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  • Juan Moreno

Wishful thinking rocks (or maybe it doesn’t)



What do advertising, conspiracy theories, James Bond and political propaganda have in common? I would argue that at heart, it is wishful thinking.






It may be stating the obvious, but fundamentally advertising offers “solutions” to the messiness and difficulties of everyday life: a washing powder that is kind to the planet while cleaning our clothes, a restaurant delivery service that makes office workers cheer and sing with happiness, a perfume that make you glamorous and irresistible etc, etc. We take it for granted that all these effects are nonsense, clearly, but at some level we still crave an over-simplistic and magical solution to our problems.

While in most countries it is illegal to make false claims for the powers of a product, the production values of commercials - the beautiful people, gorgeous settings, sophisticated lighting and outpouring of positive emotions subliminally urge us to sense that some kind of nirvana is attainable.

The same can be said for conspiracy theories: confronted with far from perfect world, conspiracy theories offer a seductively simple explanation and solution to the ills that beset society. It is usually in the order of a secret group of people who control everything bad in the world who only need to be unmasked, and by implication, there will be a final reckoning and a global solution. James Bond does a similar thing by showing us one man who can single-handedly save us from secret, apocalyptical criminal organisations. Oh, and Covid was a scam, of course… it never really existed.

On the geo-political front Putin fairly successfully sells the wishful thinking lie to his public that his “military operation” is purely for “denazification” purposes, while in the West I notice a fair amount of over-optimistic thinking, especially on social media about the difficulties the Russians are having. The Russian people naturally want to feel good about themselves and in the West we want to feel things aren’t going well for Putin.

All this manipulation of the truth to favour how we would like things to be is a natural response to the inherent imperfection of the world we live in. So effective advertising treads the delicate line of (hopefully) telling us the truthful benefits of a product while at the same time tonally implying that it is a magical, simple and transformative solution to whatever it is that afflicts us.


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