People with things to sell offer the promise of convenience, of easy solutions to problems, even of a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too world, courtesy of the folks down in research and development. Shoes that help you get exercise without exercising. And one of my personal favorites: “fat-free half and half.”
Problem is, I’m often ready to buy what they have to sell.
Yes, I own a few “no wrinkle” or “no iron” dress shirts. All else being equal, if those are sitting on the sale shelf next to shirts that look exactly the same, I’ll buy the one with the extra promise. What they don’t tell you, of course, is that “no iron” is really shorthand for “This shirt wrinkles less than most other shirts of its type, so if you would stop being so picky and put up with a wrinkle or two here and there, you could put away the iron and have a nice life.”
But I don’t just want a shirt that wrinkles less. Part of me wants a fantasy life without wrinkles, a life without ironing. I’m not just buying a shirt, I’m buying a promise. And when that promise goes unfulfilled, it’s hard to appreciate the fact that I get to iron the shirt less; I’m just annoyed that I have to iron it at all.
Wrinkle free. Fat free. Problem free. Worry free. Yes, the people in marketing know us too well. In a sense, they are promising us heaven on earth here, now.
So here’s a thought. Some of us are used to hearing warnings against a materialistic lifestyle; we wonder about what it takes to be more disciplined and develop “sales resistance.” But we have to recognize that advertisers often ply us with mini-salvation narratives, enticing us with the explicit or implicit promise of saving us from discipline or drudgery.
If that’s so, then sales resistance entails cultivating an alternative way of thinking: a joyous appreciation of our true salvation, a kind of biblical and theological imagination that tolerates life’s wrinkles in light of the real and trustworthy promise of future glory.
When I think of life that way, I can put up with a little ironing. And a whole lot more.