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.)