It’s easy to romanticise about how life must have been back in ancient times, but the fact is that life was a struggle. Life expectancy of 20 years, sickness, malnutrition, conflict, exploitation. By modern standards it was an inhumane existence.
But life was much simpler.
Every day was about the simple act of survival. People came together into communities, built societies and the rules to govern them. Some became leaders through skill and other through strength. Others specialised in professions, exchanged and traded goods and the communities began to thrive. They became settlements, settlements got bigger, traded with other settlements, fought them for resources or merged with them over time.
Marketing, and specifically advertising, have been around since those early times as the simple cry of a stall holder to passing customers. Back then, there was plenty of opportunity for exaggerated claims and alleged benefits, and little could be done to challenge them, but word would quickly get round, and the rogue trader was often ousted.
Religion developed and spread, bringing order and structure to life. The common man was expected to attend a religious gathering on a regular basis to show that they were faithful, and to be reminded of the correct way to behave. in the most part religion was in the best interests of society and the common man in general, imparting wisdom around sharing, caring for ones neighbour, defining what was a sin and detailing the punishment for any transgression. these religious laws or commandments were mostly in the interests of a healthy and happy society: do no harm to others, work hard, respect the family and be in service to the community. Tithes, collections and other taxes were taken – often to further the good work of the church in helping the poor and spreading the teachings.
Some religions centralised and flourished, bringing riches to the highest members of the order, along with the political intrigue and corruption that comes with power and wealth. Different religions went to war – in many cases causing terrible attractions in the name of their deity – championing one set of beliefs over another, sometimes over different interpretations of the same religious texts. But in general, religion gave a framework of behaviour which positively improved the life of the common man.
Coupled with the local laws of the land, and the opinion of the elders in their community, the amount of opinion and coercion they were confronted with was relatively limited.
Around the 1920’s something much more malicious became the norm: the idea that a person had to ‘be’ a certain way, and that the only way to do that was to buy a specific product, upgrade that product or choose a product over another. It started out with the idea that things like whiter teeth made you more attractive, but rapidly moved on to the idea that not having white teeth was actually bad, repulsive or anti-social. A famous example was an advertising campaign that DeBeers – the diamond mining company of South Africa – circulated: any man worth his salt would ONLY buy his prospective fiancee a diamond ring that was at least two month’s salary. But instead of marketing it at the men, they marketed it at the women, who started holding out for such a ring and thus such a worthy man. The campaign was so successful that now virtually every engagement ring is a solitaire, and everyone assumes that it is simply due to ‘tradition’.
This stereotyping and negative self-image have led to the rise of diseases such as Bulimia and Anorexia which were rare before the 20th century, so powerful was the desire and social pressure to conform.
The drive for equality between the sexes in the 20th Century led to the reluctant evolution of the caring, emotionally mature and deeply confused ‘nineties man’, and ultimately the complete disappearance of good male role models. Its not surprising that Modern Man has no real identity, no clear purpose in life and no one to turn to to ask for help.
So what does he do? Typically he ends up down the pub ‘drowning his sorrows’, sharing tall tales with his associates, in complete denial of the reality of his existence, which underpins the ‘Facebook Lifestyle’ that he holds up to the world, all the few perfect moments captured on camera and shared with the world: “Look friends, everything is awesome in my world”. The grim reality of life rarely gets exposed:
“Came home at 2am drunk and screamed at my wife for 2 hours. Think i may have really scared her. Don’t remember a thing.”
The problem from here, is that that sort of denial can lead to misunderstandings which end in violence – both domestic and public – which can soon escalate into broken homes, marriages and custodial sentences. Or turning to drugs when the alcohol stops working, or gambling to achieve a different high. When these pursuits are undertaken to ‘numb the pain’, then a worse outcome is often inevitable, potentially even suicide.
The most common thing said amongst the friends of the man who commits suicide: “I had absolutely no idea, he seemed so happy…”