Friday, October 11, 2013

snookered by advertising

My father once told me that at a time when radio was gaining its footing in the American parlor, he heard an automobile advertisement whose punch line went, "Dodge -- it's a pretty good car."

Looking back from a perspective of ads that promise more athletic penises or spanky-fresh vaginas, the words seem impossibly modest and incredibly childish: Anyone knows that if you want to sell something, you've got to be dialed-up loud and shamelessly wily ... no one buys a car from a flat-chested woman, right?


As a child in grade school, I would sometimes return home in mid-afternoon and turn on the radio. The afternoon dramas were never as good as the action-adventure shows that came on after dinner, but even a soap opera was a story and I loved the magic of being told stories. To listen to a story was to be transported because there was no visual interference. The listener could and did create his or her own environment in which people fell in or out of love or tricked each other or lived happily ever after. What the characters looked like and where they lived depended on the listener.

But the stories were punctuated with advertising and it used to irritate the hell out of me. Why were they interrupting my story? And one day, I hit upon what I figured -- at seven or eight -- was the perfect solution: Rather than being irritated, what I would do was to send away for the advertised flower seeds. Once the advertiser had my money, s/he would stop interrupting my stories. The logic, at that age, struck me as rock solid. So I sent in my 25 cents.

A week or more later, I received ten or twelve packets of flower seeds. I wasn't interested in planting them so I poured them out on a disused flower bed in the backyard. Whether they grew was not the point. The point was, would the advertiser stop interrupting my stories ... which, of course, s/he didn't.

In my early 30's, I became entranced with spiritual life. I gobbled books with, if it were possible, even more delight than I had brought to afternoon soap operas. I was hungry-hungrier-hungriest! Like a parched pilgrim in the desert, spiritual information was an oasis and I could not drink enough of these cool and life-giving waters. I pigged out. The information was incredibly sweet and I couldn't get enough of it. These were my stories even if, as with the soap operas, the actors and actresses existed in some distant realm. Talk about boobilicious and pecker-powered!

It took a few years before the dime dropped a little and it became apparent that however busty the salesperson, driving the car was the important part. Listening to someone else's story or philosophy or wisdom was all well and good for encouragement or entertainment purposes, but it lacked a reality that would put meat on my own story's bone. As I had sent away for the seeds in the hopes that the advertiser would shut up, so I was packing in more and more information that had lots of glamor but little by way of proof and satisfaction. I had become the advertiser I once despaired of.

After a number of years practicing Zen Buddhism -- a practice devoted largely to meditation -- I began to exhibit a somewhat uppity attitude towards spiritual advertising. Zen has its own versions of athletic peckers and shiny vaginas, but meditation practice inclined me towards some new advertising: Don't just talk the talk! Walk the walk! Put up or shut up! Experience beats belief any day of the week! It all sounded pretty good, pretty wise, pretty informed. But advertising for a Chevvy is not the same as owning one.

These days, I'm more inclined to return to the days of radio soap opera. The line between advertising and story does not need to be so etched. Boobs and peckers are part of the story. It's just my story or, if you prefer, yours.

And spiritual life, well ...

"Dodge -- it's a pretty good car."

It's a bit boobilicious, but I guess I'd be willing to go that far.

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