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The Worst Part About Christmas

16 Dec

TV commercials are getting harder and harder to watch.

It used to be that there was an agreement between people who make commercials and those of us who watch them.  A fast food restaurant makes their burger look huge, perfect, and not ridiculously smushed in their TV commercial.  They do this by spray painting their tomato red, using plastic lettuce, shining up their meat with some sort of fancy spray, etc.  Kind of like food porn.  The agreement made is that we all understood that when we go into the restaurant that our burger will look nothing like that.  It will indeed be smushed, with the bun being bigger than the meat, grease everywhere, the cheese off-centered, and the tomato always always being a dull pink color.  No one sues for false-advertising; it’s just the way it is.  Commercials lie to us, and we are okay with it.

When it comes to fast food, which I very seldom eat, I can accept this.  You lie to me about the color of my tomato, and I can live with this.  But the commercial industry is ramping up the category of their lies to such levels this Christmas season that it is getting harder and harder for me to swallow.  In fact, even more than a Big Mac itself does, these commercials are making me want to puke.

Do you remember when Apple’s commercials were actually clever and funny?  You’d have Justin Long being the “Mac”, and John Hodgman the “PC” and Hodgman would have a silly video camera taped to his head, and Long would, in his sly way, make fun of Hodgman’s dorkiness, advertising how Mac’s are better because they have a camera already inside of them:

There’s a hidden message here, that is hidden within every commercial, and this one is that: Your life will be way better if you have a camera built in to your computer.  I don’t mind the hidden message because the exterior message is funny, creative, and entertaining.

And we all know that a camera inside your computer is great so you can do things like this:

And if that doesn’t make your life better, what does really?  I mean before I had the ability to take a photo like that, my life was brutally awful and depressing, but once I had the ability to take that photo, all of a sudden my soul’s deepest longings and dreams and desires and hopes and dreams were fulfilled all at once.  Mission accomplished.  Of course we know this isn’t true, right?  And the TV ad companies know it isn’t true either, right?  We all know that as soon as the wrapping is off and the new car scent is gone, that the little feeling of salvation that went along with our new product fades away as well.  So what is an ad company to do?  Like any other addictive drug, the stimulus must come on stronger and in more quantity for the high feeling to continue and for us to continue coming back again and again… which brings us to this year’s Christmas season TV commercials.

Apple seems to have given up on the clever and funny and hidden messages and has went for pure shock value, pretty much coming straight out and telling us that we are complete losers if we don’t purchase their product.  Folks, I want you to ask yourself a set of very serious questions:  Will your life be any better if you have a phone that talks back to you?  Will your feelings of emptiness lessen?  Will you feel peace and satisfaction?  Watch this commercial very closely and tell me, if you take away the happy whistles in the background, how this product helps me:

Everyone of those people looks like a big loser.  No offense if you own one of these of course.  But seriously, if you do, how do you talk into it and not feel stupid?  While convenience is typically the Holy Grail goddess of all marketing and “must have” gadgets, I wonder if this is even any more convenient?  Waiting for a tinny-voiced robot to tell me about my schedule, instead of clicking one button to look at it myself?  Maybe there is a package you can purchase where the happy background whistle music comes with it… that may finally be the best friend I’ve been looking for.

Commercials for gadgets like the talking iPhone are just the first salvo, and they are just the warm up really.  The worst commercials are from the competitors that are trying to show how their gadget is cooler than what just proposed to you as the coolest gadget ever.  Pretty tough sell, but companies like Samsung don’t mind trying:

What is hilarious to me about commercials like this one is that in their attempt to make fun of how other products portray themselves as our personal salvation must-have product, they put themselves in that same category, thus making fun of themselves!  “Products who think they are cool are so stupid.  Our product is the coolest ever!!!”

Acura does this too, except instead of mocking coolness, they mock the ridiculous amount of greed and overspending that Christmas marketing has come to typify.  “In a season of overindulging, oversave” Acura says… by buying a $40,000 car.  Yes, that is my idea of oversaving.  You nailed it.  To me oversaving is putting my garbage in my neighbors trash bin, not dropping $40K on a car.  Okay I stole that idea from my friend Tom, the cheapest man I know, but hilarious nonetheless.  Acura:  “You shouldn’t spend ridiculous amounts of money during Christmas!!  Spend a ridiculous amount of money on an Acura this Christmas!!”  (My car cost me $1100 5 1/2 years ago and I love it by the way…)  At least their commercials are funny, up until you realize how dumb they think we are.

What kills me about the gadget phenomena is that all these phones are doing is allowing us to play video games and watch TV & movies whenever and wherever we want; now there is an original idea: that video games, television, & movies will rescue you from the doldrums of life, someone should market that!  Since we all know how good it feels to veg out in front of a screen for 8 hours in a row…ah the gut-rotting, mind-numbing bliss…

As a final example, the summation of all that is nauseating about these commercials, I present you another iPhone commercial, this time brought to you by our friends at Sprint, and this one takes the cake.  Make sure you pay close attention to the boy at the end, and how his life has reached new heights by being able to play a video game on a 5″ screen anytime anywhere…the twinkle in his eye is nothing short of Heaven on Earth.  Can life get any better!?!? I submit that it cannot!

“Apps that can take you anywhere…” Like Heaven?  Like constant euphoria?  Like utopia?

“Apps that can do anything…” like make me not lonely, not depressed, at peace, joyful, satisfied?

“There’s no limit to what this amazing advice can do…” (see above + throw in an order of donut holes and cheese puffs that spit out from the usb port + makes the Eagles win the Super Bowl)

When I watch these commercials, I often wonder, “Does my fellow man see through these ridiculous lies as well?  Or are they simply gulping this stuff down?  Staring at the screen saying ‘I want I want I want!’…or even more distorted, ‘I need I need I need!’…”

I hope next time you watch TV you watch it with sobered eyes, realizing that these companies are literally trying to brainwash you so they can have your money.  I’m not saying it’s bad to buy things, obviously some purchases are necessary.  But we need to stop thinking that our purchases will be our personal saviors.  That if we buy the newest Apple product, our life will suddenly be filled with happy whistling all the day long because now we can text while watching Seinfield while talking on the phone, while we are dancing of course, with our white ear plugs flowing in the breeze.  And the worse part about it is they use Christmas as the justification to barrage us incessantly.

Some ideas of how to combat this consumer addiction this year:  For every gift you give a family member or friend, give a gift of equal value to the enslaved and oppressed, living in extreme poverty, realizing that in an age of the world wide web, we are now connected to every one of our brothers and sisters around the world, both rich and poor alike, free and enslaved.  Or give less purchased gifts and more homemade or relational gifts (back massage voucher anyone?), freeing up your $ for more valuable things…  Adopt a child through Compassion International giving an education and basic needs to impoverished children around the world, or take a stand with World Relief by donating to helping the most vulnerable people around the world lift themselves out of extreme poverty in sustainable dignified ways.  Or give a gift from their Catalog of Hope, where you can give things like a $6 volleyball to kids in Indonesia or a $60 goat to provide families in Haiti, Malawi or Zambia with income and daily milk for their children.  Or give to International Justice Mission, who specialized in freeing sex slaves from the sex-trafficking industry around the world.  Or find a local Angel Tree in your community and load up.  Sponsor sending a kid to camp who otherwise couldn’t afford it.  And with all of this, be content and grateful for what you have, and realize that human life is a more valuable commodity than a talking cell phone or a Tickle Me Elmo your kid doesn’t need.  It’s amazing what giving like this will do for your heart and your perspective on life.  It’s a power that Apple, Samsung, or Acura can only fantasize about having over you.  The “next big thing” that you need to buy is not a product to consume, it is being a part of something much bigger than yourself, it’s a lifestyle of using our power (money) to love the most vulnerable, rather than simply building bigger mansions and bigger barns to store all of our crap in.  Crap that will never deliver on its promises.

What this incredible “commercial” from Advent Conspiracy, which hits on everything I said in this blog, but in a better, catchier, more powerful way, with some pretty sobering statistics, as well as some good ideas on how to apply this:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/30556886″>%5BAC%5D Promo 2011</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/adventconspiracy”>Advent Conspiracy</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I also preached a sermon in early December entitled “Getting Unlost in Christmas” with this exact goal in mind:

Merry Christmas everyone, and try not to get lost.

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