We are continually being taught, out there, in society. But what are we being taught?
In the advertisments I see, we are taught how, precisely, according to someone, we are to live with each other: how to think, how to look, how to judge others.
I just looked at giant advertisement just outside the window of the office where I write, which depicts a family sitting together at their kitchen table, stupefied before a certain product. We are being taught to identify with the family and to be, like they are, astounded at its qualities.
The particular product in question has, as a product, no qualities whatsoever: it is water, namely a newly produced three liter format for consumption, and what the family is supposed to be marveling at is the new three-liter bottle.
The reason advertising is so despicable is that it is contrived, it has nothing to do with the way people really are, with their spontaneous or natural reactions. Instead if follows a logic of trying to produce profit for a particular group of people, who gain profit by “capturing” our minds and getting us to buy a product we otherwise would not buy.
Because of the ubiquity of advertising, we are bombarded by a completely false sense of the world, and our perceptions of ourselves and of the world becomes determined by these contrived and artificial scenes, rather than the other way around. Perhaps the first advertising relied on genuine social trends and natural human behavior in a given social context. But after generation upon generation of advertising, our perceptions are increasingly based on the vestiges of the last generation’s delusions and contrived illusions. We live in an world of illusions, we no longer even recognize our natural bodies as normal.
Normal, now, is to be the object of a series of consumer actions. We consume rasors in order to shave our bodies of hair for no other reason than to appear “normal.” Back in the day, we didn’t shave and were considered beautiful. Now, to be beautiful, we have to buy razors. We consume scented powders in order to smell like scented powders, now that the normal scent of a body has been condemned, since the recent invention of deodorant advertising, to the past.
Now bodies are not allowed to smell like bodies – they have to smell like deodorant. We consume hair gels, sprays, and conditioners because the appearance of normal hair is no longer seen as beautiful.
We are, in short, entirely constructed by the interests of profit-generating industries, which play off our anxieties and fears by bombarding us with intelligently engineered images that construct our notion of beauty and coerce us (buy me or else…you’ll be ugly!) into making purchases that generate their profits.
These images invade our mind, they infiltrate our consciousness, and they tell us what to do. We’ve seen the looks of disapproval from that attractive other in the commercials and tv episodes, looks delivered to those who did not adhere to the norms closely enough. In the deodorant ad, the man who did not apply the consumer product gets looks of disapproval from the sexy, half-dressed woman near him…because he does not smell like deodorant. Then in the next scene, he applies deodorant and gets kissed…implicitly, gets laid. Every boy is suddenly afraid of the scenario where he gets smelled and smells like a body. And every boy is coerced, by the threat of the being denied sex by beautiful women, into buying whatever scented powder is depicted in the commercial. And the profits roll in, they cascade in like a waterfall, while the public is duped and has to add an extra hour to the workday to compensate for the extra expense (or take out a new credit car; either way the barons of profit are happy).
There are a number of points that ought to be more rigorously nuanced. For example, normal. There is no such thing as normal, since there is never anything outside of society. That is, we are always constructed by social perceptions, and we only ever exist within social relations. We always imagine ourself according to what social experience has taught us, so it is false to imagine a pristine “normal” that exists next to an impure “commercialised society.”
What is worth reproaching, though, and critiquing, is the overflowing advertisements that have come to dominate social activity. The average child is exposed to something like over an hour of advertising or more a day*: over an hour of visual manipulation designed precisely to infiltrate consciousness and condition the child’s desires. And it is only more with adults, whose exposure to advertising is enormous. Furthermore, in the same vein, there is no “normal” hair, no “normal” way of acting with each other, no “normal” way of dressing, that ever exists outside of social conventions.
* See Juliet Schor’s book, The Commercialized Child. Over 15 billion is spent a year just to target, i.e. manipulate, children into buying things (or getting their parent to buy them things). Further, and hardly surprising, children who are massively subjected to advertising (that is, average children) are less well-off, psychologically, than children who are shielded from it.They tend to suffer from depression, anxiety, lower self-esteem. The children’s stuff lobby is growing by the minute. The squealing child “I want that!” is a huge incentive for the parent to spend, and provide massive profits for the seller. Manipulating children is a profitable industry, for sure.