10 December 2005

I'll Compromise

You know those people who blame mass media for our cultural ills? I'm referring to those who blame drug abuse, teen murder sprees, etc etc on today's movies, music or video games. I'm willing to compromise: I won't blame these important issues on anyone's vision or artistic expression (meaning: music, movies, even video games). However, I'm more than happy to blame advertisement:

I've just read a thought-provoking argument (in the form of a book, Can't Buy My Love, by Jeanne Kilbourne) that advertisement creates a toxic cultural atmosphere in which we are effectively conditioned to think of products as the means to our personal satisfaction. Kilbourne shows how advertisement (using hundreds and hundreds of examples drawn from alcohol, tobacco, food, and miscellaneous product advertisement) promises that our relationship to the products we consume will transform, satisfy, make us feel happy and deeply connected. Furthermore, advertisement normalises disconnection from other people, denial and escapism. Kilbourne further shows how our personal images are distorted by advertisement and she makes the case that advertising's basic message creates a nation(s) of addicts. Rather than draw our lives' meaning from fulfilling work, rewarding relationships, connections with community, nature, and so on, we turn to products (food, drugs, tobacco, alcohol) for our satisfaction.

As an aside, and in contradiction to my first paragraph, I do agree that art affects us, but presumably art does this best when it makes us think or feel. And clearly, popular media does reflect (and steer) our culture, including the worst of the worst of it. However, advertisements are insidious because we don't actually believe they work on us. Furthermore, their effect is more than any one individual act of encouraging us to purchase a product. The effect is the overall enculturation.

It's a good book. Kilbourne was the pioneer in deconstructing gender representation in advertising in the '70s. This book draws upon her earlier work and supplies an excellent taste of that as well.

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