Most people associate the word “vanity” with an excessive concern or pride in one’s appearance or sometimes in one’s qualities. But at its root, vanity refers to emptiness. To say that someone is vain is to say that it he or she is 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) with excessive show.
There are many 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 and no payload
- All foam and no beer
- All sizzle and no steak
- All talk and no action
The Wisdom Tradition in the Bible, especially the Book of Ecclesiastes, speaks of vanity at great length. In it, the word is usually used to refer to the ultimate futility of what this world offers because the world itself is ultimately empty and vacuous.
- 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 2:11).
- He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity (Eccl 5:10).
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).
These notions of vanity came to mind when I saw this admittedly very funny commercial. It shows a man concerned only with his appearance. Actually, he’s even more vain than that: it’s how he smells that concerns him (this is an Old Spice commercial, after all). He is so vapid, so vain, that he thinks that even if he doesn’t look good, well at least he smells like someone 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 he doesn’t worry about that because at least he smells like someone 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 extreme that it goes beyond appearance and extends into the vapid, vacuous, and vaporous vanity of merely wanting to smell like someone who looks good. It is a remarkable portrait of the empty show that vanity ultimately is. Enjoy!