“Ads ask us to choose and construct our identities out of our consumption choices” (Goldman & Papson pg. 85).

What happens when an ad is dealing with a product that plays a very large role in identity construction, and carries a particularly negative general stigma? How can the advertisers go about trying to change that stigma, while highlighting some of the ideals of that product that are tied into that stigma? What if the product was a religion? All of these questions are very pertinent while analyzing the Church of Scientology’s Super Bowl ad. To answer them, we need to take a look at what this commercial attempts to convey about the Church of Scientology and it’s followers.

The first thing that sticks out while watching the ad is the lack of a religious tone or religious imagery. If you didn’t know what you were watching, it’s very conceivable that one may think they’re viewing an ad for a university, especially considering the fact that there’s several shots that seem to have taken place in a college setting. There are no mentions of any actual beliefs, traditions or rituals associated with the religion. In fact, the ad goes out of it’s way to note that “the fuel of your power is not magic or mysticism, but knowledge.” Instead, the ad attempts to interpolate us by pushing the general normative idea of the pursuit of knowledge. Because the pursuit of knowledge is an idea that most people are readily familiar with because of other cultural texts and societal influences, attaching Scientology to it can act as a normalizing agent for the church to be viewed through. To utilize Goldman & Papson, by implying the normative value of pursuing knowledge, the ad “strips out-extracts-the essential political ideology that initially drove the expression of these discourses. What is left is surface” (pg. 91). In other words, the ad removes the stigma of the beliefs and practices of Scientology by glossing over them with the acceptable ideal of pursuing knowledge.

Another aspect of the ad that really jumps out while watching it is how diverse it is in terms of people featured. Within the ad there are young people, old people, people of many different races and walks of life. There’s “rebels, artists, free thinkers, and innovators.” The ad is attempting to construct a world (a concept we discussed in class while reviewing G&P) in which anyone can join and ascend the Church of Scientology. By doing so, the ad is disguising some of the inequalities in terms of the religion’s accessibility, as it generally takes tens of thousands of dollars to progress far into the religion.

As we discussed in class after reading chapter 3 of the textbook, the state of the market and production we live in today allows us to choose a lifestyle for ourselves. However, once we’ve chosen that lifestyle, we’re responsible for our image that comes from choosing it. The Church of Scientology recognized this and attempted to smooth over some of the fears people may have about preserving a positive image if they joined the church by attempting to normalize the image of the religion. In doing so in this ad, they resorted to generalizing the ideals of the movement and simply refusing to acknowledge the rituals and beliefs that some may find off-putting. They also created an unrealistic idea that anyone can join and succeed within the church, regardless of their current situation. No matter your views on the religion, it’s pretty obvious that this ad is an attempt to normalize the image of the church and to attempt to reach out to as many possible converts as possible.

By Joe Einsig

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