A few weeks ago it was reported that Polish priests were burning Harry Potter books. Their reason? These books promote witchcraft! What is wrong with this picture? Besides the obviously moronic attitude towards books and ideas in general, there is a deeper problem that needs to be further analyzed.
My story starts with a different scandal that erupted recently: A Romanian biscuit company, Ro Star, used pictures of Hitler on its Facebook to sell its product. The company even put a history question for people to test themselves: In what country was Adolf Hitler born?
How are these two events connected? The answer is simple: The ability of the capitalist system to transform literally everything, from witchcraft to criminals to revolutionary politicians, into a brand. That is, powerful symbols that gain an important place in our mind can then be used to sell goods, or to gain fame and power.
What is sad and pathetic about the Polish priests is the fact that they fail to understand that Harry Potter is not witchcraft, it is a money-making machine! Harry Potter branded witchcraft and transformed it into a powerful marketing tool. P. T. Barnum (1810-1891) was one of the first people to understand just how easy it is to sell fantasies to the public – he made a fortune by showing an “150 year old woman” at county fairs – and this why he became famous for saying that no one ever went broke by underestimating the stupidity of the American public. Unfortunately, this goes for all kinds of publics. If this is a PR stunt intentionally made to move our attention away from the horrible scandals related to pedophilia and all sorts of sexual abuses in the Catholic Church, it is a clever move. They are not the first ones to use Satan related fantasies to reach their goals.
In 1993 Mike Hertenstein and John Trott published a book on how Satan himself became one of the most lucrative figures by helping comedian Mike Warnke to become rich and famous! The book, Selling Satan: The Evangelical Media and the Mike Warnke Scandal, was not as successful as the crazy fairy tales Warnke told the American public for decades. He was a celebrity invited onto The Oprah Winfrey Show and Larry King Live, and had the governor of Tennessee declare the 29th of June 1988 the day of Mike Warnke. In The Satan Seller, Warnkle claimed to be a former Satanic high priest and revealed the demonic forces behind the fastest growing and most deadly occult religion in the world. He sold millions of copies and was credited with introducing the “Satan scare” in the US, even providing authorities details on how to investigate occult sects. He was eventually exposed as a fraud, but what is important to remember here is that both books, the one written by Warnke and the one exposing him, can be bought on Amazon.
Satan is good business!
And so is God. A few years ago I wrote an article on how Christian symbols can be used in advertising by analyzing a TV ad where two men throw a priest from a Church tower. The literature concerning the lucrative business of selling God using moral sensationalism has grown extensively. But Christianity is not the only ideology to be engulfed in marketing techniques. Atheism itself became a lucrative business at one point, if we are to believe the story told about Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
There are two possible interpretations of the bookburning that took place: It is either a form of succumbing to irrationality and stupidity and attempting to fight capitalism with sticks, stones and crucifixes, a complete ignorance of the economic forces that produced Harry Potter, or, it is a clever PR stunt, meant to shift the public’s attention from the terrifying wrongdoings of the priests to some evil fantasy characters. Satan is, after all, the perfect scapegoat!
Either way, the problem remains. In 2017, I was asked by a Romanian cultural journal to write about the Russian revolution and how we could evaluate its relevance after one hundred years. I have a very pessimistic perspective on the possibility of a revolution today. The citizen is now a consumer, civic engagement has transformed into consumerism. For instance, if you are preoccupied with animal rights, you refrain from joining an NGO that fights for this particular issue. Instead, to put your conscience to rest, you start buying cosmetics from The Body Shop, since they are against animal testing, as its ads say. And today, the most plausible use of Lenin would be to transform him into a brand. I could only imagine the copywriters going after that idea: The Lenin cigar: Inhale the Revolution! For men with a vision! The Lenin Automobile: Revolutionary driving! It’s so much easier to imagine slogans than ways of effectively tackling the problem of capitalism that is currently commodifying every aspect of our lives. From spiritual to sexual needs, everything has a price tag on it, and the most efficient and almost inescapable colonization is that of our minds.
Maria Cernat is a graduate of the Faculty of Journalism and Communication Sciences (FJSC) (2001) and the Faculty of Philosophy (2004) at the University of Bucharest. She obtained an MA from FJSC in 2002 and in 2008 she got her PhD in Philosophy. She is currently a PhD Lecturer in the Department for Communication and Public Relations at Titu Maiorescu University and at the Faculty of Communication and Public Relations, SNSPA. Since 2011 she has published articles on Romanian websites for political debates (CriticAtac, Cealaltă Agendă, România Curată, Gazeta de Artă Politică, etc.).