I’ve noticed a growing trend in advertising over the last few years (you know advertising; those people who tell us what sort of lifestyle we should have in order to be happy? Yep, them.) Last night I watched a new car ad, whose marketing department decided they needed to target women. So they told the story of a young, successful woman who began her day by deep-sea diving (as you do), then drove to work where she spent a ‘hectic’ day at the office making extremely important decisions and telling mostly men what to do, followed by a night out at some pretentious venue where she picks up a total randomer (shags him, we assume) and arrives home at sleepy o’clock in her shiny new car. After a jam-packed day that left me feeling exhausted just watching her, she assures us in a breathy voice that she wouldn’t have it any other way – ominously implying that she will do the same thing again tomorrow.
This was swiftly followed by an ad for mascara, where an angry-looking young woman is out-running some male secret agents while looking FLAWLESS. The voice over artist tells us that her mascara is UNSTOPPABLE, while the pristine model runs away in impossibly high heels. This is followed by an ad for make-up that is INFALLIBLE!! And I’m sitting on my couch thinking, what? What’s the message here? Expect more, don’t relax, be busy, seek perfection, ACHIEVE, keep moving, life is a battle and we need to fight it head on, whilst remaining impeccably groomed and loving every f&*king minute of it!!!
And these were the ads for women without kids. I can only imagine that the car ad for mothers would involve her literally juggling three kids in the air whilst steering the car with her foot and preparing an eco-friendly meal in the glove compartment. Because as well all know ladies, you can have it all. But do you really want it?
Conversely, we are all lurching from one ‘get relaxed quick’ scheme to another. The publishing industry enjoyed an unexpected boom last year from sales of adult colouring books – the hangover from the previous year’s attempt to introduce us all to mindfulness (which nobody really understood). ‘Just be in the moment!’ it proclaimed. Something that easy shouldn’t require any effort, and we all sat there in the lotus position wondering how long it would take to be mindful. Is it happening yet? Am I relaxed?? This year it’s Hygge. As if we need the Danes to tell us how to light a few candles and chill the f@%k out (sorry for all the expletives!) Don’t we know how to do this without having to buy a bloody book about it? Clearly not. We have lost our ability to just BE. And every marketing department the world over is taking advantage of it. They’re selling us the cause and the cure.
I recently had a chat with my sister about something I saw on Twitter (which she hadn’t read) and she went on to explain that there just wasn’t time for all of the information that kept coming at her. By the time you’ve followed the link and flicked through 800 different opinions about the thing and eventually tried to form your own, the world has moved on to the next thing, with more information and it’s just never ending!! Social media has us worked up into a frenzy over issues that we really have no control over, so our rage and sense of injustice has nowhere to go. There is no practical outlet for us to affect change on the world around us, so we just tweet our frustrations away. I don’t really know when all of this change happened. I suppose every generation bemoans the next, but wasn’t it better when we had more time to just flop about and naval gaze for a while, without feeling guilty about it? Is reaching for our phones every two seconds a way of distracting ourselves or deluding ourselves into believing that we’re doing something.. anything? I was starting to wonder if this was just the general malaise of being a grown up, but then I read a great post by Misha Kahn’s called ‘When are you going to be enough for yourself?’ I think she really hits the nail on the head of our ‘be busy’ culture with this thought:
I started to believe that if I wasn’t being productive, I was failing.
Is this how ‘they’ want us to feel? Are we somehow being programmed to work harder, better, faster, stronger, with the only watchman being our own guilty conscience? I’m no conspiracy theorist (am I?) yet I can’t help but wonder if this ideal of being an over-achiever is eroding our natural state of being? After all, we are human beings, not human doings. Yet the first thing people ask when they meet you is ‘What do you do?’ An author friend of mind just published a book and I was alarmed to see how many people barked the words, ‘Have you written the next one yet?’ I mean, back off people, just enjoy the moment. Like the annoying kid at school who scribbled furiously on their test paper while you sat there doodling, some people can’t wait to make you feel unproductive (the horror!), or worse, rub their productivity in your face. Ewwww!
It’s a long time since I first read Tom Hodgkinson’s book How To Be Free and while he may not have all the answers, his suggestion of painting murals on the ceiling so we can spend more time looking at it, isn’t the worst I’ve heard! His mission is to bring back the days of merriment and self-sufficiency and really, who can argue with that?
‘Tom shows that consumer society has led not to a widening of freedoms but to the opposite and that the key to a free life is to stop consuming and start producing.’
It’s true, modern life has turned us into willing slaves of our screens so we are constantly switched on. Even during our recreation time, we are still consuming because that’s what we’re told to do through these types of aspirational lifestyle marketing campaigns. Check out Tom’s website ‘The Idler’ where you can connect with people who aren’t shackled by this notion of ‘performance guilt’ for want of a better term. Life isn’t all about working hard and partying hard, which again, sounds like more work! I’ve always felt that statement implies that you don’t deserve to have fun unless you’ve slogged your guts out working. We could all use a little anarchy, especially when we are being brainwashed into finding happiness at the shopping mall or salvation in over-achievement. Maybe, just maybe, our achievements do not define us and happiness is really about finding pleasure in the simple, everyday things that cannot be measured, bought or sold.