Recently I came across a copy of The Search For Something More by Peter Hannan, S.J. , subtitled “A Journey to Human Fulfillment”, published in 2001. Who doesn’t want to be fulfilled? “We live at a time when our outer world dominates and diminishes our inner world to a destructive degree” states the blurb. A few years ago I would have been slightly cynical about this message, but not anymore. I am not sure if I am entirely uncynical now, but for whatever reason the book, which so far has not much overt religious content, spoke to me, as they say.
Basically the book consists of 21 chapters with exercises at the end of each. I aim to work through each chapter daily or as close to daily as I can in the run up to Christmas. I don’t intend to blog my progress, but perhaps use this blog to help work out some thoughts and make some observations.
The first exercise of the first chapter focuses on advertising:
Look at some of the the advertisements you find in any popular magazine. What desires do most of them appeal to? Do any of them appeal to your deeper desires, even if they use these to arouse your more superficial ones? You might cut out an advertisement that appeals to your deeper longings and begin a book of images, which you might add to as you make your way through these exercises.
It would have been easy for Hannan to take a straightforwardly condemnatory approach to advertising, but he is more savvy than that; even if the promixate goal is arousing superficial desires, adverts are powerful guides to unfulfilled desires in general. One genre of ad I particularly hate is the pseudo-meaningful ad, of which the current Eir campaign (I refuse to link to it) is a good example – images of community, histroy, modernity with a stirring soundtrack evocative of Irish history are all mixed together for the holy purpose of selling telephony.
The problem I had with this exercise was that, in 2015, I don’t have many magazines, let alone popular ones, hanging around the house. While the balance of eBook to physical book reading has tipped decisively to the physical book, the periodical has all but disappeared in physical form.
The only two magazines I could readily find that could remotely be described as “popular” (ie not academic journals, or ‘zines I have a piece in) were Harpers Magazine of July 2009 and Birdwatch Magazine of February 2015
Harpers doesn’t (or rather didn’t) feature many ads, mainly small ads for various books inside. However two large ads from Chevron and Shell advertising their committment to the environment festooned the inside front and back cover respectively. I chose a Chevron ad in which a smiling Afrian woman was picture behind the pseudo-handwritten words “I will leave the car at home more.” While I am unapologetically cynical about this kind of ad, I suppose the underlying sentiment does reflect something I genuinely aspire to – a more “natural”, less mechanised lifestyle. I also chose an ad for Rosetta Stone language learning from Harper’s; one of my recurrent habits before family life intervened was buying language learning materials and listening to the introductory material and perhaps one or two modules. I guess this reflects a desire to communicate or somesuch.
Birdwatch had a lot more ads, but mainly for different strengths of telescope and binoculars; it would be a stretch to find any of these relfect my deeper desires (possibly for increased vision?) – I finally clipped a page of classified ads for birding breaks both in Britain and beyond, particular in the Hebrides and Shetlands. I guess this reflects a desire for a more “natural” life etc but also perhaps a desire to connect with roots.
Overall, in the era of data mining, it is interesting how little direct advertising I am exposed to, to the degree that finding physical ads for this exercise proved quite challenging.