Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thoughts on Remy Martin's Ad Campaign

"Things are getting interesting..." This ad campaign FASCINATES me. The image to the right graces a billboard in Jersey City that I see all the time. Commuters from Jersey to NYC see it just before they get to the Holland Tunnel. The first time I saw it, the message blew my mind. It seems to be saying, "These girls might kiss...or at least touch each other. You know why? They're DRUNK!" The message is clarified (and made weirder) by the ad that plays, animation style, on the wall of the PATH on the way into the city. Two women get closer and closer, grabbing each other's necklaces, and generally acting like they're about to tear each other's clothes off. This ad features a creepy guy, hanging in the background, watching the proceedings. "Things are getting interesting...because these girls are DRUNK!"

So what is going on here? Are there theological ramifications here? Does it have human nature implications? I had a friend in college who suggested to me that drunkenness brings out the true nature of the drinker. I argued, at the time, that one's self-control, one's ability to censor oneself, is integral to one's "self." I've changed my mind about that.

Michael Richards and Mel Gibson, who both went on racist rants while drunk, claimed that they're "not really like that." They don't really have those feelings, etc. However, the rest of us suspect differently: we suspect that Richards and Gibson are actually racists, or at least harbor some racist feelings, and that the drunkenness lowered their ordinary defenses against the "real" them.

So this begs the question: who is the real you? Is the real you the one that you hide from the world? Billy Joel's Stranger? Or is the hiding process, the self-censorship, an important part of the real you? As a minister, and a Christian, I feel compelled to ask about the theological implications. It goes a long way to showing you my mania that I begin thinking theologically about a billboard on the highway. Christian theology suggests that the real you is the stranger that you keep hidden from the rest of the world.

Romans 3:10-12 says, "As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
Jesus talks about this, too: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean" (Matt 23:27).
As stringent as this sounds, all it's really saying (for our pithy purposes) is that the drunk you might be the real you. There are good reasons to cover it up, but Remy Martin seems to be encouraging you to let it out. Remy Martin is appealing to Freud's id, to the basest part of all of us, the one who wants to see what two attractive people will do to each other when too drunk to stop themselves.


  1. I buy that the "real" me is the one that gets let out when I've lost inhibition. Question is then what is the part that was holding it back? I've been thinking about this lately. I would say I believe in total depravity, that I am incapable of good on my own. Then what is the part of me that tries to hold back the "real" me, cause it's not all good either...

  2. Yes! It seems like the part of you that's holding the "real" you back is still part of the real you. It's the part that's embarrassed about itself, and doesn't want others to find out. No, it's not all good...it acts completely selfishly, I think.

  3. Agreed. The reason's I hold my "real" self back are to save face, make other people happy so they like me, act honorably so I can advance in my career. Selfish.

    I'm wondering if Remy Martin would be willing to take responsibility if people do exactly what they're encouraging people to do. The "real" us isn't all "harmless" sexual encounters.

  4. Where is there a place for God's recreation of the person to be seen in their actions? I don't think for someone who has the Holy Spirit inside them the case is so clear-cut. Some parts of Romans comes to mind:

    (7:6)But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.( :20) Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (7:24-25) What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord! (8:10-11) But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

    I see here a complicated mixture of sinful dead body and righteous alive spirit. And I think who we are had something to do with both (the mechanics of which are beyond me right now). So I am not convinced (in the case of someone in whom Jesus' Spirit lives) that our basest self is truly 'who we are.'


  5. I hate to fall back on Luther, but it's so SATISFYING! Luther rejected the "complicated mix" (although it's a perfectly appropriate term for the passages you quote) being who we are. He defined humans as "simul jusus et peccator" or "at the same time justified and sinner." This was the only way he (or I) could make sense of Paul as you quote him. In that sense, it's perfectly true that who we "really are" cannot be simply equated with our basest self. However, as we live in and engage with the world, a broken place, it seems like our broken selves (our "peccator") is more often in control than our justified selves. The way I know the Holy Spirit exists, though, is those brilliant pin pricks of holiness in action punctuating the dark night of human existence.

  6. What do you see as the difference between "simul jusus et peccator" and "complicated mix"?

  7. Well, I guess I was making the assumption (I like to live dangerously) that by "complicated mix" you meant that we are some percentage of both things, and that that percentage might change. Luther's argument is that we are always 100% sinner and always 100% justified. The two sides aren't fighting for dominance...they've both won, just on different planes, if you will. Sorry for the touch of metaphysics...

  8. I see what you mean by the 100%/100% classification. Again, I don't have the mechanics of that statement down. But I already believe Jesus is 100% God and 100% man, so I have a precedent in some sense. So I'll accept I was mistaken in saying before 'our basest self is [not] truly who we are.' Maybe what you are talking about is the type idea Paul has in mind when saying he is chief among sinners.

  9. Yeah...the idea came from Luther's reading of 1 Corinthians, when Paul greets them as "sanctified in Christ Jesus" and "enriched in every way" and "not lacking any spiritual gift" before proceeding to chide them that "it is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among [them], and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. And [they] are proud!

    He seems to be saying that the two things are both true, in the context of an occasional letter.

  10. I jive with SJP's thoughts here (and I also equate 'jusus et peccator' with 'complicated mix').

    Certainly, there are times where I pull a 'whitewashed tomb', and my so-called 'righteous acts' are borne out of my own selfishness and sin (saving face, pride, etc.)

    But what about the times when (to my surprise), I find that the aroma of Christ is sweet instead of repugnant, the times when suddenly sin just doesn't sound as... *tasty* as it used to, because Christ has been at work in my heart? God promised Israel he would replace their 'hearts of stone with hearts of flesh' (Ez. 36:26), and His work in this continues today...

    This isn't cause for a self-righteous pat on the back; if anything, further cleansing of our heart makes us more aware of our sin and our need for a Savior (When Paul called himself 'chief of sinners' in I Timothy 1:15, I don't believe this was false humility - but he was clearly not the same man he was before he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus).

    To try to claim credit for Christ's work on my own merit is laughable - but neither can I dismiss Christ's work on the cross - the fact is that in some way (back to your metaphysics, Nick) I am fundamentally a new creation in Christ, because "God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for me, so that in him I might become the righteousness of God." [2 Cor. 5]

    Mary Beth, you are right that you are depraved and 'incapable of good on your own,' - without Christ. Although we know that those who do not know Christ often do "good things", Roman 8 says that these deeds borne out of human intention (just like mine when i'm "being good" for selfish reasons) have no weight: "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."

    There is clearly a difference between general "sinful minds" and the recipients of Paul's letter, though:
    "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you." We are slaves to righteousness, no longer slaves to sin. When we slip back into sin (which of course we will), Peter seems to think [2 Peter 1:9] that it's because we've blindly forgotten for the moment that we don't NEED to sin anymore. Now that we are new in Christ, we actually have the *option* to walk away from our sin, because will provide a way out (1 Cor. 10:13).

    This is all kinds of tricky - but there must be *some* place to put all the Bible's talk about a transformed life through the Spirit (Galatians 5, etc.) without trying to pin it on myself as though it were a badge I could wear.

    Um. Help?

  11. geez, i just wrote an essay without realizing it.

    sorry, kids.


  12. Hey Jason - I hear you, man. My own bias is to be wary of the "I can do good things because of Christ now" idea because it is so foreign to my experience. I feel like the legitimately good things I do are always noticed in hindsight and are therefore easily attributed to the direct intervention of God (Holy Spirit). To the extent that I "do" anything, it is tainted with me, as you suggest.

    I think I disagree with you a little bit about Paul not being the same man after Damascus that he was before. Certainly his eyes had been opened, but he still felt that his thoughts and actions were beyond his control (Rom 7) and still struggled with a thorn in his flesh (2 Cor 12). I feel that this is just so true to human Christian experience. The reason we're so surprised by the Ted Haggards of the world is that we forget that the thorns and the lack of control don't leave with salvation.

    I think the most important thing (and you must forgive my pastoral knee jerk here) is to avoid talking too much about the "place to put all the Bible's talk about a transformed life through the Spirit," because we, by our very nature, ALWAYS (despite our protestations that we won't) "trying to pin it on ourselves as though it were a badge we could wear." This is the human predicament. As a preacher, I find that if I trust the Holy Spirit to create that transformed life in people (it's called fruit, a very passive metaphor), then it actually happens. As soon as I start talking about what that fruit might look like in a Christian life, I squelch it, especially for those people who aren't displaying that particular fruit. Does that make sense?

    Apparently, I'm into the essay-writing, too!

  13. Is it then a hallmark of Paul's writings' divine inspiration that he did spend a good deal of time writing about what those fruits look like? Because I think we would agree on the belief that Paul did not squelch the Christian life when he described it. Of course, if you are saying that you are different than Paul in that regard, I might accept that ... and also put myself in your camp. I wholeheartedly agree with wanting to 'avoid talking too much' about these things.

    Also, are we sure that fruit is a passive metaphor? Growing fruit is the main thrust of a fruit-bearing plant's existence because it is the only way for the plant (collectively) to survive.

  14. SJP - I've always thought that I should be with Paul, you know? Rough to think I know how to pastor better than him. I do think that I set it up differently than he does. He seems to go about preaching the Gospel (one-way love to sinners because of Christ) sans strings, and then talks about the Christian life. I do the opposite, as I find talking about the Christian life always brings judgment on Christians, who then thirst for the Gospel. We would agree, I think, that Paul is speaking DESCRIPTIVELY rather than PRESCRIPTIVELY in his discussions of the Christian life, i.e. not telling the people how to be righteous but describing what a righteous life looks like. Of course, a description can easily be heard as a prescription, eh?

    As far as the passivity of the metaphor goes, I always come back to this little parable of Jesus: "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."

    Then, of course, there's the parable of the sower, where the seed is completely captive to the aim of the sower.

  15. Oh, that little parable is Mark 4: 26-29, and is immediately preceded by the Sower.

  16. Good points from the parables. I see what you mean.

  17. Sorry to start things up and then jump out. I'm glad to see discussion has continued :)
    Sadly my brain, and eyes, are strained from a crazy week so far so I'm not going to add much in the way of conversation pieces but let me see what I can do...

    Nope, I've got nothing.

  18. Hey nick!

    Thanks; yes, I see what you're saying - and I don't want my words to be mistaken for saying that I think we can "rise above" our sinfulness, or something. Sinfulness/depravity is an "either/or" state, and clearly I am "either" until Christ returns and brings about the "or".

    I think that just as you are (rightly) cautioning against talk that could lead to a warped sense of self-righteousness, or a hope that any of us could EVER on this earth "stop sinning"... I am cautioning against the other extreme, despair in the idea that Christ is powerless to transform a heart because our 'base sinfulness' is somehow so wretched that it is more powerful than the cross and the empty tomb.

    I would say Paul was "different" post-Damascus, not because he became (or could then become) "a better man" - but because in God's sight on that day he became the sinlessness of Christ. Paul's flesh: still sinful, still a slave to death. Paul's spirit: a slave to sin no longer.

    Complicated mix, indeed. :-)

  19. Hey Jason -

    In the end, I'm coming from the place where people's fundamental "problem" is not that Jesus isn't doing enough for them but the need for someone to save them "from this body of death." I don't know any Christians who are despairing that Christ is powerless. His power to save FAR outweighs any feelings I might have that I'm not "changed."


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