The View From the Mountain
After reading Todd Stein’s “Zen Sells: How Advertising has Co-opted Spirituality” in the Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar , I looked up the Ford Ranger ad he discussed in the article as an example of the co-optation of the spiritual. It was a fortuitous discovery because I am working through some of the archetypal themes of “the sacred mountain” in my investigations into marketing 3.0 or “spiritual marketing” (or “holistic branding”). Although crude by some standards of “spiritual marketing”, the Ford ad is a near perfect example of the very issues that concern me about this move to “holistic branding” or capitalism 3.0.
Here it is….
The text here reads: “Spence put a new twist on an old philosophy. To be one with everything, he says, you’ve gotta have one of everything. That’s why he also has the new Ford Ranger. So he can seek wisdom on a mountain top. Take off in hot pursuit of enlightenment. And connect with Mother Earth. By looking no further than into the planet’s coolest 4-door compact pickup. He says it gives him easy access to inner peace. Which makes him one happy soul.”
“Twist” is the right word here, as in “twisted”. But it is, in some ways, funny just because it is twisted and bent. It’s humour comes from its audacity. It’s an example of the style of the Trickster in mythology, who is audacious in his trickery and his scheming. And yet, there is a very earnest and serious aspect to this ad which we might call its “subtext” or its “metanarrative”, and it is not very funny at all. This is the matter of “profanation” of which I spoke in earlier posts about “spiritual marketing”.
First of all, what we are presented with in this ad is called “The Top of the Mountain” pitch. Recently I have been reading a “political novel” by former adman John G. Schneider called The Golden Kazoo. The novel, from 1956, is a lampoon of the extension of merchandising and advertising techniques to the marketing of politics and politicians, which was just beginning to influence political campaigns in the 1950s. Schneider, with a bit of self-mockery perhaps, compares advertising to “tootling a kazoo”. The “golden kazoo” of the story is the Big Idea that the central character, adman Blade Reade, dreams up to sell the Republican candidate to the American voter. But first, he has to sell his Big Marketing Idea to the candidate and the potential First Lady. Schneider describes the “Top of the Mountain” pitch Reade uses,
“Many, many times Blade had taken his prospects to the Top of the Mountain. Just for example, there had been that preposterous, sturdy, AAA-1, meat-packing business in Brooklyn, an old family concern with nice distribution through metropolitan New York, Long Island, nearby Connecticut and New Jersey. A sweet little business, a going concern. What does a salesman do with such a prospect?
Why, he takes him on a walk to the Top of the Mountain. Shows him — from there — the wonders and glories of national, no, international distribution. Bedazzles him with visions of color spreads in the Post, network television, branches in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Convinces the little provincial tradesman that he can be as big as Swift or Armour, only in a higher-class way. The salesman, after getting his prospect to the Top of the Mountain, says, in effect, ‘See it? See it from up here, little man? See your small family business growing, growing, growing into a big, big commercial empire? See the money, the power, the glory? Look, little man! Look.’
A mental reflex — alert, swift and almost infallible — told Blade that Zelpha Adams would be a sucker for his Top of the Mountain pitch, if only he could lead her there without her realizing that she was being led. This was it! He never questioned such hunches. He bet ’em straight across the board. To win. With Blade, there simply wasn’t any place or show money.”
What this Top of the Mountain pitch brings to mind, though, is the third temptation of Christ. Satan transports Jesus to the top of a mountain, and shows him all the wide space of the world and the kingdoms of the world, and promises him kingship over the earth if he will but fall down and worship Satan. This tempting offer, however, Jesus refuses. And yet we find this same temptation repeated later with Petrarch’s ascent of Mount Ventoux in the Late Middle Ages. Jean Gebser deals at length with that as the seminal event of the discovery of space and perspectivism in the Renaissance, yet without commenting on the uncanny connection between Petrarch’s “temptation” and the third temptation of Christ in the New Testament. In The Ever-Present Origin, Gebser writes at some length about Petrarch’s experience of intoxication with the vista of space that lay before him from the summit of Mount Ventoux, and how, in self-defence at the sight, Petrarch guiltily retreats back into his soul. I’ld venture to say that it was probably the knowledge of the third temptation of Christ that was the real reason for Petrarch’s sense of guilt at being intoxicated with the vision of space and being at the “commanding heights”.
It’s the same “Top of the Mountain” pitch and the same temptation of universal dominion that is represented in the Ford Ranger ad. The various gear that surrounds Spence — scuba, golf, kayak, skis, and so on — are but the tokens of the kingdoms of the earth as sea, land, mountains and so on. It’s the same pitch — “all this can be yours”. You’ll attain wholeness and fulfillment — you’ll be one with everything — only when you have one of everything. And of course your Lordship will need a Ford Ranger Supercab to haul his wholeness and oneness around with him. The metanarrative of the ad, therefore, remains the fundamental social philosophy of consumerism as acquisitive individualism — to attain fulfillment, you must buy and accumulate the symbols of wholeness piecemeal — the gear. Fulfillment comes from consuming and accumulation. And the star of the ad is not Spence, but the truck. The “glow of awareness” or enlightenment that surrounds Spence in the ad isn’t his. It’s coming from the Ford Ranger by reflection.
Here is, perhaps, the chief profanation in the ad — for the mountain upon which Spence is seeking his wisdom is the sacred mountain. Every culture has its sacred mountain because the view from the summit of the mountain is the symbolism of wholeness — the “overview effect” is what it is called today. It is very close in meaning to Gebser’s “universal way of looking at things” so the view from the mountain is symbolic of integral consciousness. The sacred mountain is the spiritual mountain, and the ascent is symbolic of the quest or journey for wholeness. The sacred mountain is everywhere. After his “stare into the abyss”, Nietzsche-Zarathustra ascends the mountain for his 10 years sojourn in the wilderness. Camus’ Sisyphus rolls his heavy stone up the mountain. Moses meets with Yahweh atop Mount Sinai. Mount Kilash in Tibet and Sri Pada is the sacred mountain in Buddhism. The mythical Mount Meru is the Axis Mundi, the mythical mountain said to be the spiritual, physical and metaphysical centre of all worlds and universes. It’s in the Beatle’s song “The Fool on the Hill”. It is Mount Meru that is represented in the ad, and yet sitting at the summit in the the ad is a Ford Ranger!
Fundamentally, the message of the ad is “Being is Having”, and this bears on William Blake’s objection: “More! More! is the cry of the mistaken Soul. Less than All cannot satisfy Man”. This “All” though, is the view from Mount Meru, which is symbolic of the fully integrated consciousness. Mount Meru, by whatever name it is known, is the spiritual mountain, and it is real in those terms. And in this ad, it is co-opted not just to sell stuff, but a “reason for being” itself. It’s divertissement as advertissment, where the prefix “di-” or “dia-” has the meaning of “seduce away” or divert. Most significant is, that this ad promotes narcissism not only as a way of life, but as wisdom and enlightenment itself!
I find this all quite insidious.