Search Term Friday: Axe Body Spray

Search terms that brought someone to the blog:

axe body spray

Yes, I've blogged about Axe Body Spray. In fact I used Axe Body Spray to make a point about René Girard, scapegoating and our contemporary culture of victim-hood. And how that culture of victim-hood is actually being used to cover up victims and perpetuate acts of scapegoating.

From my 2012 post "Why Scapegoating is Like Axe Body Spray":

How is Axe Body Spray similar to scapegoating?

René Girard has argued that prior to the gospels religious myth--the sacred--obscured the mechanism of scapegoating. That is, rather than seeing victims being murdered the ancients saw sacralized violence, violence backed by the decree, plan, and will of the gods. According to Girard, over against that sacred myth the gospels desacralized violence, exposing scapegoating for what it is: murder. As Mark Heim describes it, the gospels function as an anti-myth.

The gospels accomplish this by reading the scapegoating story from the inside out, from the perspective of the victim. As readers of the gospels follow Jesus through the Passion narrative they see that he is innocent. And yet, Jesus is killed so that powerful constituencies can maintain the status quo. The violent mechanism propping up the principalities and powers has been unmasked.

So telling the story from the victim's perspective desacralizes violence, it exposes the powerplays and violence at work when we scapegoat to keep institutional, national, social, political and economic arrangements as they are. And because the gospels do this, because they provide us with an anti-myth, we've come to see scapegoating as a bad thing.

And yet we continue to engage in scapegoating. Even though we know it's wrong.


Well, because scapegoating is like Axe Body Spray.

How so?

You're familiar with Axe Body Spray, right? Axe Body Spray is famous because it is the product behind one of the most successful marketing campaigns in advertisement history. Its commercials are both iconic and infamous. The basic plotline is always the same. A geeky and skinny guy sprays Axe on and the scent becomes a pheromone for hot women who begin to aggressively and lustful throw themselves at the guy.

Because of the success of the campaign Axe quickly became the top selling male antiperspirant/deodorant brand. Axe outsold its closest rival by tens of millions.

And then it all began to go wrong.

I'll let Martin Lindstrom tell what happened:
[T]he brand's early success soon began to backfire. The problem was, the ads had worked too well in persuading the Insecure Novices and Enthusiastic Novices to buy the product. Geeks and dorks everywhere were now buying Axe by the caseload, and it was hurting the brand's image. Eventually (in the United States, at least), to most high-school and college-age males, Axe had essentially become the brand for pathetic losers and, not surprisingly, sales took a huge hit.
The Axe marketing campaign worked too well. It targeted a certain demographic--insecure men--and moved a lot of product. But Axe became too closely associated with the target demographic causing many other men to avoid the product. Only dorks and pimply kids were believed to use Axe.

Axe was hurt by its own success. And something similar has happened to the unmasking of scapegoating violence.

Specifically, once scapegoating became widely recognized as a bad thing, once we started to place the moral power on the side of the victim, it soon became natural to identify oneself as the scapegoat, as the victim. Everyone, it seems, now wants to be the victim. Everyone wants to be the scapegoat.

Why? Because in the wake of the gospels we see a moral power residing with the scapegoat, we want to side with the victim and the underdog. Thus, if you can be identified as the victim you can win people to your cause. It's like what happened with Axe spray. The gospels so thoroughly unmasked scapegoating that everyone now wants to be the victim. Everyone wants to be at the center of the story as the innocent martyr. Nowadays being the scapegoat is the quickest way to demonize your enemies.

This is the argument made by James Davison Hunter in his book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. According to Hunter political discourse in American today is characterized by "narratives of injury" where people on both the Left and the Right rush to characterize themselves as victims. Each group feels harmed by the other. And the great irony here is that this sense of injury creates the justification to scapegoat the other group.

The psychological reversal here is quite startling: Claiming to be the scapegoat so that you can scapegoat others: Claiming to be harmed so that you can harm others: Claiming to be injured so that you can injure others: Claiming to be the victim of violence so that you can inflict violence upon others.

Here is Hunter describing all this, the psychology of victimhood that now describes American political discourse:
The sense of injury is the key. Over time, the perceived injustice becomes central to the person's and the group's identity. Understanding themselves to be victimized is not a passive acknowledgement but a belief that can be cultivated. Accounts of atrocity become a crucial subplot of the narrative, evidence that reinforces the sense that they have been or will be wronged or victimized. Cultivating the fear of further injury becomes a strategy for generating solidarity within the group and mobilizing the group to action. It is often useful at such times to exaggerate or magnify the threat. The injury or threat thereof is so central to the identity and dynamics of the group that to give it up is to give up a critical part of whom they understand themselves to be. Thus, instead of letting go, the sense of injury continues to get deeper.

In this logic, it is only natural that wrongs need to be righted. And so it is, then, that the injury--real or perceived--leads the aggrieved to accuse, blame, vilify, and then seek revenge on those whom they see as responsible. The adversary has to be shown for who they are, exposed for their corruption, and put in their place. [This] ressentiment, then, is expressed as a discourse of negation; the condemnation and denigration of enemies in the effort to subjugate and dominate those who are culpable.
And that's why the unmasking of scapegoating is like Axe Body Spray. Scapegoating has been so successfully exposed that everyone now wants to be the scapegoat to justify their efforts to injure and harm others.

Jesus said to look out for wolves in sheep's clothing.

He was right. In more ways than one.

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14 thoughts on “Search Term Friday: Axe Body Spray”

  1. Great post, and quite timely considering the remarks are Charles Macheers in relations to the reactionary anti LGBT legislation about to be made law in Kansas:

  2. It's as if we've forgotten "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Are we not just as much crushed by the burden of playing the judge as the wounds we receive as victims?

  3. I'm not sure if I'm reading you right. So there is "a moral power residing" with the victim, but this moral power dissipates if the victim engages in resentment against the scapegoater(s)? I understand that claiming "victim" doesn't make it so (and such has been a political and social strategy of some), but surely there are true victims (and they're not SWPL people who dine at chic-fil-a). In other words, there is such a thing as solidarity of the injured party that may justly seek justice.

    Something in that Hunter quote bothers me, but it's a short quote without greater context, and I haven't read the book.

  4. I think the key is to break the whole scapegoat cycle. The key phrase in the post to me is "this sense of injury creates the justification to scapegoat the other
    group." We all do it reflexively. The only way to stop the cycle of violence is to stop the cycle of violence.

  5. True enough, but breaking the cycle is harder than simply saying "stop," or engaging in some kind of autonomous decision of human willing. For Girard, we are mimetic creatures; we imitate without conscious consideration of the ways our mimesis involves us in rivalry and resentment. The problem Girard has is describing how our mimetic necessity can disengage from rivalry and group-think for something otherwise (even as it assumes a mimetic repetition -- for Girard, that imitation is essential to who we are as biological animals).

    James Alison attempts the impasse, though I'm not sure he really explains it. Others disagree.

  6. Great Post! the issue is not WHO is in the right or WHO can justify to blame others. What if I decided today: "I am not going to blame others for my situation. I am not going to be the victim. I am going to absorb the mistreatment and hate and follow the Prince of Peace"?

  7. Surely. There is nothing easy about resistance or it wouldn't be resistance. Perhaps in the resistance itself, even if it can't be completely overcome, there is something of value.

    I wasn't trying to propose there is an easy solution, but it seems to me spending time to determine who is the true scapegoats from the pseudo-scapegoats is probably not terribly productive. It's only end could be to dehumanize the 'pseudo-scapegoats'

    Thanks for the link, going to go read it right now...

  8. This pushed me in a different direction.

    The moral narrative of the victim or underdog can also blind us to our own power or privilege. It is attractive to see oneself through the lens of "victim" -- it absolves one of the question of power or of responsibility. The discourse of negation is the natural result. The alternative, how to hold political or cultural power as a servant is one of the toughest Gospel challenges.

  9. Would you be inclined to entertain a contrary view, penned by the black child of an absentee father, a child who spent early formative years growing up in the Philadelphia projects? And would you be inclined to entertain his squarely empiricist viewpoint on how these narratives of injury should be evaluated?

    If not, kindly disregard. But if so, here's just one example:

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