Advertising’s love affair with romance goes way back, perhaps to the birth of advertising itself. People never seem to tire of images that portray intimacy in connection with the act of purchasing. A recent ad by Paypal seems innocuous enough: a girl wearing a heart-shaped pendant kisses a young man in a suit. Our eyes soon wander to the adjacent slogan: “Necklace selected. Privacy protected.” Another slogan beneath the Paypal logo drives the message home, subtly merging people with objects: “Go for the things you love with confidence.”
What do we have here? On the surface: technology in the hands of consumers for the benefit of their personal lives. Just beneath: a slick appeal to fantasy and power. At the core: capitalism packaged as romance in the service of reproduction, or, survival of the fittest. On a subliminal level, we might say: “Mate obtained. Risk eliminated.”
In today’s sophisticated media-saturated environment, survival becomes more ironic: being fit demands a certain amount of unawareness. Securing a partner on behalf of one’s private desires and living in a comfortable home may be sold as the good life, but beneath this glossy advertisement exists a phenomenon neither good nor bad but merely biological: nest building. What many call their choice is actually a program that doesn’t belong to them.
How many justifications people employ in the service of this program that requires no justification itself. “Survive!” it commands. “Propagate!” But why? No one can answer this question without evoking the absurd, yet those who do not ask it live in sustained denial: a fairyland of shallow suffering. In this cultural climate, prosperity means: convincing others of what they need to prosper.