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). During regular season, baseball fans endured a summer full of extreme close-ups of a big-eyed girl demanding constant cute-isms of a weary boyfriend; she looks panicked when nauseating terms of endearment are not tripping off his tongue. In a voiceover, the anxious male—trying to avoid what we must understand will be an inevitable “scene” if he does not cough up a coo—nimbly saves himself by pronouncing his drink (Sweet Tea) and his dessert (Pie). Sweetie Pie is briefly assuaged, but her staggering insecurity demands more and so the ante is upped as she mews, “aw, Chipmunk . . .”
Cue jingle: da-da-da-dah-dah, I’m lovin’ it.
Except viewers aren’t loving it. Viewers are thinking, who wrote that commercial? Was a it a guy involved with a needy girl? A woman reliving a relationship or confessing a pattern of involvement with guys who quickly run out of ways to keep up with her needs? And why must they inflict that theme of endless discomfort on us? We viewers do not feel good about this couple; we hope they will soon break up and find more relaxed and natural relationships. Observing their strained mutual fakery does not inspire us to head to that fast-food chain. Indeed, quite the opposite; who wants to stop in for a quick burger and soda and have to listen to that?
If your favorite baseball team did not make it into post-season, be comforted in knowing you have been spared multiple viewings of the woman who should have married John Clark. Perhaps you are John Clark, and you see this commercial and whisper hosannas to the God who saved you from marriage to this wretched viper. She is in her greenhouse (her private greenhouse, mind you) tending to her plants, and her husband (a well-meaning but hapless-looking fellow you just know has stepped on a rake at least once in his life) opens the door and excitedly tells her he has just signed the family up for unlimited cell phone minutes. The wife puts down her spade and picks up her water mister (I am surprised that the director did not have her pick up her gardening shears) and begins to verbally emasculate him, sneering: “Where’s that money coming from, Steve? Did it even cross your mind to ask your wife before signing us up for something so expensive?” Lowering her tone she mutters (not for the first time, we’re sure) “my mother was right; I should have married John Clark.”
The husband, his proud smile bitten back in frustration, assumes a trained tone of apology; “they were free . . .” he explains. In closing shot we note the wife: aware that she has been caught in a blazing offense of discourtesy, she remains unbowed. If her husband is the puppy who has been trained to cower at the sight of a rolled newspaper, she apparently is the cat who has never learned to retract her claws. “Even Alice Kramden,” noted my husband, “understood that when she’d amused herself with a withering putdown of Ralph, she’d earned a rhetorical ‘bang, zoom!’ in return.” The would-be-Mrs-Clark, we sense, let’s nothing roll off her hunched shoulders.
This generation of ad-writers has surely endured the same fallout from the sexual revolution as the rest of us, the family break-ups, the touch-and-go dysfunctional relationships. Is that why they seem unable to present loving relationships or intact families (sans bumbling men or neurotic women) unless they’re pushing Viagra and vitamins for the 50-plus demographic?
The deliberate, non-stop teasing of our synapses, by which means Madison Avenue seeks to elicit feelings of desire and need, is examined by theologian Tim Muldoon of Boston College, writes in “Sex and Consumption”:
It is difficult to imagine a monk falling prey to the need for a Prada handbag, or jeans from Abercrombie and Fitch, or body spray or anything else their clients are hawking. Their freedom to understand the cravings of the soul allows them to name what is truly necessary. . .namely, love.
If the recent barrage of ham-handed television commercials peopled with foolish men, churlish women and hectoring, know-it-all children are any indication, 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. Is it any wonder, then, that our culture is consumed with loneliness and broken dreams, or that all of our empty bubbles—technology, housing, tuition for “good” colleges that will keep the love coming—are bursting one after another?
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.