Planned Parenthood committed a Freudian slip, with an assist from Joss Whedon, by inviting supporters to become like one of his violent film characters.
Sigmund Freud, in his An Autobiographical Study, defines what later would come to be called as the “Freudian Slip” as follows:
In the same way that psycho-analysis makes use of dream interpretation, it also profits by the study of the numerous little slips and mistakes which people make—symptomatic actions, as they are called . . . I have pointed out that these phenomena are not accidental, that they require more than physiological explanations, that they have a meaning and can be interpreted, and that one is justified in inferring from them the presence of restrained or repressed impulses and intentions.
In other words, the Freudian slip reveals our real, frequently nefarious intentions. The truth does not always reveal itself intentionally. The world of advertising has learned to use faux-slips to market its products. The Mel Brooks classic Spaceballs offers a sendup of this process in these famous lines from Yogurt:
Merchandising, merchandising, where the real money from the movie is made. Spaceballs-the T-shirt, Spaceballs-the Coloring Book, Spaceballs-the Lunch box, Spaceballs-the Breakfast Cereal, Spaceballs-the Flame Thrower. The kids love this one. [a dink hands him a doll that looks likes Yogurt]. And last but not least, Spaceballs the doll, me.
The pretend Freudian slip offered in plain sight is that merchandising isn’t about practical products that we need (quite the reverse), but because it allows us to participate in something desirable–the power of Spaceballs in this case. The power of sex tends to play this mediating role more often than not for the selling of everything from toilet cleaners to whiskey.
When analyzing advertising campaigns you can have a field day with Rene Girard’s mimetic theory, which posits that we do not know what to desire and so depend on models to mediate our desires. Advertising is almost never about the effectiveness of the products themselves. The overlap between the Freudian Slip and Girard’s theories is a very Augustinian one: we are frequently deceived about what we truly desire.
This brings us to the Planned Parenthood “Watch. Share. Slay.” campaign. No, I didn’t make that name up. You can see it right here before they take it down. The massive Freudian Slip occurs in the opening paragraph of their copy:
If there’s anything we’ve learned from Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The Avengers) over the years, it’s this — every single one of us has a hero inside; and it’s our responsibility to use our superpowers to slay.
“Slaying” is an apposite verb to describe what the nation’s largest abortion provider does. But, if you watch the video below (which is linked in the campaign), then you will realize that’s not something Planned Parenthood wants to highlight. It was a slip.
I have to give Planned Parenthood credit for its failed attempt–failed because of the “Slay” Freudian slip–to hide the fact that it is complicit in 300,000+ abortions annually. Studies show that the much-maligned Millennials are increasingly opposed to the slaying the innocent. This generation realizes that abortion is not a conservative issue, it is a human issue. There is nothing heroic about scapegoating the most vulnerable members of our society, the unborn.
With this shift the Millennials are reconnecting with the earlier tradition of progressives who led the early to mid-20th century movement against abortion. This forgotten episode in history is covered in great detail in the recently published Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade.
This social justice approach to life is something that is featured in John Paul II’s comments on the American experiment republished by First Things yesterday in celebration of his birthday:
No expression of today’s commitment to liberty and justice for all can be more basic than the protection afforded to those in society who are most vulnerable. The United States of America was founded on the conviction that an inalienable right to life was a self-evident moral truth, fidelity to which was a primary criterion of social justice. The moral history of your country is the story of your people’s efforts to widen the circle of inclusion in society, so that all Americans might enjoy the protection of law, participate in the responsibilities of citizenship, and have the opportunity to make a contribution to the common good. Whenever a certain category of people—the unborn or the sick and old—are excluded from that protection, a deadly anarchy subverts the original understanding of justice. The credibility of the United States will depend more and more on its promotion of a genuine culture of life, and on a renewed commitment to building a world in which the weakest and most vulnerable are welcomed and protected.
To learn more about these important shifts toward social justice in America you’ll want to read Abortion is Not a Conservative Issue (Millennials Know This) and my interview with Fordham bioethicist Charlie Camosy, author of Beyond the Abortion Wars.
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