On Hype

Words alone cannot deliver the range of Hype. A good “sales message” is present to all the senses, and beyond language to ideation – to the conceptual interior of thought.

Man is born wanting many things; mother’s milk comes to mind as a first requirement. But at a deep and inescapable level, he wants to believe. I don’t mean this on the religious level, although I will come to that. Our freedom is guided by what we believe, by what we envision, by what we think could be possible.

The ingenious salesman learns how to play with his customer’s beliefs. To say he is manipulating our desires is true, but incomplete. The desires of a cat are simpler than ours, but nevertheless complicated.

Every animal, down even to a fly and below, comes equipped with a defensive wariness, and matching skills. To catch or kill one, some understanding is necessary. We must use our superior brainpower to anticipate its next move. The hunter, or even a fly-swatting gentleman, must master the art of entrapment.

The prey, once conscious of his peril, will use his native abilities to escape. If lucky, he will be more familiar with the environment. With wisdom, and experience, he will know all the tricks.

Hype, in advertising and politics, is a form of hunting. At the easiest level, one is selling exactly what the purchaser wants to buy; perhaps what he needs for his survival; and there is no other supplier. The negotiation comes down only to price. The hype consists only of showing the product.

But most sales strategies must be more sophisticated than that. They go beyond racketeering, or monopoly healthcare. In today’s economy, there will generally be competition, and the more expensive the goods, the less likely they are to be necessary. Demand must be encouraged in some way.

Fortunately for the salesmen, humans are quite imaginative. Their needs may be fairly limited and simple, but their wants can be indefinitely extended. Their motives for buying are extendable, too. Example: we are trying to impress one another.

Does gentle reader, for instance, need a private jet? I should think most could do without one. Does he need a yacht with a helicopter and submersibles?

Assuming that he is what we now call a male heterosexual, hunting for a woman, does he need one who can cook and sew, or would he prefer a supermodel?

Many similar questions could be asked, and the world of “pro-choice” continues somewhere beyond abortion. It is bound together with imponderables, including sin, which might be presented (by an economist) as a price, a form of payment.

As currencies go, money is among the more innocent; I have Doctor Johnson’s authority on that. But he was only dealing in comparatives.


My point will instead be, the efficacy of Hype, and I would turn more to Jonathan Swift for adumbration. His poetical, satirical genius was applied to the depiction of human pretensions. The useful monosyllable “hype” had not been invented, in Queen Anne’s day, or until the 1930s. But if one reads Swift, one will better understand it.

It was founded on “hyperbole,” according to the self-appointed etymologists. As a self-appointed etymologist myself, I would suggest that “hypocrisy” would make as good a platform. But here I am straying into another under-explored region of the human psyche.

I mentioned that we like to impress each other. We all do, and we all lie, frequently according to the pop psychologists.

So, why do we fly our private, carbon-emitting jets (to say nothing of the yachts) to environmental conferences in the world’s most expensive resorts? Note that this behavior is not done subtly, but in full view of the paparazzi.

The intention is not simply to arrive in style. It is rather to show that we can get away with it; that the rules we would impose on the masses do not, and never will, apply to us. We are making a statement not about the environment but about ourselves: that we are much above the other mortals.

Now, this should be screamingly obvious. As a walker, I notice it at the neighborhood level, in the field of parked cars.

One horse could pull you across the city in the old days; ten horsepower could pull a plow across a field, by tractor. Let’s double that for a bigger plow. A contemporary Jeep advertises 804 horsepower. And the last one I saw had a bumper sticker to warn me (a mere pedestrian) against global warming.

We see it and we want it. We want it almost entirely for show. We may never take it off the smooth highway; we may even obey the speed limits. But it should LOOK as if it can go very fast. Hence the streamlining. And with modern finance, we can pay by installments.

So, of course, can the Joneses, and so, we are going to need that jet to prove that we belong to a class from which they are permanently excluded. And our demands for “equality” – our virtue-signaling, and our “luxury opinions” as some wag has dubbed them – are to rub it in.

There is no point in resentment. People are what they are, and we might be too, if we could casually afford it. The poor dream of wealth, and the rich dream of slavery.

“Give up all you have, and follow me,” is a unique sales strategy. Christ was not the only prophet to attempt it. Many have got rich on followers who believed them, and now they fly in private jets. Christ was unique in having nothing to gain.

His sales pitch led Him directly to Calvary. And He promised his followers that if they were faithful, that’s where they would be going, too.

We turn to Him, when we turn away from Hype.


*Image: Eve by Paul Gauguin, 1889 [McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX]

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.