Friday, October 01, 2004

On "Needs"

I keep seeing this car commercial that aggravates me. The new tag-line for GMC trucks is:

"A higher standard of innovative engineering, design, and performance. It's not more than you need. It's just more than you're used to. "

I find the carelessness with which we throw around the word "need" troubling. What does it mean to "need" something, and how can you "need" better performance in an SUV? A need or necessity is something that cannot be done without; surely an SUV's "innovative engineering" doesn't rise to this standard.

And I'm not just pointing out GMC's semantic liberty for the sheer heck of it. I think that our perceptions of our own "needs" is perhaps the greatest barrier to our living the other-centered life Jesus calls us to live.

Its much tougher to help others when doing so means giving up something that we believe we can't live without. Thus, our perception of what it is we need is critically important. The market -- the sellers of cars and cellphones and happy meals -- has an interest in making us believe we "need" more and more things. If we believe we can't do without a cell phone, then we are very likely to buy one....

What's more, society actually organizes itself so as to make new things, if not strictly necessary, then pretty close to it. Practically nobody owned a car 100 years ago. But can you imagine holding down a job in most places in this country without one? Cities -- divided into residential, commercial, and industrial zones and spread out over tens of miles -- have developed on the assumption of automobile ownership.

Market-based economies, then, produce two things in great abundance: goods and needs (real and imagined).

So let's be vigilant and not let television commercials and billboards tell us what we need. Let's keep our perspective and remember that even without a cellphone or GMC's innovative design, we live more luxurious lives than the kings and queens of 300 years ago. By keeping our perception of our own needs down, we open ourselves up to fulfilling the needs of others.


At 10:57 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

yes - i've been irritated by this commerical too. also on my list: the new taco bell commercials that talk about these huge new meals that can evoke an "i'm finally full" response from us. consume, consume, consume...

At 9:21 AM, Blogger Marcus said...

I don't think I'm imagining it.

After the rash of news stories and health warnings about the plague of obesity - and, not coincidentally, of type 2 diabetes - in the wealthier countries, and in the US in particular, we have seen a followup rash of commercials for decidedly unhealthy foods explicitly appealing to and encouraging decidedly unhealthy attitudes toward eating and "fullness."

Rather in the spirit of Jolt Cola - all the sugar and twice the caffeine. Only worse.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger jj said...

Another terrible ad that I thought about discussing in a separate post are these new LG cellphone ads.... They feature people asking whether their cellphones making them look fat or whether they should wear a belt with their cellphone, ending with the tag "LG phones, they get as much attention as anything else your wearing." Conspicuous consumption of cellphones....


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