I originally thought this was going to be tricky to come up with an example because I didn’t have any commercials that I had seen that stuck in my mind at all. However, I was surprised just how easy it is to find examples of commercials which promise to fulfill some desire. This seriously pervades the most and least expected advertisements – and you don’t even notice it (or at least I didn’t). Which is also why it’s so effective.
So the commercial I stumbled upon was simply an advertisement by Vidal Sassoon for a new kind of shampoo. How ordinary. But in those 30 seconds, there was a very strong message: What you have now isn’t good enough, and you don’t need to compromise. You’re better than compromise. YOU can have it all. Instead of those “wanna-be” salon-quality products that promise so much but don’t perform, you can have the new product that will be the one that DOES perform like it says. You don’t even have to pick between silky, sexy or shiny hair — you can have it all.
But of course, if we take a step back – how is this product any different than the last one that promised all of these things? How is it that this is IT? And if it somehow is, then it would logically mean that this is their final version. But of course give it time, and they’ll come up with some new catchy name and different advertisement and soon be saying, no — THIS is the one that will give you all of the results you’re looking for.
This is the endless process of desiring and consuming that Miller discusses. We eat up all of the promises that the media gives us. Even if only a tiny fraction of the people that see this commercial buy the product, it is the overall message that is being sent to us – continuously – in car ads, in cell phone ads, even in shampoo ads. It’s the overall mentality that is transmitted through all of these ads with which we’re bombarded. That’s why it continues to work – we get sucked in and buy things we don’t need.
So what is the response from Christianity? Simply, I believe, it’s that these are empty promises. That the claims of “you don’t have to compromise” and “you can have it all,” ignores the idea of sacrifice, and that these “needs” are false, covering up – or as Miller says, misdirecting – a deeper desire. “Our desire for the infinite is shunted into an insatiable desire for the finite” (113). It is insatiable, because gratification does not satisfy our desires. It is in longing that we find the most pleasure.
If what we desire is happiness, then we, like Freud encounter a problem, that is: “happiness is not a state that can be sustained.” It is clear that the happiness we find is fleeting, is finite; but we desire a happiness that lasts — an eternal happiness. The closest we can get to this is the sum of many finite moments of happiness, which leads to a continuum of consumption. However, this results in a faded pleasure, so each new product must be more desirable and more exciting, and so the fire of consumerism is fueled and continues. From the perspective of Christianity, this all points back to the fact that the thing we desire is infinite — and can only be found in God.