Your Daily Memento Mori, Courtesy of Ulta

Earlier today, while scrolling through Facebook and minding my own business (well, other people’s business, if we’re getting technical), I came upon this Ulta ad:

Okay. Okay. LET’S UNPACK THIS, as we say in the lit-crit biz.
In one sense, this is your typical “#yolo buy all the things” message. I received a similar message from a Sinful Colors polish I saw today at Wegmans (aka heaven on earth if you like awesome deals on booze and lipstick):
But there’s something a bit more sinister about the Ulta ad. “Life is short.” Meaning what? “We want to keep you alive only until you buy this NYX loose pigment”? I picture someone pacing the Ulta aisles, grappling with a problem that has preoccupied philosophers for millennia: the inevitability of death and the resulting difficulty of living a fulfilled and virtuous life in the shadow of mortality. Who knows when our end will come? Should we seek momentary pleasure or a more lasting good? The Ulta customer paces, she contemplates, she swatches, and finally she decides: yes, I will buy that $5.99 glitter. Why, Socrates himself would have done the same.
I mean, Ulta has no way of knowing this, but I’m pretty neurotic. I think about death all the time. On my ninth birthday, I lamented to my dad that I was no longer a child and had failed to appreciate my youth while I still had it. I’m perfectly aware that life is short; I don’t need a picture of lavender glitter to remind me of it. I don’t know, man. Has the death drive of capitalism finally decided “screw it, no point concealing myself any longer?” Or can we situate the Ulta ad in the noble artistic tradition of memento mori? Is there a hint of melancholy behind the consumerist message? From ancient Roman mosaics…
…to 15th-century engravings…
…to 17th-century still lifes…

…to the image that popped up in my Facebook app this afternoon, artists and thinkers across the centuries have explored the deceptive allure of earthly things. Speaking of which, I blew through my monthly quota of makeup today:

L-R: Maybelline Naked Coral, Sinful Colors Thera-Pewter, NYX Twilight Tint.

I’m afraid my low-buy roundup for March will have to wait until Sunday, because I’m pretty busy for the next few days. In the meantime, THINK ON DEATH.

(And because it’s National Poetry Month, see also Philip Larkin.)

22 thoughts on “Your Daily Memento Mori, Courtesy of Ulta

  1. Life may be too short, but it's also usually long enough to punish you for the #yolo thing you did…Internet ads are sinister. I find it so creepy when a pair of shoes I've been looking at on my work computer pops up on my Facebook on my home computer – using two different Google profiles. But at least Amazon doesn't know whether to try and sell me Gray's Anatomy or that cobalt blue L'Oreal Voluminous mascara. Mostly I get Audio Digest Family Practice ads on beauty blogs.


  2. This seems like a good pairing for those Fiver \”destroying yourself through work is a sign of commitment!!!\” Doer ads. Destroy yourself, and when you realize you are destroying yourself, buy the Nyx glitter because there is no purpose or joy to be had in neolib capitalism, only work and things that will convince you to work more. YOLO meets The Grind, so to speak. Buy the glitter to add light to the futility of existence!


  3. I don't know if this is a coincidence or not, but I was at a Biotherm brand training today and the trainer gave a whole \”life is short\” spiel in order to convince us to sell a $78 serum to our customers. She was very blatant about it, though: she literally said that any of us could die tomorrow and so we shouldn't wait to indulge in luxury skincare. Hahaha. L'Oreal does own both NYX and Biotherm, so maybe it's some sort of freaky corporate strategy…Really curious to see how Naked Coral looks on you – if you end up liking it I think I may have to bend to the universe's will. Life is too short not to buy drugstore lipstick, after all.


  4. First time I comment here, but I'm a long time reader. The sentence about Socrates really made me laugh. He definitely would have appreciated some glitter!I always thought memento mori, at least in a Christian context, was a warning to be good and stay free from vices, not to do all the frivolous yolo stuff, because you never know when you'll die and be sentenced to spend your time in purgatory. But maybe, the tortures of purgatory won't be as horrible when one's got glitter? Sounds like a Kat von D or Urban Decay concept to me. Advertising is creepy.


  5. Non-makeup related, but this post reminded me of when I was buying an armchair for my flat with my mum last autumn and I was holding back tears because all I could think of was something like \”well great at least I can enjoy this nice chair before I eventually DIE\”. Morbid consumerism! I had recently realised for the first time in my life that death is Real and I could actually die any day, so I was feeling quite fragile. Idk why it took me 24 years to have that realisation… Life is full of mysteries.Also, hi, your blog is one of my favourites but I haven't commented before now!


  6. I just had an interview for a temporary position at a college, and I've been getting pop-up ads from that college's website ever since I first looked at it. I cleared my cookies but the ads keep coming. Dude.


  7. It would be soul-killingly depressing if it weren't so funny. Or it would be funny if it weren't soul-killingly depressing. Or something. Though there's no denying that glitter does improve most aspects of existence…


  8. Hmm, I wonder if that is a company-wide strategy. That's fascinating and really, really terrifying. Though with luxury skincare, the pitch doesn't even make sense, since most skincare doesn't take effect overnight. So you have slightly more hydrated skin for less than 24 hours before you get hit by a bus?


  9. For sure, the NYX ad isn't situated perfectly in the memento mori tradition, but then part of the pleasure of looking at a vanitas painting is admiring all the 17th-century #yolo stuff like grapes and bass viols.


  10. I always really enjoy the paintings you show in your posts (the Modern Renaissance review was amazing, by the way). It's great to see how early modern mindsets and all this hip millenial stuff which is seemingly new can be connected in some way. By the way, re-reading my first comment, it might seem as if I'm criticising what you've written in some way/claiming I know it better? I definitely didn't intend to. English is not my first language, so I'm sometimes not sure how to express something. I really love your blog and everything you write about art history.


Leave a Reply to auxiliary beauty Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s