It was the commercials.
Sure, every year, people complain that the commercials are not as good, not as funny, not as entertaining as they were last year (we all have rose colored specs, after all.)
But this year, there was this undeniable feeling that many of the commercials were not trying to be funny. Leave it to Doritos to be funny. Nacho cheese flavored tortilla chips can afford to be that cavalier on a national stage.
Rather, there were many commercials that were trying to make us feel something. They were trying to make us feel sentimental. They were trying to pluck our little heartstrings (which may have been easier, considering the collective haze of alcohol that hung over much of the country.) They were trying to reach us emotionally…and then sell us their product.
There were two ads that prominently featured positive images of fatherhood. One was for Dove, the other for Nissan.
In a positive light.
On a national stage.
I have to admit, I was pretty impressed, which is a sad state of affairs. When I’m used to seeing dads be dunces who can’t wash their own clothes, or be reduced to the insulting role of “Mr. Mom,” (a moniker so insipid, it doesn’t even deserve rebuke), it is sad that it’s so refreshing to see positive portrayals of dads.
But what does it illustrate?
It illustrates what all of you can do to be positively counter-cultural. It illustrates that the most counter-cultural thing to do is building safe, secure, loving homes.
“Radical” Starts in Your Kitchen
Many of us have read the books and the blogs and the articles and we became convinced that being counter-cultural, especially in the very narrow Christian sense, probably meant not wearing certain clothes or reading Fifty Shades of Gray. If we really wanted to be counter-cultural, like really radical, then it meant packing up for a mission trip or living in some urban “intentional community” with fifteen other people and growing your own vegetables.
The thing that makes “intentional community” appear to be so counter-cultural is that so much of ordinary American family life is not really intentional.
Isn’t every household supposed to be an “intentional” community? Sure it is. But the reality is far from that dream. Everyday life is often chaotic and disorganized. We go through the motions. We live without intention, whether it is intentions to eat dinner together, intentions to have an important talk together, or intentions to build our marriages together.
We do not have to go far to be counter-cultural. The trip we need to make might be as close as our kitchens.
What Are We Really Buying?
Of course, the art of advertising is to make the audience associate something positive with their product. It doesn’t matter if you put a sexy woman next to a big sandwich or a powerful looking guy in the driver’s seat of a car. You want the audience to make subliminal associations between the product and what people really want.
And the deliciously devious lie about advertising is that the product that is being hawked can never deliver what people really want.
People want security.
They want friendship.
They want love.
They want sex.
They want money.
They want power.
But soap cannot give us these things. A car cannot give us these things. Commercials don’t do much to fulfill our desires. Rather they just reveal our desires. And apparently, the marketing groups at two separate companies discovered that people want dads.
Family Is Not a Product
Unfortunately, there isn’t much about our culture that makes it easy for us to have the things that really matter to us. We keep filling up our lives with things that promise fulfillment. I suppose if products really delivered on their promises, that would be bad for the economy because we would suddenly find ourselves in an unnatural state of contentment.
We think we need all of these things to make us whole. We think normal family life is weeknights spent in a minivan instead of around a table. We think a “happy childhood” requires Mom and Dad to make everything “magical.” And it keeps us busy and buying and constantly chasing.
People are the only things in the world that can give other people what they deeply, truly want. We cannot substitute a product for a person. We all have memories about how Dad’s aftershave smelled when we were six. But Old Spice is not Dad. Only Dad can be Dad, and Dad could still smell good, even if he was absent.
Our culture has this habit of just repeating things over and over, until we all believe them, even when it is not true. It’s no longer true that half of marriages end in divorce. But that is still the narrative. (Some people even say divorces are climbing.) Our culture repeats over and over that family is over. But human needs do not change, no matter how much we say they do. No matter how much we think we have evolved or progressed, people still need the same things they needed thousands of years ago.
Our deepest human needs are not met by any product.
They are met by each other.