While in Manhattan for two weeks on a working vacation, I’ve been taking advantage of the greatest mass transit system in the United States, the New York City subway—dingy with age, but clean, inexpensive, extremely safe and it gets you where you want to go faster than any alternative transportation option in the city.
This past weekend in a train on the East Side, I saw a fascinating billboard that exemplifies how Reagan’s politics of selfishness has completely imbued much of our public discourse.
The billboard, from the National Peanut Board, has as its theme line and branding message, “Get the energy” or “Have the energy.” Here is how the National Peanut Board describes itself on its website: The National Peanut Board represents all USA peanut farmers and their families. Through research and marketing initiatives the Board is finding new ways to enhance production and increase consumer demand by promoting the great taste, nutrition and culinary versatility of USA-grown peanuts.
The National Peanut Board is obviously trying to say that peanuts are an “energy” food, and on one level may play off the current fad for energy drinks. (But remember this: peanuts are good; energy drinks should be avoided at all costs!). On the website , we learn that the slogan for the national campaign is “Energy for the Good Life.”
This particular ad has a large headline that read: “Energy to spend time with someone who will listen to you.”
And what image does the peanut board use to exemplify this message? It’s a photo of a man with his dog on a hill overlooking a beautiful view.
There are two ways to interpret this collision of words with imagery, and both convey a solipsistic message that I believe is a variation of the Reaganistic ideology that tells us the world is a better place if every seeks his or her self-interest and that we should look for private solutions to address problems. Solipsism, by the way, is the philosophy that the world begins and ends with the self, or, put another way, that the only thing any one can be sure really exists is one’s own mind.
Here are my two interpretations of the imagery:
- Your dog is the only person who really listens to you
- God, represented by nature as it often has been in painting and literature through the centuries, is the only one who really listens to you.
I think it’s easy to see that if your dog is the only one who listens to you, then you’re living in a society in which all humans care only about themselves and act only in their own self interest, to the exclusion of all other family or social concerns; in other words, Reaganism taken to its extreme. The dog is cute, but the internal logic of the ad is brutal: No one listens to you; no one cares about you; you’re in this world by yourself; you might as well just act in your own self-interest, because no one else is going to help you and you shouldn’t help anyone else.
Even if the Peanut Board is subtly trying to make a religious message, the analysis remains the same. The god in the ad, if there is one, is not one that provides moral guidance, nor one that exemplifies service to others. No, what this god does is listen to you. You get to talk to this god and tell him what’s on your mind (that is, of course, if you have eaten enough peanuts to have the energy to talk!).
I wonder if the Peanut Board realizes that the ideological message underlying its attempt to sell peanuts is that no one should care about anyone else, since no one else ever listens.