”Anyone in here in advertising or marketing? Kill yourself. No, seriously. Kill yourself.”
One day I woke up and it suddenly hit me that all the economic prosperity the UK government gloat about and use as a bargaining chip to keep us in the Union, is completely underwritten by the sale of things that cause me and the environment more harm than good – but there was nowhere to send my strongly worded letter.
It also occurred to me that I don’t really know why I eat, drink and read more than half the things I do and more worryingly, why I often indulge in them against my own will. It’s like an unconscious part of me is buying into something that I’m not fully aware of. Anyone else know what I mean?
At the root of it is a general anxiety about the future. A future of uncertainty where I am unsure of my place or purpose. This uncertainty manifests as a private discomfort and seems to serve as an engine room for all of my impulsive decisions around consumption. Every purchase I make is about trying to change how I feel. I use everything from food, to coffee and cigarettes and sex and pornography to social networks and good old fashioned chocolate. Sometimes I even keep myself interested by randomly combining these things to gratifying effect, although remorse and shame inevitably follow.
Let me stick with the porn for now.
Like most things, I end up overindulging until I’m sick of myself. Eventually I get fed up and decide to take action. I have weeks where I decide to go on a sex diet, of sorts. This involves a self-imposed ban on porn as well as a reduction in my expectation for sex, or forms of sex. I usually come to this decision after a period of feeling a bit depressed about my general lifestyle.
The attempt to break the cycle usually goes like this:
It’s a new day (normally Monday) and this time it will be different. Today is filled with possibility and from now on life will be about maintaining this new sense of wellbeing. There is a spring in my step as I prepare to leave my pristine home, granny smith in hand, and strut fearlessly out the door and into a fresh and progressive liberal Scotland – where I am immediately bombarded by an onslaught of sexual images that come with sounds and buy buttons.
Not even off the bus into town and already I feel like I’ve been polluted.
It’s not just the sultry celebrity urging me to purchase an energy inefficient car, or the innocent twenty-something reaching suggestively with a beer from behind her mountainous, surgically enhanced cleavage. No. It’s also the more subtle things like; every front page of every magazine, every shop window, the side of every bus on every road. So many of the things I see and hear feel infused with innuendo and in a state of mindfulness, attempting to make some positive changes for the sake of my wellbeing, it becomes overbearing and disheartening. The discomfort sets up a compulsion to consume more and once again I’m lost in the cycle.
Society doesn’t seem to be designed for people who want to remain physically and mentally well, in fact it seems to feed our sickness and then offer us the perfect medicine. Everything is about how you look and if you aren’t looking at yourself then you’ve got one eye on the person who looks better than you. Image, driven by sexual attraction, has us all reaching for our credit cards every time we need a pick me up but no amount of retail therapy seems to fill the hole in our soul.
I can’t imagine how it must make women feel. I see the daily struggle in the eyes of my partner as she stares blankly into a long mirror at something I know I could never console. Something isn’t right.
I naively decide to take refuge in a tabloid newspaper. I turn to page three where I am immediately dragged by the limbic system into a story about a dead celebrity paedophile being posthumously accused of multiple teenage rapes.
My racing mind becomes confused about what kind of sex this is and how to compartmentalise it so as not to be accused by myself of a thought crime. There are pictures of attractive women who just happen to be rape victims, though at least they aren’t dead. My mind rushes to make moral distinctions. The no-holds-barred sexualisation of everything, completely acceptable only seconds ago, suddenly morphs into a moral minefield where the voice of a newspaper adopts the piety and wrath of a vengeful all-knowing God.
The next day, the same paper on the very same page, has a picture of a half-naked teenage girl, done up to look a little too young, aided by a stylist. She looks like she’s suffering from an eating disorder but somehow I am still aroused. I’m confused. One day I am being warned about celebrities committing sex crimes and the next I am staring at an 18-year-old bulimic who wants to be famous for being photographed in tiny underwear.
Why are these themes so powerful and what part of our minds are these things appealing to?
Psychologically, we are subconsciously drawn to famous people because it shows us what we need to do in order to become attractive to the opposite sex. Wealth, security and being of public note are desirable to all of us as they increase our chances of sexual partners, allowing us to reproduce more effectively. However, the primal part of our brain doesn’t make the distinction between real life and an airbrushed image. All we see is Ryan Gosling or Miley Cyrus and immediately look for clues on how to mimic their manner and presentation in order to gain a social advantage over our sexual competitors.
Basically, a picture of a celebrity is a picture of all the sex you could be having if you were rich and famous – and thin. In evolutionary terms, it makes sense to be drawn to them. The problem is that the image of a celebrity, in all of its smouldering splendour, is a completely fabricated and constructed illusion designed precisely to appeal to you in a way you don’t even understand. This is all designed with you and your money in mind.
Things are a little murkier when dealing with celebrity sex criminals, but in both cases be under no illusion, it’s the sex and the celebrity that make it news worthy. Sex and commerce go hand and hand as products are marketed based on how they make us feel as opposed to their practical function and media coverage dovetails perfectly with product placement to leave us with a sense that we need more in order to feel better. Only once you attempt to disengage from this sexually driven consumerism and try to lead a healthier less self-seeking life, do you suddenly become aware of its totalitarian ubiquity.
This isn’t about pornography, it’s about everything else.
It’s the reason every woman on television is usually young and thin. It’s the reason our children sing pop songs about giving blow jobs. And more worryingly, it’s the reason we only talk about paedophiles when they are famous. Sexuality is too profound a force to be happy stamped on every single pointless product or daily rag out there.
If corporations were people, they’d all be in prison for sexual harassment.
This also strikes at the heart of this ludicrously deluded Union of ours. Lower case conservatives make much of respecting the sanctity of marriage yet allow free reign to businesses that cynically cheapens and undermines marriage’s defining characteristic: Sex. At least the porn they want to ban is honest about what it is.
The saddest thing is, the war on our unsuspecting carnal minds is not even a war of principle or conquest. There is no conspiracy. It’s not about anything at all. It’s just a zombie economy, carrying out the job it was designed to do. We need to be aware of the fact that our human vulnerabilities are being used against us to prime us for maximum economic activity with no consideration ever given to our human frailty. Is this type of economy even worth bailing out? I’m inclined to think we should be bailing out on it.
I’m not proposing sexless communism here but a more conscious form of capitalism. Is it so to want an economic model that recognises our physiological limitations as a species? Would it really be so radical to incentivise business so as to encourage innovations and techniques conducive to human happiness and harmony?
The City of London is a breeding ground for this kind of aggressive, unfettered capitalism and the captains of industry and finance are blindly championed by their cheerleaders on Fleet Street. We the lowly consumer class, are encouraged to remain stay distracted by a pack of celebrities willing to do anything in order to get their surgically botched faces onto the side of a packet of Doritos.
An independent Scotland could push back against this type of thoughtless consumer culture and if companies threaten to leave because we dare aspire to higher ethical standards concerning human wellbeing, then I’m all too happy to hold the door for them.
We shouldn’t have to run a gauntlet of morally ambiguous and manipulative advertising every single day of our lives. This stuff is attacking the very core of what makes us human and it is a statement of scientific fact that we simply aren’t physiologically designed to deal with all the junk available to us – and that includes the frivolous use of sex to sell crap.
When are we going to wise up and tell these pimps exactly where to go?
Photograph by Robb Mcrae