Sunday, April 18, 2010

Drive- thru salvation and other marketing strategies

Yesterday On my way out of the local market I encountered an interesting sight. Several young girls wearing shorts on the side of the street holding big signs that read: “ Cristo Salva, oramos por ti, Servi- Carro” (Christ saves, we pray for you, drive-thru.) I found it curious how this church has borrowed an idea that is common practice for fast food chains. After a brief Google search I found out that even the Catholic Church and other churches in the United States have “Drive-in” prayer locations.  Someone might say it is quite acceptable to have this sort of thing in a car culture society and he or she is probably right. But if Christianity adopts the strategies of the corporate world then it should be of no controversy that I may have in my work a dialogue between Christianity and Consumerism. Living in an island with so many car dealers right next to other commercial lots rented or bought by churches brought me to the conclusion that marketing strategies can work for almost every institution today. 

 Church in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico that looks more like a store. The sign reads: “Blessed Church invested with power”

I’ve noticed that many of these new churches spread out across the country are almost undistinguishable from other type of businesses just by looking at their front window. After all, many of these churches offer “service” as they call it to their parishioners, a different type of consumers, religious consumers.  I also understand how some people may feel offended by this that I’m saying because they see religious practice as a sacred realm that should be vertically above everything else in society. This might have been true when the church was built in the center of a Latin American colonial city like Antigua, Guatemala. The Medieval gothic cathedral in many European towns is still the tallest building in town.  Architecture and Urban planning often reveal the priorities of a society. 

 Main Cathedral in Antigua Guatemala

Now compare both of these pictures above. We may be aware that there is a huge difference between Catholicism and other protestant denominations. But what happened with the way many Christian churches are built in a consumerist age? They had to compete so they got their own TV channels, logos and brands, relocated in malls and commercial lots and now they also offer fast food drive-thru salvation. They became another consumer commodity. Faith has been reduced to a mass produced merchandise displayed on multiple horizontal shelves to be compared with one another, bought and consumed. Of course it is sad to see how a consumerist society has reshaped religion to its own image.  

Panis Beatus (Holy bread) 15” x 23” Oil on wood (2006) by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

The same marketing and consumer rules apply to everything even politics. This was self evident with the political campaign lead by our now present Barack Obama with his very effective use of the web. The emblematic circle with the sun rising from the horizon logo that reads “Hope” or “Change” was another strategy borrowed from the corporate realm. Politics has also been branded , repackaged and sold in the same way as religion.


Obama political campaign imagery remitted to old revolutionary “Che” propaganda. Both icons have been massively appropriated for t-shirts and other consumer items ultimately transforming the meaning of the figure. This kind of straightfoward bold image has proved to have a special appeal iwith the masses

Now, what about history and mythology? I recently went to see the movie “Clash of the Titans” a remake of Desmond Davis 1981 classic film. Rebranded, repackaged and sold once more but as a total disaster of the titans. If you thought the old version was far removed from the original narrative, this latest version didn’t even look like classical mythology at all. It was deprived of real content, humanism or any transcendental message or lesson present in the original myth. The film is made for the senses, all about cool special effects to capture the eye not our mind. 
Poster image for the 2010 remake film "Clash of the Titans"

The reason for this may well be the same reason why today logos and brands are even more important that the product itself. In Naomi Klein’s book “No Logo”, the author illustrates successfully how corporations have become increasingly more involved in marketing their logos and brands than even more than their products.  Production has gone to the side and now goods are manufactured in sweat shops in China, Indonesia or El Salvador. It is irrelevant how it’s made and under what conditions. What matters is the “cool” aspect of it, the label and the brand.  We have become more and more seduced by the appearance of things than by its content. This must be perhaps the golden age for graphic designers as advertisement has outgrown what it sells. In the same way this affects the arts, literature and film. It is not important how true you are to the story or how good the story is as long as it has a “sex appeal” and it sells. In order to sell have an eye catching cover or poster and a sexy subject and you are a star, an artist. Content is disposable, make it seem nice, sexy and appealing to the masses. This is why a colorful corny movie like Scooby Doo has better success at the box office than a lesser known brilliant film like Amenabar’s Agora. After all, most people go to movie theaters to have fun, not to think or learn to think.

Magna Regina (Great Queen) 24” x 25” Oil and gold leaf on wood (2007) by Patrick McGrath Muniz

Real history and Mythology are irrelevant to the masses today and this is quite convenient for established religious and political institutions to maintain their power. If people don’t know their history they will not question the status quo the wonder and why history repeats itself again and again. If people don’t learn about mythology they will never know that their religions derive in great part from mythology. Also what we often call mythology today used to be religion yesterday. In the same way religion today will someday in the future become mythology. When one learns from the past, one becomes aware of what really happens today and others can’t see. One can see hidden connections that most will oversee or refuse to see. As the world becomes more globalized we will see more fast food religions pop up, more consumer goods, more distractions, and more “fast” “sexy” “fun” “Have it your way” products everywhere to make us all happy. The perfect drug for an amnesic society that rarely sees what we are doing to the planet rarely sees the consequences of their actions and that just cares about the moment.

 The Visit 36" x 36" Oil on canvas (2008) by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
It might be a good idea then to establish a drive-in with consciousness. Prayers are good but they seem worthless without proper action. Instead of prayer, send a message quoting history and about our future and what we should do to start changing old patterns and become better citizens of the world.  Good art can do this! Great masterpieces from the past transcend because of this quality.  They can be understood in different ways by different generations. By reading the classics and being exposed to great paintings, we start seeing ourselves and the world around us in a different light.  This would be crucial in order to start making changes in the way we live and consume. But then again a transcendental message in art takes time to read and be understood and no one has time for it in a “fast” “sexy” “fun” car culture society.  Instead why don’t we  drive-thru at  well known fast food place, “have it your way!” and order some blessings with some prayers on the side?

All text on this blog is  copyrighted material© by the artist and author Patrick McGrath Muñiz