This morning I saw an ad for Heineken Beer that told me in big, bold, confident letters: “You are who you are when no one is looking.”
And my mind went immediately — whoosh! — to nose-picking.
When no one is looking, I do some fairly unpleasant things, including — yes — picking my nose. I take my dumps when no one is looking. I sprawl exhausted on the couch and watch stupid TV with less-than-healthy snacks when no one is looking. I sort the laundry (a solitary task because, really now, who would ever want to watch that?), and I write incomprehensible things (also comprehensible things, but right now I’m only talking about the unpleasant stuff), and I stare at people out of sheer, rude, unbridled curiosity, when no one is looking. I also tend to sleep when no one is looking.
Are you calling me a nose-picking, shit-taking, sleeping person, Heineken??
I suppose I also read enlightening books, listen to good music, and think loving and constructive thoughts in the privacy of no-one-looking, but much of my best stuff happens when someone is, in fact, looking — or at least when my socialized mind provides a perceived Someone Out There. I’m pretty sure that I help little children, am kind to animals, work for social justice, park legally, and shovel my walk because I was taught that this is what stand-up members of society do. Whether or not the eyes of society are physically on me at the time. We are social creatures, whether we always like it or not, and our better angels usually appear when the people around us are not only looking, but they’re looking for help, respect, or love.
It also bears noting that some people do truly dreadful things when no one is looking. They drink too much. They cut themselves. They steal from the convenience store. I would hate to reduce them (or any other less-than-perfect person) to the things they do when they are at their lowest ebb and no one is looking — as Helen Prejean, the nun best known for her death row ministry, once said: “People are more than the worst thing they have ever done in their lives.”
Of course, I’m pretty sure that the folks at Heineken and their ad agency had none of this in mind when they came up with this copy. I’m pretty sure they were focused on the fact that most of us feel at least some level of discomfort when out in company, most of us make stupid social mistakes, and most of us are harshly and unfairly judged more often than we deserve. And thus, most of us deserve a frosty brew that will tell us that: “Hey! You are Oh-Kay! [insert imaginary thumbs-up here]. ” Or so they imagine.
I suppose I should note, in the name of full disclosure, that I don’t, actually, drink (other than my semi-annual G&T that makes me tipsy by the time it’s half-way gone and makes my ears flush a brilliant red). Thus, this ad was not directed at me. At all.
But there it was, plastered on a bus-shelter, and honestly, gentle reader? It bugged the crap out of me. Because it was just stupid.
If I ever drink another beer in my life, it will not be a Heineken! I’m done!
I said: Good day, sir!
Amusingly enough, as I was Googling the copy for this ad to make sure I got it right, I found this other blog entry — on a blog called “the rambles of my headspace,” no less! — about the very same ad, excoriating it for tapping into “the powerful modernist myth of dualism, into the idea that there is a true self, a soul perhaps, that lurks beneath the facade of our daily lives,” because: “You are who you are all the damned time….If we deny these things, bad things, good things, indifferent stupid damned things, then we deny ourselves more than half the time. This world is it. This is what we have.” And so, I feel an entirely pleasant, un-beer motivated moral obligation to say: Yes! This too!