Thursday, January 24, 2013


Consumer spending drives 2/3 of our economy.  The nation needs people to spend money, even if they don't have it or have to borrow it.  Advertising is designed to get us to spend that money on products we don't need, and brands that cost more while providing the same function as something less expensive.  At this moment, Americans are surrendering their privacy to Google and Facebook and offering themselves up as lab rats in a battle to see who can use your most private thoughts and desires as hooks to pitch various products and services.  Billions of dollars are riding on who is more successful invading your space and attention to sell you something.

     I understand how crass it is and it always reminds me of Marx's comment about how a capitalist would sell the rope to be used to hang him with.  I'm not naive.  Google and Facebook and network television are not free.  You pay a huge price when you use them.  You are a part of the culture of the next hot thing or gizmo.  Cynicism runs rampant as every psychological trick is used to create desire and cause you to buy out of envy, peer pressure and social rewards.  I get it.

     However, a recent Lexus commercial has riled and saddened me for what its premise says about our culture and us and I pass along these thoughts.  The ad has snippets of a couple engaging in various activities.  They are sumptuously dressed entering a nightclub...sitting near a high fashion show runway...attending a glittering party or driving through gorgeous scenery.  The buttery voiceover kicks in, "...someday your life will flash before your eyes.  (pause for effect)  Make sure it's worth watching."  (I wanted to add, "and abandon hope all ye who watch this.")

     The tag-line plays on the popular myth that just before you die your whole life is going to flash before your eyes.  We will get a chance to see a quick summary of what we have done and how we have lived.  This last ephiphanous moment is where judgment is rendered on the quality, or lack thereof, which is the compilation of our time on earth.  According to Lexus, if this flash does not include a luxurious car; glittering dressed and high-end entertainment; rich food, friends and fun all supported by a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, it is neither worth viewing nor successfully lived.

     Yes, it's only an ad and yes, it is one of thousands shown each day.  Yes, it is aimed at a population that has the money to purchase the car and yes, I am not naive and understand what goes into selling a product.  However, I would wager this ad did not ruffle as much as a single feather for most of those who viewed or listened to it.

     Perhaps my current surroundings and circumstances make me more sensitive to all of this than I would have been otherwise.  Is it possible my, or any life, could be worth watching which doesn't include a Lexus, Mercedes, Audi or BMW...Stella McCartney, Dior, Alexander McQueen or Vera Wang...Cabo, St. Bart's, Jackson Hole or the Big Island...iPhone, iPad, or Macbook?  Am I taking this too seriously and overreacting?  According to Lexus, how would we view the flash of lives of people like Mother Theresa, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr. or the people who volunteer at St. Anthony's or Sacred Heart Community Services?  What value judgment would we put on the last view of a life like Susan Prather's?

     On one hand, I know I'm blowing this out of proportion, but on the other these ads wouldn't be run if their author, did not believe this pitch would resonate with audiences they are targeting.  They sat in a room spit-balling tag lines and hooks until they hit on this one.  This one that says if you don't buy the expensive car and aren't living the luxurious life, your life isn't worth watching or living.  They believe this approach will sell cars to Americans who have bought this intellectual baby-pool school of thought to values and living in the past.  Maybe, only after everything of "value" is taken from you, do your eyes see and ears hear for the first time in years...maybe that is what has happened to me.

     I want to believe our culture, and we who occupy it, are better than this.  I acknowledge the seduction of rich things, but hope and pray we are teaching our children how success and happiness are not dependant on who dies with the most stuff.  I have failed as a parent if my children are not loving, compassionate and empathetic and see value in how we actually live life, not the car we arrive in.
     Perhaps, like George Bailey, I have been given a chance to see life differently.  My sins and failings and punishment have me dreaming of a walk with my wife or hanging out with my children and see that as living life large.  Maybe this ad struck such a discordant note because I see and hear now and was blind and deaf before.  Whatever the answer, if these types of commercials and pitches are like water off a duck's back to you, it might be time to pay attention anew.

     When was the last time you were really happy...filled with joy, awash in feelings of satisfaction and peace?  If the answer is not quickly forthcoming, maybe together we can seek out the real thing instead of the artificial trappings of success.  It seems to me it would be worth it.


  1. the Decline and fall of Empires...

  2. Bernie, In answer to that last question--I have been at peace with my family, friends and myself for a number of years now. Two years ago I rented my house, sold, gave away or stored all my 'stuff' and moved into a 12 year old RoadTrek and have been slowly meandering around the country ever since. I relish visits with family and take joy in making new friends. My life is free of schedules, my horizon is limitless. But best of all--I am rid of debt. When I stopped acquiring 'stuff' then I stopped piling up the bills. Next year I plan to sell my house, give what keepsakes I have to my kids and continue this enchanting lifestyle as long as my health allows. When my life flashes before me I hope it includes that spectacular sunset I witnessed over the Arizona desert last night. I know, if everyone lived my lifestyle it would collapse the economy, but I did my share for years. And I don't miss it now. Whatever lies in wait for you and your family, I believe you are asking the right questions. And there is room on the road out here--you might consider giving it a try. Toni--Sailing Down The Road...

  3. Bernie, sounds like your incarceration has a silver lining. You realize whats important in life. Before jail you might have thought things like nature and family and the simple life were whats important. But it might have been just a concept. Now you really know it.

  4. Yes, Bernie, what you say is true. The Lexus ad is ridiculous. On the other hand, to play the devil's advocate, I wouldn't turn down a Lexus if it were offered! And I've had a few of the other perks you mention, too. The trick is balance in life. And gratitude for what one does have!