I purposely saved this gem by Sut Jhally as a post-Christmas article fearing I might upset the herd during the apex of our consumer culture celebration(s) now that spending money is our patriotic duty.
However, being something of an anticonsumer, I find articles such as these highly illuminating in the “big picture” geopolitical sense as they shine a cultural light into places few want to see: a place where marketing, advertising, and behavioral/social psychology professionals deploy a vast array of “neural trickery” to persuade us to buy sh*t we don’t need.
(Note: this article hits a nerve more severely if you’re staring at a pile of gifts (as I am) that you don’t need, didn’t want, or were purchased by those who would have felt guilty had they failed to buy you “a little” something.)
Here’s a brief snippet…
20th century advertising is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and its cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it.
So central is consumption to its [capitalism’s] survival and growth that at the end of the 19th century industrial capitalism invented a unique new institution — the advertising industry — to ensure that the “immense accumulation of commodities” are converted back into a money form.
The function of this new industry would be to recruit the best creative talent of the society and to create a culture in which desire and identity would be fused with commodities to make the dead world of things come alive with human and social possibilities.
And indeed there has never been a propaganda effort to match the effort of advertising in the 20th century. More thought, effort, creativity, time, and attention to detail has gone into the selling of the immense collection of commodities than any other campaign in human history to change public consciousness.
One indication of this is simple: the amount of money that has been exponentially expended on this effort. Today, in the United States alone, over $175 billion a year is spent to sell us things.
The downside of reading things like this: once you understand how the advertising and persuasion game of consumerism is played… you can’t unlearn it.
Indeed, ignorance is bliss.