Monday, October 3, 2011

Light of the World- The Joneses


As a lover and student of film, I think Netflix is the greatest idea ever! Of course, there is current debate on the pricing, available content, etc. But, this isn't the forum for discussing that. I watch a lot of streaming content, and try to find films that I've never watched before and some I've never heard of. One recent discovery was The Joneses starring David Duchovny and Demi Moore.

The film is an interesting social commentary that also causes the viewer to examine their own life. The premise is a “family” of four moves into a new neighborhood and lives a seemingly perfect life. They have all the latest toys and gadgets, luxury cars, and high end furnishings and clothes. As the story progresses, we discover that the “family” is actually a stealth marketing team. Their mission is to entice their neighbors to buy all of the things the Joneses have. At first, some members of the team struggle to find their pitch. “Mr. Jones” especially struggles- he quickly learns that selling a lifestyle is much more difficult than selling cars (his previous occupation).

Of course, he finally finds his stride and soon all the neighborhood men chase the dream of keeping up with the Joneses. That's when the social commentary picks up. Subtly but noticeably, we realize that in order to keep up with the family next door, most of the neighbors overextend their credit and are crushed by debt. Others engage in reckless behavior to prove their ability to keep up. Soon, the “family” and the neighborhood spin into chaos.

In the climactic scene, one of the neighbors commits suicide. “Mr. Jones” tries to resuscitate him, but to no avail. As the neighbors gather to console the man's wife, “Mr. Jones” reveals to them all that the entire Jones “family” has been a massive charade intended to market and sell. He realizes that what he is doing isn't making life better for anyone, it's making it worse.

The entire film highlights one of the base problems in our society. We have developed a culture based on acquiring things. Most of us have a desire to have more or better toys than our neighbors. A lot of us have or currently do live above our means in order to achieve this goal. The problem exists at a personal level and extends all the way to the national government. We spend money on things we think will make us happier and in the end, we have a lot of junk we never use and nothing to show for it.

Our natural inclination is to want more and want what we don't or can't have. When I was a kid, my neighbor had a Sega Genesis and 20” TV in his room! I had Atari Ultra Pong and a 13” TV in mine. He had cable. I twisted rabbit ears to get the World Series to come in clear enough. I wished I could trade places or join his family. But as I grew older I realized video games and TVs aren't everything. I needed a DVD player and DVDs to ensure my happiness. When those grew boring, other hobbies and things took their place. As a college student, I racked up massive credit card debt in order to be the guy with the coolest stuff in the dorm. I thought I was happy playing my Dreamcast and watching my movies on DVD. I was until the credit card bills came.

Destroying my credit wasn't near as damaging as the psychological damage debt brought me. In our consumer based culture we aren't considering the psychological consequences on ourselves and those around us. We have become a society based on a credit score to the point there are at least three companies who will gladly take your money monthly in order to keep you abreast of your “number.” We're people, not numbers! I'm apparently somewhere around a “610” which is average according to one company, below average according to another, and “poor” based on someone else's criteria. For a long time, my self esteem and self worth were tied to this number. Now I realize how meaningless it all is. I didn't cease to be because I made a late payment a few times. I am not incomplete because I defaulted on a loan. I have a roof over my head, a reliable car, food on the table, and a few extra things that provide entertainment. Those things don't make me happy. I have a great job that provides a decent income. That doesn't make me happy.

What makes me happy is that I get to wake up every morning next to the one person who is always there for me. My wife brings the most earthly joy into my life. We may not have a lot of money, toys, or a big house (or a house at all!); but, we have each other and that's more satisfying than Xbox or any other gadget. She doesn't see the “610,” she sees the man who loves her and wants to be with her forever. I don't see her as whatever “number” has been randomly calculated based upon her reported financial decisions, I see the woman who vowed to stick it out “for better or worse, richer or poorer.” Trust me, there's been a lot more “poorer” in our time together! We have learned that the key to happiness doesn't revolve around our ledger balances. We have also learned to live within or below our means.

That doesn't mean the temptation to keep up with the Jonses isn't there. We all face it every day. Our friends have bigger TVs, nicer cars, and better housing. We could probably try to figure out how to overextend ourselves to one up them, but what good would that do? Besides, we like living in the ghetto and driving used cars! We've become more comfortable being ourselves. Ourselves are blue-collar, middle American people. We are Motel 6 people, not Four Seasons people. We are bleacher bums not luxury suite owners. It's hard to not want something else, but we've found as B.I.G. did “mo money, mo problems.” We fell prey to a mentality that an increase in compensation meant an increase in standard of living. Our lives are not richer for having done that. We've come to learn that just because we make more money doesn't mean we have to spend more money.

We've learned to embrace the words of Jesus, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” (Matt. 16:26). At the end of our time on earth, we're not going to be able to trade in our stuff for anything. We quit keeping up with the Joneses and started being ourselves. We set our standard of living based on what's comfortable for us, not what someone else thinks it should be. As we pray multiple times a day, “give us this day our daily bread...” we've learned to rely on God to provide what we need for each day.

Watch The Joneses and think about the message.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

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