How adverts tell the truth

If you want something, in life, it’s not enough to simply go for it – first you have to have a picture of it.

I read something once about hunger striking prisoners gradually, barely consciously, papering their walls in pictures of steaming meals ripped out of magazines. Cavemen knew all about the power of visualisation, their beautiful hunting murals celebratory and motivational. Even Dave Lister felt it, intuitively, as he clutched his cherished photos of Fiji.

Images – perhaps even quite abstract ones – are useful in the perpetuation of a state of desire. And if you want to progress (and many don’t, I’ve noticed) then you’ve got to have a time limit on these pictures. You have to replace pictures – real or mental – regularly because being trapped in a state of desire might sound nice, but it’s basically heroin, and you remember what happened to Narcissus and all those other guys. I mean if you like heroin, fine. I’ve heard great things about it. But remember it comes with a risk! So: unless you want to just eat heroin all day, win your desktop background, then change it for an even better one.

Everyone who’s ever been burnt by advertising knows that images are deceitful, but they’re only working with your brain’s hopefulness – they’re only as deceitful as you are. It’s our brains, really, that we have to change. But our brains are a bit weak and influenced. Change the pictures, and the brain will follow. Eventually we need to make the pictures less important. We need to train ourselves to win as an end in itself – to get to the point where the content of the images we project into our mind’s eye doesn’t matter anymore.

In fact, the content of images is an interesting problem in itself. A picture of a beautiful tropical beach doesn’t show us what it would be like for us to be on holiday. That’s the last thing it shows us – it’s an absolute red herring. No – what these images show us is science fiction: the irresistible draw of an alien world.

Alien worlds are, by their very nature, entirely unrelatable, but there’s something about them, isn’t there? We are not picturing ourselves in this thing so much as delighting in a primal idea of something existing, somewhere else, without us physically present. There is something out there with no humans in it, or there is something out there before or after me, or there is something out there outside of my solipsistic bubble that might kaleidoscope into anything, and contains nothing I’ve labelled, nothing I’ve touched, and nothing I’ve influenced. It’s the self-contained silence of a room before I came into it. These images are as apocalyptic as they are filled with potential.

The traditional line on advertising and design is that these things tune into our need to see our reflection, to see ourselves everywhere, but I wonder if it’s almost the opposite. I think we might be particularly mesmerised by images that promise something distinctly unfamiliar. We can’t help but feel our presence wherever we are. It’s boring. Our bodies are limited and fragile, our personalities are predictable – we irritate ourselves. But what might a world without us in it look like? A world we can witness without affecting it all with our tedious, clumsy presence? Now there’s something.

In a way, this kind of advertising imagery is a most honest representation of what it sells. It shows us what’s it’s like to just be a pair of eyes; a true picture of what is going on when we imagine ourselves in a picture.

There’s a Buddhist thing: “Wherever you go, there you are.” We know it, deep down, even if we have to regularly lie to ourselves about it in order to suck some enjoyment out of life. We know when we’re on holiday, it’s just us, somewhere else, and “there we are” with the same needs, preoccupations and problems as ever.

The illusion of consciousness has us constantly trying to escape embodiment. As soon as we find ourselves somewhere interesting, we are overcome with the need to see ourselves there from the outside – to break free of this body. We try to turn our eyes back onto our physicality and distance ourselves from our presence to make the holiday poster more true. Maybe, if we get enough of a record of it that’s reinforced enough by the outside world, we can escape.

On the last episode of The Trip, Rob Brydon stands on the balcony of the Greta Garbo suite at a luxury hotel on the Amalfi Coast, one of the world’s most glorious views behind him, and takes some selfies while gurning. The true fantasy that images offer is the ability to be disembodied, at the very least – and non-existent, at best. But wherever you go, there you are, and let’s face it, your presence there will probably ruin it.

Anyway, it is week two of the residency, and one of my goals of my time here is to make Hack Circus profitable in three months. So here’s what I’m up to, and what I’m planning for the coming weeks. For handy reference, I have marked the places I’ll be doing these things in brackets after the work. This week I’m:

* Writing two articles for WIRED UK, in collaboration with Dr Lewis Dartnell, author of The Knowledge, a fascinating new book about rebooting civilisation. (London and Brighton)
* Having a few meetings, and recording three chats for a new Hack Circus podcast. Editing them. (London)
* Talking to people about several forms of sponsorship and advertising. (London and Brighton)
* Confirming speakers for the Hack Circus: Access All Areas event, and creating promotional material for it (it will take place on June 14th at Lighthouse.)
* Write my talk for Hack Circus: AAA (Brighton)
* Editing the surviving Hack Circus: This Is Reality video (London)
* Commissioning a friend to write a theme tune for the new podcast. (London and Brighton)
* Moving the Hack Circus site over to Squarespace. (Brighton)

As you can see, I’ve got my hands full, so I’ll be knocking off social media for a while again. I do keep trying to bail on Twitter, I really do, and I keep getting dragged back in, then before I know it it’s all I ever do and I’m hammering that reload button like one of those pigeons. It just doesn’t seem to be actually furthering anything, if you see what I mean. In fact, it’s slightly getting in the way of the furthering. So here, instead, is a picture of a goal, because as discussed, we all need a picture.

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