Marketing is sinful and other thoughts

Over on Spec Faith a few days ago, they had this article about Idolatry and Reading-Fandoms.

The gist of the article is this:

I’m trying to imagine a fan cult growing up around the characters of the classic fantasy stories. Would we ever see a Team Gandalf square off against a Team Aragon? Or a Team Frodo versus a Team Samwise Gamgee? How about a Team Lucy facing a Team Peter?

The idea seems absurd to me because Lord of the Rings and Narnia were bigger than the flawed and frail characters roaming through their pages. The characters don’t lend themselves to the kind of devotion we’ve seen in recent years–an ephemeral devotion that is white hot one day, then swept aside for the Next Big Thing.

Yet, I think I understand why fans gravitate to fictitious characters. No one is going to dig up dirt about them. No one is going to snap a picture of them yelling at their three-year-old. They aren’t going to age or get fat. They can remain in our thinking as wonderful as we want them to be. They are, in fact, the idealization of a friend (Harry Potter) or lover (the Twilight trio) or advocate (Katniss).

The problem is, we are idolizing the creature–and a fictitious creature, at that–not the Creator.

This troubled me a lot. After all, I’ve spent over a year researching publishing and marketing. The various aspects of marketing are a hot topic in the indipub and small press circles I frequent. We all want to get our books into the hands to readers. The gold standard is to get a group of people who read your works–a tribe or a fandom. Fandoms sell books. That’s how Fifty Shades and Hunger Games went nuts.

But does that mean that an author is drawing a bunch of readers into idol-worship? I asked,

“So, fandom = idolatry. But what about authors who are instructed to go forth and help create “tribes” and “fandoms” of readers to sell books? Is marketing inherently sinful?”

The article’s author replied,

“Kessie, that’s an interesting question. I’m wondering if there aren’t levels of fandom. For example, I just read an essay about someone who was addicted to football (their words). I could relate because there have been times when I would put sports higher than things God has said–loving people being the most obvious. But does allowing God His rightful place mean I must have no part of sports? Can I learn to keep it in its proper place–not an idol, but something to enjoy?

Can we do that with marketing?”

I thought back to my advertising classes in college. Basically, all advertising can be broken down into appeals to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. “I have something you want! You need it! It’ll make you happy and fulfilled if you read my book!”

So. It therefore follows that not only marketing your book is causing someone else to sin in some way–but you’re tempting them into idol-worship, if they like your writing enough to become a fan.

Just … wow. By this logic, all business is built entirely on sin and causing other people to sin.

In order to sell books, do I have to not be a Christian anymore?

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5 thoughts on “Marketing is sinful and other thoughts

  1. I’m not a marketing guru, apparently, but I don’t think it has to be sinful. Entertainment, while it has its value, isn’t a necessity and if we market it as such, we might go overboard. But I see nothing wrong with offering to meet a need with a good story, and while not a survival need, it is a need some have. A valid need.

    You might as well be asking whether telling people you are selling food that they need is sinful or not. I think it is when marketing seeks to *create* a need from thin air or exaggerate a real need to an improper priority that it becomes sinful.

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  2. I agree with Rick on creating a need from thin air. That’s an issue. But I’m not running around trying to force non-readers to read my book, or readers not already interested in my genre. Book marketing can and should be about finding the people who *already love to read the kind of stuff you write* and letting them know your work has been added to the choices, that’s it.

    Crazy fandom is a different beast altogether. And I’m not sure where that crosses the line into idolatry. I love Doctor Who. I have a sonic screwdriver and t-shirts and recently did a 1,000-piece DW puzzle I intend to frame and hang. I am going bonkers waiting for the second half of the season. I also love Harry Potter. I’ve read the books three times, gone to the theme park a dozen times at least, bought t-shirts and Ravenclaw Christmas ornament, and even made my own “wand.” I’ve seen the LotR movies many times and wear a “ring of power” on my thumb. But I don’t spend my days thinking about Doctor Who, LotR, or Hogwarts. I spend them living my life, yearning to do God’s will in my life, raising my children to love the same geeky stuff I do, but to love God even more.

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  3. Rick and Kat: Thanks for your replies!

    Mostly I’m pointing out the disturbing logic of this particular argument, assigning sin to things people didn’t consider sinful. That’s legalism and Paul had to settle all kinds of fights about it in the early church.

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  4. Interesting points are brought up. I think the key is finding a balance in all things. John says in that passage, For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.
    We who live in the world act like the world. The NLV says it really well,
    For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. John 2:16
    I think you just need to be aware of whom is on the throne. What are your motives and as so often what I have learned, who are you stealing from to get what you desire. I found that in doing my own thing, I stole time from my kids, from my husband and most of the time from God. I think with everything you need to be all there paying attention to what is going on around you and keep aware of what God’s will is for you at that point in time.
    Now being here, I shudder at how I longed for the time to do what I wanted, when I wanted to and how I wanted my life. Well, babies grow up so fast and then comes the time that seemed so far away is here. I am so glad I kept my eyes on what I was supposed to be doing at the time even though I fumbled many, many times. I think living with regrets must be worse than being famous.
    God has a special job that only you can do and if you keep your eyes on Him, all that you desire just falls into you lap, but in His time.
    Sorry, this was so long winded.

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