advertising and mental illness

Advertisers relish at the thought of their work washing over mentally ill minds. This is because mental illness is fertile ground for their messages to take root.

Depression: Studies have shown that people who value material things highly are more depressed than those who don’t. What we don’t know is if the depression is fueling the consumerism or vice versa. What is clear that people who have poor self-image (which advertising itself tends to exacerbate) are more likely to try to compensate for it by consuming things. Advertisers are in a win-win situation today because most people crave relationships and need them to not be depressed but most places you have to buy things that the advertisers are advertising to fit in and be accepted.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A mind with OCD is like a washing machine that turns the same things over, over and over again. A mind like this is fertile ground for advertiser’s messages. In a normal mind an advertiser’s message will come in, be analyzed a little, and brought up when necessary (for example a fabric softener ad will be recalled when one is in the laundry aisle of the supermarket). In a mind with OCD the advertiser’s messages get stuck in the tumble cycle. For example the new Gilette shaver that supposedly “glides” and has “less tug and pull” gets stuck in my mind because shaving wiry hair is a pain in the ass. I think the campaign is full of crap but that doesn’t stop it from entering my mind. The key here is things proven to be patently false (like most advertiser’s claims) will cycle in people with OCD’s minds. This is good news for advertisers.

Anorexia/Body Image: When was the last time you saw a fat person or an individual with a disability on a TV commercial (besides diet or wheelchair ads)? You don’t see these people because they don’t fit the ideal. We are a very looks-based culture–you live or die by what you look like. Prescient people internalize this and some starve themselves. It’s a disorder but it’s also a real rational response to cultural forces albeit a sad one. Advertisers love this demographic because they are particularly absorbent of the consumeristic culture around them and have poor self image, both things that make for an easy target market.

Anxiety: If you can create fear and offer some product or service that supposedly “cures” said fear you are in business. If someone is already anxiety-prone they are more susceptible to these pitches. Think how advertisers sell home security systems and even how the government sells war.  In both cases it’s about some “they” that is going to attack us and destroy our way of life.  Another example is how people afraid of impending economic collapse will buy more gold so you advertise gold places where anxiety-prone people are (Glen Beck, religious programming, etc..).

Many people who are mentally ill put a premium on how something makes them feel.  It’s more about the sizzle than the steak.  Interacting with a comfortable brand can be therapeutic.  For example Tylenol may work better than the same medication with an off-brand label because there is something comforting about interacting with a strong brand.

Where are all the good Christian men?

Women often lament the lack of good Christian men to marry. A Barna Group survey backs this up—only 38% of evangelicals are men.

Why? As an ex-evalgelical I toss up some reasons.

The commodification of men (verses the decommodification of women).
The first thing you have is the oft-denied (but more often practiced) currents of the prosperity gospel flowing through most of evangelicalism. This falls on men harder than women. We are the ones looked on as money producing commodities. We are the ones who are judged the most harshly based on how much (or how little) God “prospers” us. This commodification of men is just a staple of our culture but there just aren’t any forces trying to beat it back within evangelicalism (at least not any I’m aware of). However, all kinds of forces are pushing for the decomodification of women—not viewing them as sex objects. This is a positive development but more needs to be done to help the male side of things.
“The Proverbs 31 woman is virtuous, the Proverbs 31 man is rich”

The passive-aggresiveness that rears its head all too often in Christian culture
There is a lot of negativity that goes along with daily life. Unfortunately evangelicalism tells people to turn off this negativity. Most people (rightfully) can’t handle it so they end up expressing their negativity passive-aggressively instead of expressing it through healthy channels. The non-confrontational nature of Christian culture is stifling and it is fertile ground for all forms of passive-aggressive expression. I think this behavior happens more among men than women (because men are naturally more aggressive and Christian culture is just muting this aggression turning it into something more ugly than necessary).

Thinking away your faith
It’s easy to lose your faith, easier than you’d think. Evolution, philosophy, German higher criticism, befriending people of other traditions—all these can put fractures that lead to later destruction. Christians will be quick to point out that evolution doesn’t contradict the Bible. But once you take evolution as truth the first 11 chapters of Genesis go out the window (at least literally). With regards to leaving the faith I don’t think being smart is a liability but I think thinking more than necessary is. At the risk of sounding sexist I would say men have minds that wander more.

Difficulty with sexual purity
It’s an uncomfortable truth, it’s harder for men to stay sexually pure than women. Men are expected to stay virgins deep into their twenties (sometimes past their sexual prime) in a environment of hypersexuality. This is task that not every man is up to… and for what? Christian marriages fail at the same rate secular ones do.

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