I really despise most advertising, but the ones which truly stir disgust are those which appropriate spiritual symbols in the service of commercialism and material avarice. You know the ones. Corporations using pristine natural settings to peddle their gas-guzzling SUVs. Or using primitive peoples to endorse high-tech products, as in the credit card commercial (VISA, I think) which showed Masai herders in their traditional dress exchanging the hilarious joke about how to stop an elephant from charging. Or an especially obnoxious one from IBM which ran about three years ago before the dot com bubble burst which showed a hip twenty-something businessman wearing his ultra-cool mobile computer headset with voice recognition software and screaming "Buy!" and "Sell!" over and over, oblivious to the disturbances he was causing to a flock of nearby pigeons (nature).
But the worst of all are those which use religious symbols to hustle products. Monks, it seems, are now turning up everywhere in commericials.
The men in hoods and robes are marketers' darlings, having starred lately in campaigns for America Online's broadband service, General Mills' Oatmeal Crisp Fruit 'n Cereal Bars and PepsiCo's Pepsi Blue brand. These followed appearances in commercials for companies like I.B.M., Nintendo and Sony.Great. Men and women who have devoted their lives to the service of God and the Church have achieved the status of "lovable" right up there with dogs and babies, and become so through the act of abandoning their life of simplicity and embracing the worldly pleasures which only consumption can deliver. It reminds me of something a friend said to me over the summer -- Americans are unable to figure out Islam because they simply cannot comprehend why anyone would turn down the opportunity to consume alcohol and engage in promiscuous sex.
"They're lovable," said Len Short, executive vice president for brand marketing at America Online in Dulles, Va., part of AOL Time Warner. In the pantheon of widely appealing stock figures, "you have dogs, babies and monks." he said. "Who hates monks?"
. . . Many times the monks' role in advertisements is . . . to show that the product is fabulous enough to entice even an ascetic, said James Twitchell, professor of English and advertising at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
"Here's a group that owns contemplation," Professor Twitchell said. "So anything that gets them to throw it over must be a miracle."
Capitalism is stunningly skilled at making every sacred thing it touches profane.