Sunday, April 13, 2008

On advertisements

"Author Joanna Macy writes of a type of despair that people feel when they experience the gulf between the grotesqueness of the world and the business-as-usual tenor surrounding it. At the level of the family, the gap between what a child feels and knows is right and reasonable, and what Mom and/or Dad tells the child is right, can lead to schizophrenia. A similar dysfunctionality can affect an entire society that knows the state of the world is one way, yet is told over and over again that the world is something else. That disparity finds its most powerful and pervasive form in advertisements.
By the time he or she graduates from high school, an American teenager will have seen 350,000 commercials. Children watch commercials at school thanks to Whittle Communication's Channel One, which beams two minutes of advertising for every ten minutes of video "news" piped into thousands of classrooms. The average adult sees 21,000 commercials per year. Of these, 75 pecent are paid for by the 100 largest corporations in America. In fact, corporations spend more money trying to get us to buy their products than we spend on all of secondary education in this country. Besides breathing, what do you do more than 3,000 times a day ? What you do--or, more specifically, what is done to you--is receive several thousand messages to buy something. Not all of these are TV hard-sells. Many are marketing messages on T-shirts, shopping bags, license plates, or even stenciled on your oranges and lemons. The others are billboards, radio spots, signs, movies, newspaper ads, labels on the outside of clothing, or sponsorships at operas and sporting events. When you arrive home in the evening, one of the first things you do is collect the flyers, junk mail, catalogs, envelopes from non-profit groups containing "personalized" letters, and free samples of shampoo hanging on your doorknob. Then the computer-generated junk phone calls start during dinner.
Few of the 3,000 daily marketing messages you receive are by invitation. The fact that we are free to ignore any one particular ad doesn't diminish the fact that the commercial environment as a whole is coercive. We cannot ignore it for it is where we live. There is no other place. With the newspaper readership trailing off, and book reading likewise, TV has become America's intellectual environment. Our minds are being addressed by addictive media serving corporate sponsors whose purpose is to rearrange "reality" so that viewers forgot the world around them.
Advertising is needed to inform, direct, and educate, but in its present form, it is an invasive expression of commerce. Advertising creates envy and a sense of inadequacy; it is responsible for mediocre TV programming because the lower denominators of taste produce the highest ratings; it deceives young and old alike into purchases that are inappropriate, unnecessary, or wasteful, feeding the frenzy of consumption that is responsible for civilization's overshooting present carrying capacity. It is a type of "disvalue", the removal of value from a product by transferring the monies that should go into quality to promotion and hyperbole instead. Mass-market advertising reinforces economic centralization because of the high costs required; it is anti-democratic because it is not designed to allow dissenting voices that challenge the product's value or merits, and serves no social needs. Advertising permeates our souls, and denigrates women, the intellect, and spirituality."

Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce. A Declaration of Sustainability. (Chapter "When an ethic is not an ethic").

This text expresses perfectly what I feel about advertisements. So when French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced at the beginning of the year that he wanted to suppress advertisements on the French public national television channels, I for once had to applaud him. But then I was surprised to realize how many people were unhappy about that, not just people having stakes in the advertisement business, but even some people with whom I share many ideas like my friend Davy (see his post on his blog). Have advertisements brainwashed everybody ?

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