corn syrup, oil and pizza: commercials for the socially conscious

Jesus asks us to pray a lot and build the kingdom of God by connecting with poverty in ourselves and others.  It’s a messy challenge, especially in our technology-centric culture. To really follow Jesus freely, then we need to shift away from the internet clouds and webs and connect in reality.  But what are we to do when our participation in technology promotes the Kingdom?

Many of my regular heroes are “contemplatives” and activists who have intentionally chosen to not have a television. I find it refreshing to be in homes not oriented around a machine. If I am paying attention when I visit such communities I am initially jarred by the unfamiliar difference in the way the space- and the people- feel but then I realize it is healthier, more natural and very freeing.

Certainly, people may intentionally opt out of television nowadays not because they are opposed to the way it can consume space and community, but instead because it’s cheaper or easier to just use a computer- or cell phone- as the main source of entertainment.

But then there are radicals about computer use, too.  Some of the most radical peacemakers, I believe, include my friends who are so intentional about simplicity that they are very careful how much time they spend on the computer, emailing, playing, and checking on their Facebook friends. Believe it or not these radicals are under age 30 and recognize how technology clutters lives and consumes time that can be spent praying and developing relationships in person.  They choose to write letters to friends and create things by hand as acts of non-violent resistance. What a statement!

I deeply admire radicals who unplug and turn off technology in order to pray and pay attention to God. I want to be like them, but am not.  Instead, I clumsily turn on my television and spend time on the computer.  I wonder why these habits are so real in my life, but I think it’s really because I care about justice very much.

Technology helps me be socially conscious.  I learn most of what I know from the computer and TV, plus the radio, which I frequently listen to through the computer. I am torn. I need to connect with God and people, yet the computer is a tool for witness and connection. And the television is an interesting way to relax and connect with people.

As I gain awareness through technology  I am fascinated by what I observe.  Recently, a few commercials made me laugh aloud with amazement.  Each commercial was directed toward the socially conscious, in one way or another.

The first one was in response to the agriculture policies that cause corn to be the cheapest resource for the food industry (and beyond) in our society.  Perhaps you’ve noticed how many products now say “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” on the labels. That’s not just because people are learning the sweetener is bad for their health, but also bad for the environment and numerous other justice situations.  Here’s the reactionary commercial:

I sighed, knowing that the propaganda would confuse many of the truth-seekers who are overwhelmed with information and aren’t sure who to believe.

I couldn’t find the next commercial that I saw to share with you, but you can probably imagine it.  It was another PR play to make it seem like an oil company, I think it was BP, really cares about the environment more than profit.  You could click here to see a few similar videos.  I was also reminded of how McDonald’s made a video about their values that is so good that it might make you want to snuggle up to them with gratitude for their goodness.  Again, propaganda can spin the truth to help people feel okay about the way they spend their money and time.

The last commercial in the break gave me some hope, and it’s not just because I love pizza.  It was by Domino’s Pizza and about the sources of their pizza ingredients.  This company is trying out a very interesting PR and Ad campaign which admits their food has been awful and needed a re-do.   Part of the campaign includes an on-line game with videos so we can learn about the farms where they get their pizza parts.  This seems good; not enough people know the process of how their food comes to the table.  Plus, I love honesty. But, I am not behind it completely.  Even though it gives me hope that a food company wants to educate its customers about the food industry, I don’t think the success of a fast-food company is a solution to any social problem.

Brothers and Sisters, I seek your input and your advice.   How do you simplify your lives yet remain socially conscious?  Can we be gospel people without commercials, computers and TV in this era?  How do you connect with others in community in prayer, around tables and creatively resist oppression?  How do you do all this gospel work, this messy Jesus business, and remain rooted in the Truth of why we act?