Crazy People is one of those movies you might vaguely remember. It starred Dudley Moore and Darryl Hannah, two solid lead actors who were just beginning a period of decline in their careers, but were still looking pretty sharp at that time. It also had a pants load of instantly recognizable character actors all having a blast with their bit parts as wackos. And it even sported a somewhat decent director in Tony Bill, whose previous film was a quirky and entertaining independent feature called Five Corners starring Jodi Foster and Tim Robbins. Really, on the surface, Crazy People almost had too much of a pedigree to even end up on a blog like this one.
If only 75% of the movie hadn’t been such a big steaming pile of boredom. It’s really a bizarre movie watching experience. You’ll find yourself rolling with laughter for two or three minutes, and then, wham, the movie hits the snooze button and you go stone faced. Every time the film shifts focus to the unnecessary love story between the two leads (I can understand some love affairs leading to the nuthouse, but they should never start there) or to the movie’s obnoxiously overused axiom that the insane are actually much more smarter and wiser than all of us supposedly sane people (because, you know, I’m so sure that guy who used to wander the streets of my old boyhood home town offering to pay people cash to break wind in his face actually held the secrets of the universe), every time it does that, the movie grinds to a screeching halt.
But, hey, if you’re willing to sit through the tedium, the other 25% of Crazy People more than lives up to the promise of its high concept question, “What if a bunch of lunatics were given carte blanche to write commercials?” The advertisements Emory and the patients cook up are both truthful and laugh out loud funny. You can’t help but love lines like “Quaker Oats: Does this stuff taste good? Who knows… but at least the box is cute.”, “Come to New York… There were fewer murders last year.”, “Metamucil, it makes you go to the toilet. If you don't use it, you may get cancer and die.”, and, of course, the world’s best ever movie tagline, “The Freak. It won't just scare you, it will @*#% you up for life!!!”
Ah, if only more ads were truthful about what they were selling. After all, these days, advertising has grown into an omnipresent industry which, according to Outsell Inc., spends over $412,000,000,000 a year trying to get us to buy products. A few years back there was a study which estimated that the average person will see 576 or more commercials each week on television alone. 576! And that doesn’t even include the ads on the internet, on radio, or in print. But, so what, right? After all, doesn’t everyone recognize an ad when they see one? Just because they’re advertising Chia heads doesn’t mean we’re forced to go out and buy the things. Heck, we even need SOME of the things they try to push on us. So, what’s the problem, if any, with advertising?
Well, almost from the beginning, a large percentage of advertising has sold something besides just the products themselves. Most advertisements, especially the targeted ads of today, promote a specific philosophy, a pre-defined notion of what constitutes the “good life”. In short, if you aren’t buying what they’re selling, you aren’t living well. It’s not really a single ad or advertiser that’s particularly devious. It’s the cumulative effect through constant exposure. (576 TV ads a week, remember?) For instance, an Arizona State University study on the effects of thin "imagery" from magazines and television found that the more a woman was exposed to this type of advertisement, the greater the likelihood she would develop the symptoms of an eating disorder. There’s obviously more being sold to the world in ads than just nail polish and panty hose, and it couldn’t hurt to be aware of just what it is.
Better yet, why not just offer the world something more meaningful than the latest fashions to address the underlying issues the commercials are capitalizing on? As Christians we’ve got the offer of a lifetime, the one thing that everybody needs, the one thing many people don’t even know (or absolutely deny) they’re waiting for. We just have to get the message out there. God is calling us to open our mouths and be his ad men and women. And more often than not our campaign has to start not with catechesis or bible lessons or some other such thing, but with our normal day to day lives. Just look at the very first Christians who every day, as this past week’s first reading tells us, “devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
Like those early Christians, we too (on our best days at least) can be the only advertisement Christianity needs. And we don’t need to spend $412,000,000,000 to do it. We just need to live and tell the truth. Even if some people will call us crazy for doing so.