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A powerful and humorous look at vanity in a commercial.

August 23, 2013

Most people associate the word “vanity” with an excessive concern or pride in ones appearance, or sometimes with ones own qualities. But at its root the word “vain” or “vanity” refers to emptiness. To say that something or someone is “vain” is to say that it, or they, are empty or largely lacking in meaning, depth or substance.

It makes sense that people get worked up about externals when there isn’t much happening on the inside. And thus it makes sense that we connect emptiness (vanity) to excessive show.

There are lots of expressions that enshrine this connection:

All form and no substance
That Texan is all hat and no cattle
All bark and no bite
All booster, no payload
All foam, no beer
All sizzle and no steak
All talk
Show me the money

The Wisdom Tradition in the Bible, especially the Book of Ecclesiastes, speaks of vanity at great length. And there the word tends to refer to the ultimate futility of whatever this world offers, that the world is ultimately empty and vacuous. For example –

Eccl 2:11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Eccl 5:10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.

And thus the world which so mesmerizes our senses shows itself ultimately to be empty of power, or any lasting substance:

We have here, no lasting city (Heb 13:14).

As for man, his days are like grass: or as the flower of the field. Behold, he flourishes. But the wind blows and he is gone; and his place never sees him again. (Ps 103:15-16)

I thought of these notions of vanity when I saw this admittedly very funny commercial. It shows a man concerned only with his appearance. Actually, he is even more vain than that! It is how he smells that concerns him (this is an Old Spice commercial). He is so vapid, so vain, that even if he doesn’t look good, at least he smells like some one who looks good!

As he moves through the scenes of the commercial he becomes increasingly devoid of substance (literally)!

Symbolically we can see him as the vain person who goes through life carelessly, paying no attention to the way in which the world, the desires of the flesh, and the devil strike at, and eat away at him. But again, never mind all that, at least he smells like some one who looks good! His only real substance is to be lighter than air, a whiff. It is form over substance, impression over reality. It is empty show, it is vanity on steroids.

Here is a humorous look at vanity, a vanity so vain that it exists even beyond appearance and extends into the vapid, vacuous and vaporous vanity of merely “smelling like some one who looks good.” A remarkable portrait really of the empty show that vanity ultimately is. Enjoy!

Comments (9)

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  1. Candida Eittreim says:

    LOL! Sorry, but i know men like this. All appearance and nothing else. How vapid and demeaning is this thing called vanity.

  2. Deacon John M. Bresnahan says:

    Your choice of the image of a skull as a reminder of the dangers of vanity is quite appropriate. In the Middle Ages sometimes skulls were put in paces of prominence in monasteries to remind the monks of where we are all headed. I think the phrase used to describe such skulls was “Memento More” (Remembrances of death). One story has someone asking a monk about a skull positioned prominently on a table in the abbot’s office. The inquirer was told that the skull was their abbot.
    Now we avoid at all costs to think about death. Many today would rather dive into a pornographic movie or drown in a six-pack, or gorge oneself on steaks and fries than face thinking about death and judgment.
    People today are afraid to radically follow Christ . After all, we have been brainwashed by thousands of hours of advertising that choosing the right material goods will bring us salvation in the future–and infinite pleasures in the here and now.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I think about my own death daily. “Now and at the hour of our death..” This keeps me away from my tendency towards vanity & workaholism and keeps me focused on eternal salvation and my children.
    Thank you for posting that funny yet disturbing commercial, Monsignor.

  4. Robert says:

    I think it would be more beneficial to write about the virtues and the best
    way of obtaining them.

    • Theophilus2 says:

      I don’t know if he’s done so specifically in the past (how do discuss virtue sans vice?) but it seems to me that humility (vanity’s antithesis) is necessary in obtaining all other virtues.

  5. RichardGTC says:

    I think the guy in this commercial should get together with the woman in the other commercial you posted, the Toyota commercial where the beautiful woman turns out to be some kind of monster. They would make a pretty good team.

  6. Mark O'Neil says:

    1 Corinthians 2:14
    “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

    It is the spiritual things that do not end in vanity for they reflect the very nature of God’s character and God’s economy. We were created for this very purpose, to reflect God’s character and God’s economy…and God is pleased when we walk according to His Holiness. Be holy for I AM Holy. Be righteous for I AM Righteous. Be a living sacrifice for God is Our Living Sacrifice in Christ.

    Matthew 6:32-34

    “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

  7. Mambee says:

    Monsignor, I really admire the way your use of the digital world to teach , and using the commercials, contemporary music, etc as parables .. I am so very comfortable forwarding these messages to others who might not , otherwise, hear God’s word…..
    The computer and the internet have the potential for good and for evil ….. Thank you for sharing your talents and gifts ….

  8. Miguel Salinas says:

    The explanation of vanity is impressive and I was able to derive certain lessons most specially the illustration of a woman facing the mirror with an image of a skull which reminds us to prioritize more on what is internal and not what is external.