People may be happy driving their old cars on the streets but advertising tries to convince them they need newer, more fashionable models. CNS file photo
UNDERSTANDING popular culture requires mastery of one fact: There is advertising almost anywhere you look.
Those ads are cleverly designed to make you want things you do not have, to make you unhappy with what you do have, and to make you imagine that, if you bought some new shiny thing, your life would be much happier.
Sadly, the more we settle into this ad-driven consumerist worldview, the more we stay locked in immature selfishness.
For example, I own a perfectly good nine-year-old car. It runs well, is comfortable and completely paid off. Unfortunately, it is not “cool”.
Each day, I see car ads on TV, on the Internet and in the papers. Everywhere I look, it seems, I see the image of some car I would rather have than the one I am driving.
Those are cool cars, the sort of cars other people would desire. They are cars that shout that their drivers are strong, elegant, sporty, tasteful, and yes, rich.
If I had that car, I think, people would envy me as I drove down the street.
Enter the dark impulse of false pride. I do not just want a car that meets my needs; I have that already. I want a car that other people would want, one that will make people wish they had my car.
Really, this is the basic middle school mentality. If the coolest kids in eighth grade are wearing green hats, all the other kids want green hats. The kids who cannot afford green hats feel left out, and the kids who have them feel superior.
Now, we all know that this is pathetic, and we figure people will outgrow that immature thinking sometime before their junior year in high school.
But, no, we keep lusting after things that are no more meaningful than green hats. Fancy cars; new-fangled mobile phones; extra-large, flat-screen TVs; exclusive high heel shoes and thousand-dollar wedding dresses, to name a few, are all just grown-up versions of eighth grade status markers – green hats for adults.
Sadly, the commodity-driven culture keeps many people stuck in eighth grade forever.
Whatever this month’s green hat may be, if I have one and you do not, I may begin to imagine that I am somehow more worthy, more deserving than you.
Popular culture claims that we are happiest when we get what we want. But our Christian faith teaches that often the things we want are not what would be best for us.
What we should want most is to be grateful, obedient children of God. Every other thing is a distraction.
How might we resist the messages these ads present?
Perhaps we might begin by asking ourselves: What desire is this ad calling forth? Do I find myself envying the people shown in the advertising? Do I imagine that, if I had the advertised product, people would envy me? Do I want to be admired for what I own, or do I want to follow Jesus? - By Christopher Carstens, CNS
Carstens is a psychologist in San Diego, California