbor just bought a more expensive car/stereo/furniture set, so you have to work even harder to outdo them. Its a big spiral - no matter how much money you have, its never enough.

    The same subject has been the lesson in the last few sermons at the church we attend. Of course, heathen that I am I went strait out on a shopping spree right after church... nothing like a good catholic upbringing to help you compartmentalize your guilt. The sermon is a good lecture though, to quote: Jesus is calling each one
    of us to change the way that we think of success. It will be a life that is characterized by
    - Simplicity rather than excess
    - Sharing rather than ownership
    - Freedom rather than bondage.
    It actually doesn’t matter how little or how much money we
    have, but rather on what we do with what we have.

    I'm not usually the bible thumping type, but I thought it was decent food for though. Easier said than done though - the religion in this town is power and money, not prayer and mercy.