Monthly Archives: October 2015

Lifestyle Pornography, Part 2

dogs1My wife, Denise, is considering adopting a dog from one of our local Austin pet shelters. There are a few complications (which I won’t go into here) that delay her decision until the beginning of the coming year. In the meantime, she likes to look at the many pictures of available dogs from the pet shelter website. She’ll be sitting on our living room couch, computer tablet in her lap, and she’ll exclaim out loud to no one in particular: “I want to get a dog!” If I happen to be within earshot, I’ll look at her and she’ll nod affirmatively as I say to her: “You’re looking at pictures of doggie porn again, aren’t you?”

Our shared understanding of the term does not refer to dogs being pictured in sex acts. Rather, we’re using the term porn generically to refer to images that entice a viewer’s psyche. I want that. I need that! Now!! The root definition of pornography: a graphic image intended to stimulate immediate emotional or erotic response.

If you are a dog lover, like my wife, images of cute dogs needing a home can tug at your very soul. Similarly, there are other types of images, plentiful in our society, that encourage and entice and tug at the hearts of their beholders. These are the images of lifestyle porn, intended to turn you and me on to materialistic living. These images, incredibly more pervasive than we realize, invade our psyches via television, movies, magazines, billboards, and the Internet.

Images of luxurious homes, expensive cars, and sleek household appliances are lifted up as possession norms in consumer society. We’re used to that. Pay closer attention, however, to certain movies and TV shows where the images of lifestyle porn proliferate and you’ll see art imitating life. Inequality in the US outpaces that of all other developed nations. Pastor Ben Dueholm has written an excellent article, “Pulp Inequality,” that details the effects of extreme inequality upon what the entertainment industry produces. He calls today’s manifestation of the classic rags-to-riches genre more “garish, random, and humiliating” than their predecessors – reflecting the much steeper climb to the top in today’s America of diminishing economic mobility.

In similar voice, author Heather Havrilesky rips the blockbuster book and movie Fifty Shades of Grey as a materialistic fantasy of “quasi-human bondage.” Her article “Fifty Shades of Late Capitalism” deems the erotic sex for which the book franchise is famous as boring as the unceasing parade of showcased luxury brands in the movie: Cartier, Cristal, Omega, iPad, iPod, Audi, Gucci. Ho-hum. We meet female protagonist Anastasia Steele as a naïve middle-class college grad, and see her evolve into a pampered aristocrat. Does it even matter how the film’s male protagonist Christian Grey made his billions? No, the main point is that he has unlimited resources and can do whatever he desires – sexually and otherwise, while hardly having to work. The American Dream, version.2015.

caddy man.jpeg

Actor Neal McDonough as The Caddy Man

Sex and the CityThe Bachelor and The Bachelorette are likewise berated for their depictions of lifestyle porn by authors like Arthur Chu; his article in The Daily Beast is honest and insightful. The Caddy Man (my blog article linked here), introduced in a 2014 Cadillac ELR commercial, articulates and exemplifies the concept of lifestyle porn better than anyone else. In response to him, and others, I will continue to ask the befitting question that fuels this blog: How much is enough?

In a capitalist society, seeing that my neighbor is doing better than me financially and materially can serve to motivate me. I can work harder, longer, and smarter to achieve what I desire. Economic mobility, although not what it used to be in the US, still avails its blessings to a select group of achievers. Alternatively – and this is radically against the grain – I can choose to be content with what I have and not strive for more.

People are free, for the most part, to chase their dreams in this society – whether their dreams be idealistic, materialistic, noble, or delusionary. Dreams consist of images; there is no imagination without images. Consumer society is predicated on the fact that people will strive for more and more; it’s for this very reason that consumer society provides many blessings and continually reboots modernization. There is a dark side to consumer society, however, and the images of lifestyle porn can inhibit our imagination, because these are predicated on the idea that what we are and what we have are not good enough.

Where do we find the images that let us ponder the reality that what we are and what we have are good enough?

 

 

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM, distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

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Lifestyle or Materialism Pornography, Part 1

You’re not satisfied with your body, are you? How about your living room? Or your phone? Or your smile?

These things can be fixed or replaced new. That’s the message, at least, transmitted to our very souls as colorful, seductive images flood our retinas via TV shows and advertisements, movies, and other avenues of visual communication. And remember, in this day and age, none of these images are touched up to look as pristine and enticing as possible. Ahem.

I live in Austin, Texas and one of the most representative billboards we’ve seen locally in this category is sponsored by a cosmetic surgery firm. It depicts the bikini clad back-side of a tall and shapely female model, probably all of twenty-nine years of age, torso slightly bent forward and leaning on a balcony rail, looking out toward a vast horizon. This image is simply accompanied by the name of the plastic surgery firm (withheld!). Did she have some work done to achieve the assumed bodily perfection projected by the image? Or, do you – who once upon a time blew out twenty-nine candles on a birthday cake – need to get some work done, so you can look a bit more like her?

I understand the need for reconstructive cosmetic surgery for accident victims, cancer patients, and people born with conditions such as cleft lip and palate. Thank God for cosmetic surgery in these cases which restores functionality, dignity, and confidence. But much of elective cosmetic surgery in the United States is an extension of what sociologist Thorstein Velben identified as a new type of consumerism during the Gilded Age in 1899: conspicuous consumption, carried out with the purpose of increasing one’s status and prestige. Oh yes, this type of consumption is also intended to increase one’s overall well-being. And as many of us know by personal experience, the rush of enhanced well-being from a significant purchase lasts about two weeks.

A big difference between Veblen’s day and our day: now our bodies, or parts of them, are things that can be subjected to consumer wants and desires. Your teeth might be relatively straight, completely functional, and cavity free. But, upon closer examination and comparison to pictures of other people’s teeth, they just don’t look good. The solution? Drop anywhere from $2,000 – $40,000 for a better smile. Two dentists (who used to be partners) alternate with regularity their advertisements on the back page of the first section of the Austin-American Statesman. I’m told that ad space goes for about $3,500/day. “Transforming lives, one smile at a time” – business must be booming to cover the cost of the ads. The before and after pics showcased in these ads, especially of older patients with bad looking teeth, demonstrate significant changes. Bravo. The numerous before and after pics of younger adults, only a few having bad looking teeth – do not demonstrate significant changes.

There are folks who are in dire need of reconstructive dentistry work. Again, we’re thankful for good dentists who do good work. And certainly the two dentists I’ve referred to have done plenty of good work alleviating patients of tooth-related pain and restoring necessary functionality. Yet, they do other work – and this is the work advertised – that appeals to conspicuous consumers. From one of the ads: “Walking into (name withheld!) of Austin is like walking into a luxury home” (image of luxurious office provided in the ad, of course). It’s not all that different from plastic surgeons who specialize in today’s most common cosmetic plastic surgery in the US, the boob job. The premise is lucrative: what you have and what you got are not good enough.

Dentists, plastic surgeons, and their patients are free to do as they wish in the realm of commercial exchange. No worries: I’m not advocating a shutdown of their business practices. As if . . .

The examples that I write about here are representative of a society that has its priorities out of whack. Kids raised in this society adopt these priorities, and learn its truth: What you have and what you got are not good enough. Part of this philosophy is good, but when it goes too far, there’s trouble.

Some of us can remember, decades ago, as teenagers, seeing a souped up ’67 Chevelle SS. Va-room, va-room. You said to your dad: “I want to get a Chevelle.” He answered: “Good for you – get a job!” And you did get a job and, back in that day, you could work and save toward reaching your goal. It was a great lesson – and a great car! Times change, however. The earnings of a part-time job today won’t get a seventeen year-old anywhere near a nice, used Mustang. But he, or she, is continually bombarded with visual images that communicate the prominence of conspicuous consumption.

The generic definition of pornography: a graphic image intended to stimulate immediate emotional or erotic response. I want that. I need that! Now!! The images of lifestyle or materialism pornography are all around us, beckoning our involvement in and commitment to conspicuous consumption.

Maybe someday I’ll buy some ad space in the Statesman or pay for a billboard, with the image backdrop of cool blue sky, that says: “Be at peace – You are fine simply the way you are.”

cool-blue-sky_p

 

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM, distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

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