Tennis superstar Andre Agassi was only nineteen years old when he starred in a television commercial for Canon cameras. The spot featured him in all sorts of eye-grabbing poses, a spectacle on display before the viewer’s clicking shutter. As the ad closes, he steps out of a white Lamborghini in a white suit to speak his only line: “Image”—he says with a sly smile, pausing, tilting his head down to drop his sunglasses and to reveal his serious gaze—“is everything.”

The ad caught fire. Agassi said that he heard the slogan a couple times a day, then six times a day, then ten, then endlessly. In his autobiography, he recounts his shock. The slogan stuck. He couldn’t shake it. “Image is everything” became Agassi’s image, one he spent years trying to escape. “Overnight,” he said, “the slogan becomes synonymous with me.

Sportswriters liken this slogan to my inner nature, my essential being. They say it’s my philosophy, my religion, and they predict it’s going to be my epitaph.” Crowds yelled the phrase at him whether he won or lost—because who needs tennis trophies when you can lose in style?

The line mocked his tennis goals and minimized his athletic aspirations. It made him cynical, calloused to crowds, irritated by journalists, and eventually sickened by the public gaze. Perhaps Agassi was a victim, not so much of a scripted line but of a new impulse in the age of spectacles. Image and substance were now divorced—because that is what images are: a simulacrum, a representation, an object that makes space between appearance and substance. “In a world dominated by the image instead of the word, interior life gives way to exterior show. Substance gives way to simulation.”

Taken from Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, © 2019, pp.20-21. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

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