Aug 24, 2010

Learning to long

The fear, with advertising, is portrayed as a fear of betrayal. The idea is advertising is decietful, tricks us into trading our deepest longings and values for trinkets and stuff: here, Esau, here's your porraige; here Delaware tribe, here's your beads.

But the more serious fear, more shocking to us than the acknowledged one, is the fear that it's no betrayal at all.

In The Joneses, e.g., the authentic identity, the true, real and also secret identities, are constructed as a shocked reaction against this fear, as a way of recoiling from the idea that this is what you want. The characters all make up a secret, essential "core," discovering it as one's own true being, in part so they can have something which is or has been betrayed. The constructed real self is constructed as a background against which betrayal can happen (the betrayal -- that it is a betrayal -- actually making us feel relieved).

"To secret lives," David Duchovney toasts, in the film. But the secret life isn't necessarily the site of any authentic self that pre-exists and can resist the shiny lures of advertising, but actually a creation of a place "within me," as it were, by advertising. And if it isn't a creation, exactly, the secret life I have I only know I have because advertising (perhaps inadvertantly) taught it to me.

Advertising needs to posit deep, unfulfilled desires -- desires it cannot fulfill. Advertising has to teach one to secretly want, has to give us the idea that this want was already there, exactly so that it can fulfill but leave unsatisfied this ambiguous, amorphous longing for an unnamed something. But -- in teaching one that one has secretly already wanted something, which advertising does with this move of naming an already-existing desire, of telling one that one already wanted this, only secretly, possibly even as a secret from one's self -- there is this idea/framework/construct of layers of secret lives. Of true selves with deep desires.

A desire for things, but also and especially for more.

Look at what happens with Peggy Olson in Mad Men, for example. She's taught to advertise by betraying her deepest desires -- to sell the idea of love, to sell the idea of a longing for love and for a secret which women have which is a longing for something (which is love/which one can fulfill/betray by buying a product) -- but then, in that idea of layers of lives, she learns she has these layers of longings: she doesn't always want, or always know what she wants, but she learns desire.

"I wanted," she says, "other things."

"Those people in Manhattan?" she says. "They are better than us. Because they want what they haven't seen."

It's not that advertising is not or cannot convince one to be betrayed by one's self, but it's also -- and this is worth noting -- a discourse that teaches us that we have longings that can be betrayed. It can and has been a way that we learn longing. It's not or not only deceitful; it's instructive. It's not a bad thing, this fear that advertising is giving us exactly and only what we want: it teaches us to think about what we want and to want more: something, an unnamed something more.

1 comment:

  1. This unnamed "something more" has traditionally been the sale clincher in Christian apologetics. Paul's got that great line about the Unknown God and in Justin Martyr it's completely analogous, "It's just like the stuff you like, only, like, more and better!"

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