Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

US capitalism's culture of consumerism is made possible by modern day advertising

By Otto

Commercialism is an ever increasing part of US culture. I turn on a TV and there is a commercial. I go to watch a Youtube video and I see a commercial. Not only are there print ads on the internet, many have video with sound. We can't escape it.
I grew up in front of a TV in St. Louis, MO. We had five stations. One was the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) then a local station, Channel 11 (KPLR) and then the three main networks, ABC, NBC and CBS.
It could have been argued that TV was free due to commercials. We would buy a set, bring it home turn it on and there were these free shows--minus about 10 to 20 minutes of advertising. As a kid we never watched PBS. Sometimes we watched the local channel in the afternoon for some cartoons. It was the main three networks that we watched the most of. I always found the commercials annoying and I didn't understand their purpose as a little kid. When I finally figured out what they were supposed to be I realized it was cheaper than paying for TV shows.
That was before cable. Now I PAY for an assortment of shows, with many stations of which I never watch. Yet I still have to put up with commercials. There seems to be more commercials than ever and yet we pay for TV.
I was watching a late night show at least two times in the past few years when there were at least 20 minutes or more of commercials in ONE break. Remember we now pay for TV and yet we seem to have more commercials than ever.
Then comes the internet and we have what seems to be even more commercials. They are on almost every page. They often pop up while I am trying to read something and they annoy me greatly. They pop up and annoy me all the time without warning. They appear before videos or before movies start. They are the same ads, often the ones we see all day on TV. Ads appear on clothes, walls, billboards, racing cars, objects such as glasses in a bar, the list is endless. Ads are everywhere and advertisers are learning to place them in new and different places almost daily.
Because of the nature of the internet and free song downloads, most musical groups of any kind now sell their songs for TV commercials. Record albums used to bring in enough money that a group didn't need to sell their songs for commercials. Now I can't count the number of car ads with stylish pop music from the '70s, '80s or present.
I started listening to rock music in 1969, mostly. All through the 1970s I almost never heard my favorite bands playing for cars, shoes or medicines. There are those who try to argue that my generations music just hadn't come to be recognized for its potential yet and a lot of older pop music was already being used from the 1940s and early 1950s.
But there were those who were critical of commercialism and consumerism even back in the 1970s. Frank Zappa was always criticizing things he thought were "commercial"[1] and he used that word in many of his songs. He also used the word "plastic" which had a similar meaning (also means frivolous or shallow). The Beatles would not let their music be used for commercials. There were others who felt their music had too much meaning ("heavy" we used to say).
Today our society has turned such rock music on its head. There are few musicians who keep their songs from commercial use and most can't afford not to. During the 1970s "heavy rock" indicated that the music was to be taken seriously and the lyrics might take on important issues of the day, such as war, violence or hypocrisy in our society.
I also notice their use for such ads as medicines used to keep senior citizens alive. Lots of medicines are being advertised with such rock groups as Dire Straits, for a Farxiga ad.
Does this mean that the "youth culture, music and fashion from the 1970s" are now replaced by senior citizens who listen to past "heavy rock" bands of the 1970s while sitting in the coffee shops? The answer is yes.
Then their is the infomercial. Traditionally sponsors used a popular TV show to act as medium for which the advertiser pitches were placed around. Now a growing group of sponsors or just skipping the popular show altogether for a long commercial that is supposed to be entertaining. The shows are usually made to look as if they were an actual news event, cooking show or just an information show on how to use the product. They often use an audience and interact with the people. Many of us feel they are an insult to our intelligence and yet there are enough people watching these shows that they are on the increase.
Commercials often make the use of sex, celebrities, cute children and they often employ humor or wit. But commercials are not always designed to be popular or entertaining. Some advertisers have deliberately used annoying commercials to get people's attention. A few years ago they had a TV ad, in Wichita, with an annoying loud mouthed "Susie Soundtrack." Almost everyone I knew hated that commercial. And yet a friend tried to work for the company that used her and was told that 'she sells a lot of equipment.'
Repetitions is important to the advertiser. We don't see many ads just once. We see them several times during a one hour show. Most people try and tune them out but the repetition seems to work and it works well even if it is really annoying.
Since advertisement is used to sell merchandise or services it doesn't have to be entertaining. It just has to sell.
A lot of people don't seriously consider that advertisement is not just about informing potential customers of the products. Many companies use techniques to convince people that they need things that they could really do without. This is especially true of car and fast food ads. Do most people really need a new car just because they are on sale or the newest trend? Is fast food about getting a badly needed lunch or about buying more food than you really should ingest?
For the most part the message is to 'buy more than you need, consume all you can.' This is how commercialism or consumerism works and flourishes. Needless to say commercialism and consumerism are a major part of modern capitalist society. It hardly needs to be said that some commercials are deceptive. Some products don't really work the way they are portrayed. But in an ultra-capitalist society honesty is not a necessity. In fact it is rare. People who make claims about medicines they found out they needed may turn out to be actors who are lying about their experiences. Sometimes the lies are so subtle most people don't notice them. Bartles and Jaymes ran ads that implied they were part of a mom and pop operation and made by a small business. But in fact their product was made by Gallo, a mega-corporation. In advertising deception is everywhere.
Advertisers often hire professionals to analyze the audience they want to attract so they can make ads that will appeal especially to them. Beer ads are aimed at young men. They will show a bunch of "the guys" hanging out at a sports event or a sports bar. They often give the implication that their beer can help them attract women.
Today ads try and create a culture around them. American Family Insurance has been running a campaign "TO DREAM FEARLESSLY." They promote the capitalist idea of "the American dream" so they can insure what ever someone finally ends up with. This is more than just selling insurance. They are promoting capitalist culture designed to increase support for its system, that serves the insurance company so well.
This brings us to political ads. Both US political parties rely on the same type of advertising as corporations. But the parties, especially Republicans, have used slick advertising and repetition to convince people that their ideology is fact rather than opinion. They have been very successful. A few years ago they kept saying that 'history shows us that government can't get us out of a recession.' World War II provides history that shows us the opposite. Both Adolf Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt used government programs to put people back to work.
Today's crass consumer society is fuelled by the constant exposure to advertising. We are bombarded daily with messages telling us to buy stuff whether we need it or not. More than just selling us products they are re-enforcing their consumer ideology. While Zappa complained about the frivolous commercialism of the day's music- on the other side of that issue was a lack of substance, of importance, of consciousness. Important issues of the day are neglected for superficial messages from societies idols to just buy stuff.
The main message is to buy things to be happy and content. Poverty, war and injustice can easily be ignored if our favorite pop stars are telling us how to be happy as an individual. The only real purpose in life becomes the quest for health and the ownership of things.
We must produce our own culture that is free of advertising and hucksterism. It is time to expose the snake-oil salesmen of our day. We can't end the consumer culture over-night, but we can expose it and its supporters every chance we get. We can also work hard in our local communities to produce anti-consumer—anti-commercial art and culture.


TracyChapman-Mountains O' Things

[1] Captain Beefheart was rejected, early in his career by Dot Records for having "no commercial potential." Frank Zappa used that quote on the sleeve of his first album, Freak Out!


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