06 April 2007
Millions of Cats
Author/Illustrator: Wanda Gag
A lonely couple decides that they want to get a cat. The husband heads off into the countryside and comes upon a hill that is covered with millions, Trillions, BILLIONS of cats! Unable to pick a favorite among the throng of adorable kitties, the couple asks them, "Who is the prettiest?" Bad idea. In a storm of unspeakable violence, the cats proceed to kill eachother off as they attempt to prove their superiority. After the fight, there is only one lone unassuming kitten left. This particular little kitten survived because she was too modest to promote herself, thereby managing to stay above (or below) the fray and escaping the deadly competition.
This story sheds light on a particularly relevant problem in today's information saturated world--the rise of the internet has created a million cat conundrum for every citizen with access to a computer. As we set off on our search for information, how are we to choose between the infinite sources of data? With so many options at our disposal, how can we possibly know who's voice deserves our attention? Are the overwhelming number of alternatives dooming us to a life of paralysis through indecision? Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Is there anything we can do?!
The answer is simple: Advertising. That is where Gag's book gets it wrong... marketing and self-promotion are actually the simplest way to make sense of this crazy world. In a world of infinite choices, it is up to marketing to manufacture a hierarchy and tell us who to pay attention to. Who has the best commercials? Who has the catchiest jingle? Who's video travels the information superhighway the fastest? We don't have to find the best option, the best option will find us! In today's world, that quiet little kitty wouldn't have stood a chance. She would never get noticed--for all intents and purposes, she would not exist. Sure, this system isn't exactly fair, and it does makes your soul cry just a little... but we might as well face the facts: Advertising is the new religion, self-promotion our saving grace.
For those of you who are skeptical about the connection between advertising and religion, I present you with Exhibit A: Jesus. Regardless of your religious affiliation, there is no denying that Jesus is, by far, the most successful spokesperson in history--followed at a safe distance by Mickey Mouse, Ronald McDonald, and the late Anna Nicole Smith (the former spokeswoman for both TrimSpa and Giant Boobs... may they rest in peace).
Not only that, but (from a purely marketing standpoint) the image of Jesus on the Cross is easily the most powerful and successful example of "image branding" that the world has ever seen. As the first truly transcendent logo, this image virtually gave birth to modern advertising. Without Jesus on the Cross, there would be no Nike Swoosh, no Macintosh Apple, no IKEA Furgenzihooven. The Christian God is the Michael Jordan of advertising. And Christianity is the Nike of religions.
As a point of contrast, consider Buddhism. The name brand recognition of Buddhism is so tenuous that lightweights such as Cypress Hill and legions of Phish fans were able to use the Buddha as a symbol for marijuana. Have you ever seen a religion so brazenly disrespected? Do you think Jesus would tolerate being the spokesperson for heroin? Can you imagine Mohammed on a trippy dorm poster celebrating crystal meth? Or a Vishnu shaped hooka*? No, Buddhism desperately needs to work on its marketing strategy. In the hallowed halls of divine advertising, if Christianity is Nike... then Buddhism is the New Balance of religions.
*I actually can see this happening. If someone does make a Vishnu shaped hooka, I want my cut of the blasphemous profits.