Consumerism’s Empty Bubble Bursting Too – UPDATED

This week at First Things I’m talking baseball again but only peripherally. I’m actually talking about the depressing and annoying little playlets Madison Avenue writes for American consumers — the emasculated men, the unbearable women, the know-it-all children.

The only good thing about watching your baseball team get eliminated in the post-season is that, after launching a frustrated shoe at the television, one is excused from having to endure repeated viewings of the detestable little playlets written by Madison Avenue cynics who—perhaps due to the bad economy—have decided to eschew psychotherapy in favor of working out their relationship issues and general neurosis on the rest of us.

According to Madison Avenue, heterosexual relationships in America contain one browbeaten, idiotic or insincere member (usually male) and one completely overbearing member (usually female).

My focus is on two commercials in particular — and I bet you can guess what one of them is — but the piece ultimately wonders if Madison Avenue is incapable of writing healthy relationships aimed at demographics below the 50-years-old-and-over mark because they can’t identify any, and the tension is reflecting the times.

More importantly, I wonder about the emptiness of a society that has grown and built on the idea that buying more stuff can fill the aching void where love is supposed to be.

Madison Avenue has no idea what love has to do with relationships or families, or natural desire. Even worse, it believes the rest of us don’t, either, and that things—lots and lots of things—can suffice, can provide reasonable facsimiles of love. We will love our new shoes or our new iSomething, we are told; we will love, love, love this new air freshener. These things will make us happy. As long as we are not looking to be loved back.

An astonishing percentage of our economy is dependent upon our willingness to substitute things for love, and to just keep buying.

Yesterday, I wrote somewhere in social media that corporatism has damaged capitalism and perverted our political processes. But our willingness to be excessive consumers has played a hand in expanding the emptiness all around. And since love is scarce (it’s not, but too many no longer understand what it is), that emptiness is about to be filled with the energy of hate and envy we see being played out in our headlines and encouraged by elected leadership.

Purely by coincidence, Tim Muldoon is sounding a similar gong this morning — he too is looking at Madison Avenue and relationships, but from the angle of sex and desire.

Ours is a media-saturated world in which our desires are constantly being manipulated. It is no surprise, then, that so much advertising relies on sex, because there is no other element of human experience that can arouse such powerful desire. We know this from experience, but neuroscience is shedding even more light on the mechanisms of this manipulation. The high from getting turned on can be more addictive than cocaine, and when coupled with a product, that feeling can be turned toward the product itself […] The takeaway here is that our brains can’t be satisfied with products instead of people, because products simply can’t provoke the same kind of constant response over time that people can. The constant ramping-up of sex drive is leading many to addiction (especially men), unable to exit the cul-de-sac of sex in order to engage in a real relationship with a person. And it’s becoming epidemic.

Our guts already tell us that this is true, but Muldoon lays it out in such a way that it packs quite a punch, so do read it all.

It’s nothing but coincidence that Muldoon and I are both writing on Madison Avenue this week. I see its tension and inability to understand love; Tim notes that it understands sex and desire all too well. Either way, it’s all to our detriment!

ALSO: Jim Pethokoukis: Shall we blame democracy for a weak economy?

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UPDATE: Instapundit — a real man — links!. Thanks, Glenn!

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About Elizabeth Scalia