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 But what I found amazing was that, even though this book was published in 1999, it was not outdated in its content.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.


  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcMQrVCd8dQ&playnext=1&list=PLC3162E6ADA94FE37 ~ archy

  2. archy,

    Love it! Very different from Pete Seeger singing it, ha ha! Thanks for sharing!

  3. yeah, Seeger's version was just, ironic. This version represented to me more of a madness edge. ~archy