Advertising and The Trickster
You may be familiar with the Trickster figure. In Jungian psychology, Trickster is one of the “archetypes of the collective unconscious”. Trickster appears in practically all cultures in some form or another — Hermes the Thief in Greek mythology; Coyote amongst the Plains Indians; Raven amongst the West Coast Indians; the Fox is a trickster in fables; the Joker in the Batman comics — and the brand manager and advertiser in consumer society. That’s right, folks. The brandmeister is our Trickster, and has his or her antecedents in magic, myth, and fable.
As they say, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” and do, in that sense, resemble the “eternal recurrence of same”.
The wily Trickster is an ambiguous character. Usually his trickery (which can be very serious and even deadly) backfire on him (revenge effect, or blowback), and he becomes entangled in his own snares. But, the victims of his wiles and trickery invariably learn something about themselves and life in the process. For that reason, Trickster, although a figure of mirth and ridicule, is also honoured in story as an inadvertent teacher.
It’s about the Trickster always being, finally, the hapless victim of his own wilyness to which the popular saying “too clever by half” applies. What we’ve been calling “ironic reversal” or “comeuppance” is always the fate of Trickster in the stories. Trickster it is who fits Robert Burns’ remark in “To a Mouse” that “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley”. The price of Trickster’s role is not just to suffer eventual derision, but to endure the perverse outcomes or revenge effects of his own trickery.
Trickster is almost always a necessary part of the order of things, but to allow him in the driver’s seat is pure folly itself. For what Trickster teaches, and what he and his actions represent (which can be very deadly despite being tricks), is the karmic law of action and reaction, and of the price of hubris as Nemesis. Worm-tongue, in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, belongs to the Trickster archetype and mythologeme.
But it’s pure folly to give Trickster the keys to the kingdom.
Looking for a description of Trickster (there have been a few books published on the archetype) I hit upon this one at the website “American Folklore”, and it’s a pretty good one: “A Trickster is a mischievous or roguish figure in myth or folklore who typically makes up for physical weakness with cunning and subversive humor. The Trickster alternates between cleverness and stupidity, kindness and cruelty, deceiver and deceived, breaker of taboos and creator of culture.”
And doesn’t that fit the profile of the adman and brandmeister?