Monday, August 30, 2010
The Most Interesting Man In The World
He once challenged his own reflection to a staring contest. On the fourth day, he won.
Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World
The contemplative life certainly does not demand a self-righteous contempt for the habits and diversions of ordinary people. But nevertheless, no man who seeks liberation and light in solitude, no man who seeks spiritual freedom, can afford to yield passively to all the appeals of a society of salesmen, advertisers and consumers. There is no doubt that life cannot be lived on a human level without certain legitimate pleasures. But to say that all the pleasures which offer themselves to us as necessities are now "legitimate" is quite another story.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (1961)
The believer’s cross is no longer any and every kind of suffering, sickness, or tension, the bearing of which is demanded. The believer’s cross is, like that of Jesus, the price of social nonconformity. It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of a path freely chosen after counting the cost…it is the social reality of representing in an unwilling world the Order to come.
John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (1972)
This is not our usual EasyYolk spiritual-activist post, but because our culture is so enmeshed with the quest to amuse ourselves to death, Dos Equis matters. This beer company, of course, should not matter, but, after pouring millions into creating this "Most Interesting" character, it nevertheless does matter and the creativity of their beer selling campaign even extends to a website that places pithy statements of nauseating masculinity into the mouth of their "Most Interesting Man in the World" (recent example: After his skiing partner broke a leg, he carried her ten miles to the nearest hospital. He then proceeded to break his own leg out of sympathy). Admit it, you know him. My wife and I have not owned a TV in 6 years and even I know him. He's got wealth, women and James Bond-esque sex appeal and most American men want to be him. He's so amazing that he can cure narcolepsy by just walking into a room, he has an organ-donor card for his beard and he once had an awkward moment just to experience how it feels. Is it not too much to say that this beer advertisement, with crafty precision, gives us insight into the American Dream gone haywire?
Those of us committed to The Most Interesting Man of 1st Century Palestine can attest to the pull of macho men pitching drinks (remember Gatorade's "If I Could Be Like Mike," which intuitively claimed that we could be just a little bit like Michael Jordan if we kept buying Gatorade). After all, Jesus once confidently proclaimed to his disciples that "Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35)--that was after he fed 5,000 Palestinians with 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Written some 25-60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Gospels were themselves marketing campaigns for this a new spiritually activist Movement of Jews and Gentiles slowly gaining traction from Jerusalem to Samaria to Antioch to little colonial outposts like Philippi and all the way to Rome.
Jesus was truly interesting. He walked on water and turned water into wine (so good that the servant proclaimed that it was the best at the wedding reception--take that Dos Equis). He healed wretched lepers, demon-possessed freaks living in graveyards and servants of Roman generals. He raised guys from the dead, interupting more than one funeral. He even had beautiful women breaking into his banquets to anoint him with expensive perfume. What a life. But he did not hold these escapades up as the model for the truly human life. That's not what God's Heavenly Reign on Earth was all about. In short, Christianity was and is not about status, but vocation.
Jesus transcended the narcisistic adventure that so many Americans are invited into today through various media. He called his followers, rather disturbingly, to deny self and take up the cross and follow his subversive teachings. They were asked to imitate the way of Jesus. Jesus knew that the "interesting" aspects of the macho life lacked real substance. He compelled his disciples to embody love, service, forgiveness, humility and an unflinching confrontation with the social, economic, political and religious powers that sought status and oppressed marginalized people groups. Only this kind of life puts someone on a scandalous cross, the Roman Empire's most brutal way of executing political subversives. And it goes without saying that, in the end, Jesus was not envied as a "most interesting man," but, like Martin Luther King after his own execution, was seen as either mocked as a radical who "went too far" or deeply respected as a total nonviolent bad ass who would not take hell from anyone.
Still, we can learn a lot from the marketing of Dos Equis' Most Interesting Guy. He's never bored. In our culture that is very significant. Boredom is one of the greatest fears of the American public and we will do whatever it takes to evade it. However, the adventures of The Most Interesting Man consist of creating and sustaining a form of masculinity that is obsessed with image-maintanence and competitiveness that is, in the end, unfulfilling. He is an island with no apparent community. He doesn't take care of anyone but himself and those few people who can actually do something for him. This is a far cry from being the "friend of tax collectors and sinners." All The Interesting Dos Equis Guy cares about is his quest for self-absorbed pleasures in new places with new women (but coincidentally always enjoys the same beer). Kind of sad actually. He's so addicted to being being worshipped by followers who tout his resume and magical powers that he can't seem to look outside himself.
Imitating Jesus in the 21st Century calls us into the Adventure of "the kingdom of God" that he spelled out in word (Sermon on the Mount, parables and direct confrontation with those in power) and deed (the privilege he afforded those on the very bottom of the Palestinian social hierarchy as well as his willingness to die for the cause). In the words of John Howard Yoder (The Politics of Jesus, 1972) he was "a man who threatens society by creating a new kind of community leading a radically new kind of life." What was so compelling (see our next post) about Jesus was, indeed, the way he seemed to throw away his very own life for that which mattered even more than life itself. Storing up treasures in heaven requires a lot of faith, delayed gratification while we actively detach ourselves from earthly attachments that lead to anxiety, addiction and/or entitlement.
Really, The Dos Equis Guy is just a symbol for the pressures of fulfilling the American Dream which drive us into a busyness, constantly scanning our investment portfolios and keeping us awake with mortgage debt and private planning for the next day. What is deeply painful is that, in this era of fragmentation, there are millions of church-going Christians committed to the modern "gospel" of personal piety and individual salvation in a disembodied heaven, while pledging allegiance to the self-aggrandized consumer lifestyle of the American Dream here on earth. We invite Jesus into our hearts but spend sleepless nights trying to keep up with at least some aspects of The Dos Equis Guy. We are all indicted, even those of us who have called the individualized gospel of evangelicalism into question. We are socially-formed creatures who are far-more-influenced by our wider culture than we care to admit or even understand. The early church, though, would not have recognized this brand of Christianity. They were too busy with the Adventure of bringing heaven to earth in the Roman Empire to care about what beer the "interesting" guy on TV was drinking.