One of the more troublesome and ominous qualities of listening to the radio, or any sort of media, is dealing with the sort of advertising that takes place to such a ubiquitous degree in our entertainment. For a variety of reasons, most of them involved with the desire to pay for the sort of entertainment that we have come to expect, advertisement is pervasive and unavoidable for those who have any sort of interaction with any sort of contemporary culture. Whether one picks up the coupons and advertisements in the mail, listens to commercials on radio, watches them on the radio, sees billboards along the roadside or on the side of public transportation vehicles, or sees advertising in sporting events, or even the advertising on websites (even such non-commercial blogs as this one ) one cannot avoid the presence of advertising in our world.
The corruption that advertising can cause is subtle and powerful, and something that tends to be pervasive in all aspects of our lives. For example, one of the radio stations I listen to contains frequent and seemingly ad hoc advertisements for Sleep Country. Now, Sleep Country is said to be a socially responsible sort of company that is owned by its employees, and is constantly running drives to collect various items like shoes or winter coats or toys for foster children. These ought to be considered as points in the favor of the social responsibility of that particular company, to be sure, given the general vulnerability and difficulty of the situation of foster children. Beyond these advertisments, though, is an unsettling and troublesome tendency for the deejays on that particular radio station to make situations of all kinds as reasons to advertise for Sleep Country, a way of using the experiences of life to shill for a particular company.
Today was a particularly troubling example of this that struck me as particularly offensive. The female deejay was recounting a story where her daughter was rudely taken from her sleep by her friends doing some sort of hazing ritual upon accepting her into the National Honor Society at her school. The two deejays then used that story in a couple of ways that were striking, first talking about new beds as a way to help cure sleeping problems, and then looking at the shared type of bed between the female deejay’s daughter and the male deejay and the fact that before her friends woke her up to haze her, she was sleeping entirely soundly. What struck me as particularly offensive was the use of personal stories for obviously commercial gain, even with product recommendations. I found it extremely unsettling that people who view themselves as enlightened and cultured people would think that it was okay to shill a product several times a day, and even use their personal and family lives as a way to shill a product on the air without any sort of apparent shame or difficulty.
It is hard not to see this shilling for shilling as a form of prostitution. To be sure, one cannot condemn the deejays for doing so without reflection, though, on the fact that commercialism plays on our culture in general. Whatever is the center of our life, we ought to expect it to influence all other aspects. If we are people who are truly and devoutly religious, we ought to expect our moral and spiritual values to influence the way we live our lives in all aspects, even given our struggles and personal weaknesses. Likewise, if materialistic greed is at the core of our lives, however much we may pretend that we are people of honor or decency, we should expect that all aspects of our lives should be affected by our desire for monetary profits, such as is the case for the deejays hawking new matresses.
Yet this temptation is not present in deejays alone. All of us (myself included) have to wrestle with the relationship between our lives and commerce. Can our good favor be bought? There is a story of a wealthy man asking a woman whether she would sleep with him for a million dollars. She said she would. He then asked if she would sleep with him for twenty dollars, to which she indignantly replied that she was not a whore, so she would not. He replied, rather ungentlemanly, that they had already established what she was and were now haggling over the price. Some people sell their dignity rather cheaply, others have higher bargains, and other people have no price at all. We live in a world with serious constraints in terms of what sort of behavior is necessary in order to survive, and what sort of behavior would amount to betraying our ideals or turning our relationships into merely or primarily fodder for our economic success. These are questions that are not easy to answer, but that are important to reflect on.