Signs of the Times? Hopefully Not.

I’m not sure if I’m an optimist or a pessimist. I try not to let the world get me down, but I know that staying positive can be challenging at times.

I recently came across an ad that was a bit disheartening.

It Sucks To Be Alone

This ad for Spence Diamonds seems to be aimed at a newer, more desperate target market. Rather than getting people to aspire to happiness by showing couples in love, it flatly suggests that buying an expensive ring is a better alternative to the retched misery of solitude.

The diamond industry has had to rethink romance before. In the early 2000’s, De Beers, who essentially monopolize the diamond market, responded to the shrinking couples market (caused by high divorce and lower marriage rates) by encouraging women to buy diamonds for themselves.

And it’s true – the ad above isn’t exactly the first time an advertiser has shamed people into spending money out of fear.

But I happened to find this ad the same week I noticed another startling campaign from one of Canada’s major banks:

Invest for your future, because no one else will.

This tagline is part of “Make the next 5 years count” – Scotiabank’s latest investment campaign. It seems just a little harsh to me.

There was a time, not so long ago, when people could rely on pensions. As social services decline, workers are now told that the way to avoid crushing poverty at retirement is to gamble invest chunks of their earnings into the stock market. In fact many are investing money they don’t have – Canadians are using credit cards to buy bonds. Pension reform is a hot topic in Canada now as it sinks in how poor and how burdened with debt the average Canadian is.

Taken together, these two cultural artifacts paint a pretty sad picture. Times are tough, but do we have to resign ourselves to the idea that it’s a dog-eat-dog world? That nobody will look out for us but ourselves? That we’re doomed to be miserable and the only way to make life bearable is to turn our attentions squarely to our own selfish interests?

Commercial culture promotes those ideas every day, but the bluntness of these particular ads struck me. I worry that they are not only signs of the times, but a call for people to give up on each other, and on hope.

I’m not buying it. Firstly, being alone doesn’t have to suck.

Sure, if you do find someone special then express your love with a ring if it’s really important to you. But buy things you value – don’t base your value on what you buy. Or what someone buys for you. You are too precious and priceless to be measured even in diamonds.

Secondly, it’s the holidays and the perfect time to think of others. Even if all you can spare is one dollar, one item of used clothing, one can of food, or one hour of your time – pass it on. If we can remember how to look out for each other, there’s hope for all of us.

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