Giles Fraser, the loose canon, has an op-ed today that recognises that advertising, selling and buying as part of an endless cycle of want is like religion, but then he fails to connect the dots. The op-ed, “Advertising promises us salvation but is designed to keep us feeling unhappy,” observes the parallel:
The atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has this remarkable criticism of Christianity. “To act as a physician,” he writes, “the priest must make one sick!” In other words, before
Christianity can present itself as the answer, it first has to generate the problem, or “poison the wound”. Before people can be sold salvation they need to be persuaded that they require saving, that their existence is miserable.
But he seems not to realise that it’s true. “Advertising does something similar,” he says remarks coyly. Not true. It does the same thing. First of all, an advertiser has to get you to want the wares being sold and get you hooked on buying, believing that the next thing you buy will really do it for you. “This will make me happy,” you think foolishly to yourself, all the time knowing that you’ll be a patsy for the next toy that comes along. The queues outside Apple stores to buy the latest iPad or iPhone are all the same: people eagerly awaiting the next incarnation of whatever electronic device holds the secret of happiness. But when they get their hands on it, they can’t wait for the next, more sophisticated, version, the one that does the 101 things that the brand new one can’t do, the added thousands of pixels added to the camera, the new, bright, sharp screen that makes the old one look like a London peasouper by comparison. It’s all a bit like eating chips. One won’t do, and a few hundred grams later and you still feel hungry and wanting more.
Sure, but religion is just the same thing. It’s no accident that religion is strong where social bonds are loose, and life is more uncertain than living through the latest barrage on the Western Front. Nietzsche knew a thing or two. He recognised that going to church was just like buying things. You have to want to go, and what’s better than getting you needing to go to keep the pews full. As Fraser says:
Advertising wounds us with the message that our current life is rubbish, and then asks for our credit card number as way of making things right.
And what, pray tell, is all the haranguing about? All that about sin and desperation and the perils of hell fire? It’s about creating want. Signs outside churches tell us that life is the problem, Jesus is the answer. Jesus is like the iPhone or the faster computer. It has the answer to what ails us. Ever wait for Windows 95 to open on the first Pentium computer to hit the market? It was like waiting for hell to freeze over! And that was faster than the operating system and the 33 GHz computer with its 20 MB hard drive and 2 MG of memory. Remember the days when you could go make the coffee, sip your cup of Java for a few minutes, just waiting for Pagemaker to complete an operation. It wasn’t hard to convince the consumer then that a faster computer was like going to heaven — when, when it came, it was!