I’m getting more and more obsessed with advertising – never studied it properly or fully understood the ins and outs. But when it taps into realities (which tend to extend far beyond the (usually) mundane and even drab products being advertised), advertising is exceptionally powerful. It can bring us up short, force us to think, stop us in our tracks. Consequently, i have decided to inflict my new obsession on my devoted reader(s) every now and then.
Life is fragile, unpredictable, fleeting. We so easily talk about doing something for the foreseeable future – but that is a contradiction in terms. The future is almost by definition (for human beings at least) not foreseeable. These ads for South Africa’s CAPE TIMES remind us of this with exceptional power. They also illustrate how a photograph without a context can sometimes leave us nonplussed; but give it a date or a title – and everything changes.
NEW YORK: 10th September 2001
HIROSHIMA: 5th August 1945
SOWETO: 15th June 1976
THE WHITE HOUSE: 21st November 1963
Here is real poignancy, profound tragedy. Here is dramatic irony in the truest sense – we, the audience, know what looms for the actors on the stage, while all the time, the actors press on regardless, oblivious of their fate. Except what makes these fleeting moments so shocking and unsettling is that they don’t depict the virtual reality of the stage – but the real world of human history.
Why do we persist in thinking that we human beings are the masters of our fate, the captains of our soul (to quote William Henley’s Victorian classic INVICTUS)? Why don’t we simply recognise that life is not within our control, that our lives really are fragile and that actually we can’t live without resorting to the highest master and captain? The Teacher (Qohelet) of old had it right in Ecclesiastes 12 long before the modern era arrived with its obsessions with human autonomy and the power over life itself.
To give credit where credit is due for making these known, here is Cherryflava, the host site i randomly came across through a timewaster called StumbleUpon (a Firefox plugin which sometimes throws up real treasure like this)!