“If I could just pay off my student debt, my life would be so much better.”
This was the mantra of the man who would (briefly) be my husband.
As it turned out, that debt did get paid off. He still hammered his fists through the dry wall of my home.
We didn’t last long.
“If only I were thin. My life would be so much better.”
This was my mantra for years. When I starved my body down to 112 lbs with my ribs poking out, my hip bones worse than elbows, people lectured me to get a sandwich. I obsessed about gaining an ounce. My entire life revolved around food/no food. I was horrible to be around.
“If only I had (name your toy). My life would be so much better.”
Get your fancy car, your nice home, your trophy husband/wife, your status dog, your status baby in his thousand-dollar onesie.
You can still be an asshole, a jerk, unhappy, angry at the world for one reason or another. Life still happens to you: your next child is born with Down’s Syndrome. You get prostate cancer. Your wife develops diabetes. You both get fat. Your uber rich life is unrelentingly boring and empty.
A piece of me honestly believes that some of the anger, the feelings of entitlement among the very wealthy we see in society today, are based on this very phenomenon. I got rich. Married the partner. Got the toys. The huge estate. The private plane. Why am I not happy? Why isn’t our life suddenly get vastly better than those living without the multiple yachts and eight vacation homes? I spent. Therefore I’m OWED.
For the rest of us poor sots, a different — but similar- set of issues.
If only I could get rid of these wrinkles. These fat pads. Get better eyebrows. Have nicer teeth.
If only. If only.
Chasing the chimera of If onlys is the heart and soul of marketing.
The lie of implied happiness and contentment of the basis of getting a thing, undergoing an external transformation, or any other external process actually kills our happiness.
The problem with it is that the second we acquire that gorgeous diamond engagement ring, that sports car, that expensive Armani jacket, the mind automatically is attracted to the next shiny object. Please note: this addiction is precisely the same compulsion that Facebook and other social media uses to keep us hooked and signed in. Same pleasure receptors. It’s how we’re wired.
The mind makes little to no differentiation between a fifty thousand dollar-diamond and a Snickers bar. It desired, it got, now it wants more. Those who market, know this mindset.
So having acquired the object of our desire, be it a husband, wife, home, car, title on the office door, the work of the marketing machine is to shine a spotlight on the next shiny object for us. THAT will do it. Yes siree Bob. It most surely will.
As one who has spent decades from my early youth doing this very thing, I’ve finally come to the point where it’s vastly easier to separate the sales pitch from what I sincerely need. It wasn’t easy.
Here’s a superb example of this: I am thirsty. I need water. I don’t have to have Acqua di Cristallo Tributo a Modigliani — $60,000 Per 750ml. https://moneyinc.com/10-expensive-bottled-waters-world/.
Imagine the need to feel superior that would drive someone to pay that kind of money for a bottle of water. Imagine the level of insecurity this telegraphs.
Growing up on a relatively isolated farm in the Fifties and Sixties, my mother would shop for us from a Sears catalog. When the thick catalog arrived, I would peruse the pages with fascination, staring at the obviously happy models with their perfect chiclet teeth, convinced that if only I had that dress, that blouse, I would have the perfect lives they clearly lived.
Our family was pretty poor. We scraped by. My mother bought me used clothing from other mothers, so a new dress was a miracle. Kids at school whose parents could afford clothing from the best store in town, known as Rhinauer’s, ridiculed me. If only we could afford Lady Bug and Villager clothing. I would be popular. I just knew it.
When I got older I bought fashion magazines. That began the multi-decade love affair with gorgeous clothing, makeup and all the external trappings of beauty. If only I had those eyelashes. That blush. This eyeshadow. I would be lovely, perfect, and therefore lovable.
Never happened. Never will.
Two years ago a friend gave me a copy of the superb BBC documentary The Century of the Self (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Century_of_the_Self). Filmmaker Adam Curtis explores how marketing and public relations got their starts. Interestingly, the story begins with Sigmund Freud, his daughter and a cousin of his in America, Edward Bernays.
The documentary is both stunning and terrifying. To watch is to understand how we got where we are today, and how easily we are manipulated by messages into sincerely believing that if we only bought this, had that, believed this, all would be perfect.
It is also a terrible statement about how and why social media is so powerful today, but that’s a different story.
In a signature moment in history, Bernays, who had an inherent sense of how to use his cousin’s teachings on our sexual proclivities to manipulate the populace, used a popular Manhattan parade to sell cigarettes to women.
Back in the 20s, a woman who smoked was a harlot.
During the parade, Bernays had a group of socialites surreptitiously join the march, then light up right in front of the New York City Press. The stories emphasized “penis envy.” Here were all these rich, gorgeous women smoking cigarettes.
The ploy worked. Magnificently.
Sales shot up among women.
They wanted to be like those socialites. Women sucked on the cigarette as a form of emancipation. “We have penises,” said the message. “Screw you.” PR was born. Along with a national health crisis.
We swiftly from a country that only bought what it needed in bulk at the local markets and country stores to one where millions were spent on packaging. The sales process. Our magnificent marketing machine.
It wasn’t long before celebrities were used to sell products.
“Be Like Mike,” says the pitch. Countless Black kids were killed for their sneakers.
Killed for shoes. Jordan’s response to this was at best, tepid. He can afford to be. He’s ridiculously rich.
“Be Like” sells a lot of stupid shit, primarily because that message banks on our desire to emulate people whom we believe have it better than we do. They don’t. They get sick, have diarrhea, lose friends, have accidents and injuries and lose lovers and partners and have lousy luck just like we do. But that doesn’t sell products.
However we are very susceptible to celebrity sales. Witness the Wheaties Box phenomenon. To be featured on that box is a huge coup for athletes. Yet most cereal is pure junk.
Most popular brands are, per pound, more expensive that your favorite steak, and manufacturers are making them in smaller boxes while also raising the price (https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/puffs-flakes-dollars-why-your-breakfast-cereal-costs-so-much-n433981). The traditional pitch of those cereals, almost always packed to the gills with sugar and minimal nutrition, is that they begin our morning in such a healthy way. You too might become this Olympic gymnast if you eat this garbage.
The frankly gorgeous Chris Hemsworth (he of Thor fame, a movie I watch repeatedly just to see that shirtless six-pack walk into the room) is now selling Tag Hauer watches. Don’t crack under pressure, it says. Meaningless. Just, meaningless. But I’ll bet it sells watches. Be like Thor.
The much larger and vastly more effective marketing is that which speaks to our deep insecurities about our bodies, our sexual value, and our appearance. Messaging that convinces us that our worth stems solely on how many toys we own, our slim our waist is, whether or not we can control our aging faces, whether we have this or that perfect outfit.
The selling of sex, both directly and subliminally, stemmed from Freud’s work.
It’s highly instructive to understand this history. For buried deeply in the soft folds of this exquisitely designed messaging is the implication that we are imperfect, flawed, damaged.
Given that, if you buy THIS (product, outfit, car, home, eyebrow liner) it will make you more attractive. Fix all your ills).
The simple and freeing truth is that yes, of course we’re imperfect, flawed and damaged. Of course we are. We’re meant to be. That helps define our journey. That in fact is the whole damned point. Without those flaws, what will we learn?
If we were all perfect, what indeed would be the point?
By being born human, this is part of our journey. The way in which we learn to embrace and learn from those very imperfections and flaws, graced upon us by what I believe to be a benevolent Universe, is what makes us who we will become.
Rising above the noise that attempts to convince us that drinking Johnny Walker will make us popular, imbibing this light beer will somehow turn us in to athletes (but only just a few calories) gives us wings.
Oh, and did you know that there is now a Johnny Walker Jane? Striding forward in her jodhpurs, her top hat and cane, she is the epitome of class, slim and in charge. Of COURSE we want to drink that shit. We want to look like her. We want to be her.
Of course imbing this toxic waste turns us into mewling, stumbling, blind drunk assholes if we’re not careful. Doesn’t turn us into her.
Since I ride, I have those boots, those riding pants, and a riding jacket. Just like that. I even have a walking cane (from having had knee surgery), and my long dark hair flows down my back. I even own an antique top hat. None of that makes me popular, rich, powerful.
I sure don’t need to drink toxic alcohol, either.
This is the lie of American advertising. This is the engine that fuels so much of our economy, based on our deepest insecurities about our value, our sexual attractiveness, our worth.
By making us aware of how our breath smells, how our teeth are crooked, how our body odor stinks, how our pussies smell bad by preying on our deepest and most heartfelt insecurities, we are sold umpteen products geared towards making us sexy. Desirable. At least, more acceptable.
Who and what you are is bad. Here buy this. Fix you right up.
For decades I bought into this story. Spent my entire retirement on crap that didn’t make a bit of difference in my relative popularity. Diet products that are designed to not produce results, but keep you coming back forever in the hope of getting that slim body, which of course will make you ever so much happier.
Magical, fantasy thinking.
Bank on it.
In a perfectly lovely, simple post by writer Leo Babauta, he outlines a series of steps which could set you free https://zenhabits.net/how-to-live-a-better-life-with-less/.
What this article brought up for me was my best friend Sonja. Sonja is brilliant, funny, competent, capable. Her mother, back in her prime, was listed as one of Denver’s Best-Dressed Women. She grew up loving fashion.
Sonja is forever broke. She’s had to file bankruptcy. She was my roommate for two years before moving in with her boyfriend. I know her story intimately. Here’s a perfect example of how marketing works:
Sonja told me a story about buying a pair of black leather gloves. Not any gloves. These were over-the-elbow, opera-length. They cost $350.
Let’s be clear here. Denver is not Fashion Central. Most of the time when we wear gloves around here, they’re down, and in the service of our sports.
However, for Sonja, these were have-to-have. Of course, she ended up losing one.
She went back and bought another pair.
That’s $700 for a pair of gloves, which she rarely wears, which don’t keep her hands very warm, for the sake of a look. In a town which, quite frankly, doesn’t have a good grip on fashion.
Of course they were gorgeous. However they didn’t improve her life, get her business, make her more lovable.
But she had to have them, at a cost of several car payments.
Which is why she struggles mightily to keep up with her car payments.
She’s no fool. She sees this. But like so many of us, she is susceptible to the messaging, just like I am, you are, all of us are. We were weaned on this nonsense.
The business of marketing useless stuff employs a lot of people.
And destroys a lot of people.
This is the same supremely stupid nonsense that implies that if we as women invest bucks in a Kardashian corset to train our waists this will make us more attractive, more sexy, more…like Kim. Pardon me while I vomit.
Let’s be clear here. As women who were encased in these ridiculous devices daily back in the day could attest, a corset damages your organs by forcing them to move where they were never designed to exist in the body. It’s damned near impossible to breath normally. I’ve had them on, as a joke, for Halloween costumes.
THIS IS JUST STUPID.
But then, so is Kim Kardashian, but I digress.
Speaking of that mindless moron, one man has spent- so far- close to $150k to look like Kardashian, and now his lips leak. He’s a freak, IMHO, although this is his right, if he is that twisted to think that looking like one of America’s greatest embarrassments is going to make his life better. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3723622/Man-s-spent-130-000-look-like-Kim-Kardashian-says-s-reducing-lip-fillers.html
But I digress. And hey, that’s just my take. Doesn’t make me right.
It is an understatement to say that this wholesale desire to be, look like, emulate, imitate, has cost us our environment. Our mental and emotional well-being. Whether it’s fashion, the world’s second largest polluter, to the need to by god to have the best sushi, which has effectively wiped out the large tuna population (I paid $75 for my sushi last night, LOOKIT ME- please see Song of the Blue Ocean by Dr. Carl Safina), or the push for the perfect tush which drives a $60 billion dollar diet industry, fantasy thinking costs.
But by god it sure sells.
Do I care about how I look? Smell? Do I care about having nice things? Do I are about being acceptable?
You’re damned right I do.
What I am doing my best to do is separate my reality from the lies and implicit promise that if I just have or buy this, then my life will change.
Yep. It will. But only in the sense that my credit card bill just got bigger. That’s about it.
While this fine piece of moronic stupidity deserves its own article, the new program God Friended Me speaks to the extreme end of fantasy thinking. I am SO special that God Himself decided to help me get the girl. Or whatever.
It fuels the fundamental notion that something outside us can change our lives. In this case, God, who has suddenly purchased an iPhone (wait, it’s coming, if Santa shops at Kmart-where nobody else shops these days- then GOD is going to have to have an iPhone) is now friending us to make our lives better here on Earth.
I will double-damn guarantee you that now God has become a television commodity, He will be used to sell products. After all, He was used to sell us a President. Soon, God uses Right Guard. Jesus walks on water in Jordan Airs. There is no end to it. Mark my words. Re-read this article in a few years.
You doubt me? George Carlin used to do comedy riffs about guns in churches. Not so damned funny any more, is it?
This superbly insulting piece of pap- God Friended Me- feeds the lie that what is most valuable comes from outside us. However if you look, and too many don’t, at some of the most potent spiritual and religious messages, the secret to our happiness has always lain within. That’s where you find the Kingdom of Heaven.
That, however, doesn’t sell stuff.
Fear does. Insecurity does. Hopelessness does. Industry banks on it, and they walk away with your dime and mine (my hand is up here), while we are no happier than before. In fact, we’re more miserable.
Because now we’re broke. No better off. Just as unhappy. In fact, more so.
Like my friend Sonja, I also filed for bankruptcy many years ago. While part of that was indeed driven by a medical condition, it didn’t help that my credit card bills were astronomical.
Look. You and I aren’t wrong for wanting to be loved, to be attractive, popular. We’re human.
But we’re also misled, misguided, and fooled to the point that we’re foolish. We buy into fantasy thinking.
Which leads us to this kind of supremely insulting and offensive messaging.
In the UK, the fashion leather store Mulberry has been running a campaign with the tag line “It’s What’s Inside That Counts.” One year they showed a nativity scene which replaced the baby Jesus with one of their handbags (told you). https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/mulberry-its-whats-inside-counts-mulberry/1415667
Here’s your stand-in for Jesus folks, for $1795.00:
However I am going to pilfer this line. It IS what’s inside that counts. The only thing that matters, the only thing of any value whatsoever is what’s inside you. Me. All of us. No ad campaign, no Mulberry handbag, no luxury car or designer jacket will fix the inside.
The insecure, shivering, apologetic human that marketing preys upon.
You and I are sacred. Period. We don’t need external trappings. What we do need is the lifelong, difficult internal work to acknowledge what is good, valuable, wondrous and wonderful inside each of us.
Nobody sells that. They can’t. We already have it inside.
The Kingdom of Heaven is within. We can ignore it. Deny it. But it’s there. Always has been.
It’s what’s inside that counts.
That’s not fantasy thinking. That’s the simple truth.