Glitz and Glamour

Ours is a very commercialized society. So much of the stimulus we see in our media, television, sporting events, even performances of the fine arts are laden with images intended to enflame the desire for products or services that will improve our lives. From billboards to public transportation to the countless and irrepressible ads adorning nearly every web page and app, advertising is a ubiquitous presence in our culture.

This is not an article about the evils of advertising, though, nor about the pitfalls of materialism or consumerism.

Over the past few months, most of the inspiration I have found is either in studying the Catechism of the Church or from a podcast called “Clerically Speaking.” So I will admit right up front that the basis for what I’ll write here is from some of their discussions.

In this instance, the contemplation is on the difference between the images we see presented in advertisement and those we see in truly great and memorable works of beauty. Both in aim and in origin, the appearances often belie the purpose of a given work.

There is a vast difference between attractiveness, say in advertising images, and beauty. The perfection we see in pictures of models showcasing a product—and this we know these days—is often modified to remove blemishes, to grade the colors just so. This is not a new practice, by any means. Thirty years ago, even promotional images for restaurants were known to use plastic food lookalikes.

Why, though, would such things be done? Shouldn’t we be drawn to the genuine article? Why the pairing of attractive, happy people with a brand new truck or car?

The truth is that we are dissatisfied on a deep level with ourselves and our lot in life, and ads speak to us on that level, of a desire for a life that is happier and fuller than the reality we experience. However, an even more uncomfortable truth is that the fullness of life for which we pine, and that these advertisements portray, is unattainable—that deep happiness and sense of satisfaction of heart is unavailable in this life, but for fleeting glimpses.

The example of Christ shows us a very different message than advertisements, however. Most advertisements sell us the hope of a better life through idealized settings, perfect lighting, people too beautiful to be true. Christ offers us hope for a peace that requires sacrifice.

It is often said that the artist suffers for his art, and that great art only comes about through pain. This is the testimony of Jesus. The beauty for which we long comes at a cost. The hunger we all carry for a fullness of life we can never quite put our finger on is filled by a love that truly perfects us deeply—not only at the surface, not merely in imitation of joy.

Glitz and glamour are not beauty. Glamour puts a perfect veneer on something gravely imperfect. Glamour artificially removes anything that detracts from the ideal appearance. Glitz is quick fixes, cheap solutions, a fresh coat of paint, and a spit shine. Glamour teases us with the hope of perfect happiness in this life.

Beauty, though, is costly. True beauty takes time and patience—the great cathedrals of the world were built over the course of hundreds of years. A stunning sunset is a symphony of conditions coalescing in a moment and framing in our eye a perfect harmony of color and light, sometimes with sound and sense as well. The beauty of nature and of great art is the result of pain and brokenness.

A glorious tree only grows from the seed that falls to the ground and dies, only to rise and flower in a beauty that wasn’t possible for the seed to attain without experiencing the pain of death.

The beauty we see and experience is indeed the hope of a perfect happiness, but which lies beyond the gate of death. Beauty is the ache for heaven made visible.

David Dunst
Director of Music and Liturgy

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