I spend quite a bit of time in Panera and thus have ample opportunity to ponder the food propaganda plastered everywhere in the form of photographs, “paintings” of bread and depictions of intently focused artisan bread makers. The tagline above the photo of a steak-and-egg breakfast sandwich reads: “Grilled like no other” and I cannot help thinking of the Deutero-Isaianic refrain that there is “no god like God”. But of course, Panera doesn’t really believe that there is no steak-and-egg-sandwich like their Steak-And-Egg-Sandwich — they just want me to buy their product.
Does advertising have the capacity to be meaningful art? I don’t doubt the skill of the photographers or cleverness of the food artists — it’s well-wrought propaganda: it works. But its end is manipulation — to persuade consumers of the desirability of a particular product so that the consumer will give something in exchange for what is advertised.
Does this telos transcend the photograph’s aesthetic qualities and render it a sophistic ornament devoid of content — a meretricious adornment to an otherwise false and vapid image?
Though perhaps more problematic than its power to persuade (for propaganda is not always fallacious — it may be used to persuade us of something true) is the fact that the thing advertised does not have the power to deliver the happiness or contentment promised. It may be a damn fine steak-and-egg and I may eat and enjoy it with thanksgiving, but the sandwich is not the maker or bearer of joy. My thanksgiving to the Giver of good gifts consummates the eating and transforms it into doxology.
Without thanksgiving, my desire for the sandwich is a dislocation of reality, for I look to a god that cannot deliver; mine is an expectation of nothing from no one. I eat and am not satisfied, for I am only being-within-myself and not being-beside-myself; possessed of atheistic madness.