Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Think About Advertisements

A few weeks ago I read Culture Jam: How to Reverse America's Suicidal Consumer Binge--And Why We Must by Kalle Lasn (founder of Adbusters). I had picked the book up in a used bookstore about five or six years ago, and it was already "old" (as far as books go) then. But what I found amazing was that, even though this book was published in 1999, it was not outdated in its content. In fact, it is even more applicable now--in 2011.

We have become a society of consumers who think their electronic gadgets need to be updated yearly (or even more often), their cars need to be replaced every two or three years, and their clothes need to jive with the latest fashion magazines. We're a throwaway society (also called "planned obsolescence"), a society heavily influenced by advertisements. We're a society that is not made up primarily of individuals but, instead, a bunch of robotic people who dress, talk, and think the same thoughts. (See previous post, Think About Thinking.)

This may sound obvious, but the big problem with the conformity in our society is its resulting lack of diversity. As self-evident as it sounds, those of us who fall for the marketing schemes do not seem to realize the potentially devastating outcome(s). Lasn writes: "Cultural homogenization has graver consequences than the same hairstyles, catchphrases, music and action-hero antics perpetrated ad nauseum around the world. In all systems, homogenization is poison. Lack of diversity leads to inefficiency and failure. The loss of language, tradition or heritage--or the forgetting of one good idea--is as big a loss to future generations as a biological species going extinct" (p. 26). If we all try to look alike, dress alike, and talk alike, where are new ideas going to come from?

For my part, I do my best to say "no" to "planned obsolescence." About three years ago I got rid of my 1989 Ford Tempo, a car I had been driving since high school. I literally drove it as long as I safely could. Now I drive a 1996 Taurus, which feels like a luxury to me. It's a good car, and I also plan to drive it as long as I can. Personally, I'm not impressed by people who drive new cars. I'm impressed by people who stray from the norm. If "everyone" has something, I admire the person who doesn't. Of course, I also have to be realistic: I could not be posting this blog if I were using a typewriter, and I might even have trouble if I were still using a dial-up connection. It's true that sometimes we have to change as the world changes. I'm trying to retain some semblance of individual thought, though, and it's often not easy to do.

To show how swayed our American culture is by media, Lasn compares an audience of a sitcom to Pavlov's dogs: "[Y]ou laughed because some network executive in a corner office in Burbank gets paid $500,000 a year to make sure you do. You laughed in the same places that the live studio audience laughed, give or take a little after-the-fact digital modification. The bell rang and you salivated" (p. 38).

Do you like being manipulated like that?

As a society, we are indeed being manipulated, and the marketing is, literally, everywhere we turn. Corporations are deciding our lives with their advertisements. If you want to be an individual and think for yourself, you have to fight back. Writes Lasn, "America, the great liberator, is in desperate need of being liberated from itself--from its own excesses and arrogance. And the world needs to be liberated from American values and culture, spreading across the planet as if by divine providence" (p. 61).

I've gotten into the habit lately of dissecting television and radio commercials and newspaper/magazine ads. For the most part, what I've found is appalling and, while there is always a lot of focus on the negative portrayals of women (and still nothing seems to change...see the post Think About Images of Women), the advertisements aren't just negatively stereotyping women. Nobody is immune to the pigeonholing.

I urge you to think about what advertisements are telling you. Look at how people are portrayed (men, women, children, different ethnic groups). Think about turning the TV off, reading a book, and making your own decisions.

Think about starting a revolution of individual thought.

And that's what "culture jamming" is: a revolution of sorts. To me, it's a revolution to take back individuality. Check out the Adbusters web site to learn more.

Also fascinating is the article/video, This is Your Brain on Ads, which explores the science behind advertisements (neuromarketing) and shows just how aware a person needs to be in order to not get sucked into the consumerism game.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Think About Thinking

I started this blog, Inciting Thought, in part because, based on many (but certainly not all) of my interactions with people, I've come to the conclusion that society (generally speaking) has lost--or, is losing--the ability to think. Some possible contributing factors: the United States' education system, the influence of mass media, and a general narcissistic attitude.

When I read The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (which I also referred to in Think About Solitude, Part 2), I realized that the problem runs much deeper than I had originally thought, and much of our thinking problem has to do with internet and technology usage. Our brains are literally changing, and there's no easy way to reverse what's happening. Carr writes: "Experiments show that just as the brain can build new or stronger circuits through physical or mental practice, those circuits can weaken or dissolve with neglect.... The mental skills we sacrifice may be as valuable, or even more valuable, than the ones we gain. When it comes to the quality of our thought, our neurons and synapses are entirely indifferent. The possibility of intellectual decay is inherent in the malleability of our brains... [T]he farther we proceed down [the paths of least resistance], the more difficult it becomes to turn back" (p. 35).


Terrifying, actually.

The more time and energy that we spend on the internet or using our i-gadgets--checking email, Facebook, Twitter, and/or texting, etc., the less time we spend in a quiet space reading (or writing) for an extended amount of time. According to Carr, in the "undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply" (p. 65). Now, even when we do read deeply, "we do so in the busy shadow of the Internet." Already in 1997, literary critic George Steiner noted that "the silences, the arts of concentration and memorization, the luxuries of time on which 'high reading' depended are largely disposed" (pp. 110-111). Carr states that, while it's possible to think critically while reading on the Internet, it's "not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards" (p. 116).

Carr further cites how reading and writing skills are declining. Between 1992 and 2005, literary reading aptitude dropped twelve percent (p. 146). And, as our reading and writing skills decline, so do our critical thinking skills.

And, then, as our critical thinking skills decline, we become more and more a society of robots...or cookie-cutter cookies, whichever metaphor you prefer. I would argue that self-actualized people know how to think deeply, but when I see so many young people (it's not just young people, but they are the most susceptible) wearing the same clothes, sporting the same hair-styles, talking in the same manner, listening to the same music, etc., I question how self-actualized they really are. It is difficult for one to have a healthy and successful relationship or marriage without truly knowing and loving oneself first. I would even argue that these lack of critical thinking skills are partly responsible for the high divorce rate in this country.

Ever since our reading, writing, and thinking skills have waned--most notably, since the mid-'90s--I've also been aware of a decline in "feminist" (I use the term loosely) thought. I'm not talking about a "men are scum" mindset; I'm talking about women and equality. I'm talking about women feeling good about being women and about women being independent people (not dependent on men). I'm talking about making sexist remarks and stereotypes of women disappear.

If any of you are familiar with author Peggy Orenstein/her blog, PBG, or Hardy Girls Healthy Women, you are familiar with what we--meaning: the above people/groups and any other woman who thinks deeply about the images and issues surrounding her--thinking women are up against. People and organizations such as those three, which try to combat the disgraceful commercial images that stereotype and/or degrade women, are few and far between.

Encourage the females (I'm focusing on females, but, actually, this applies to males as well) you know to think critically and deeply, to read deeply and often, to learn about themselves and the world, to be unique and independent individuals. I see so many young (let's say under 25, give or take a few years) women who "relationship-hop," thinking they always need to have a boyfriend. But one cannot easily learn about herself when she's always connected to another person. People change. I know with certainty that I am not the same person I was when I was 25. I thought I knew what I wanted back then, and, yes, some of my goals have remained the same. But many are different. And, in many cases, the reasons and the processes have changed. I've matured; I've grown. I've read and thought and learned.

And, because of all this deep reading and thinking, I know who I am.