Commercialism rules our world. Like it or not, we are governed, to whatever extent that we allow, by the media. From printed material to the silver screen; from Facebook to Instagram, and Snapchat, and Twitter, and…, we are inundated with what American pop culture deems as desirable and what is not desirable. As a participating citizen, and by using any of these forms of media (and it’s hard not to) we are told what is appealing, what is acceptable, and what is now abandoned. Culture dictates to us what clothes we wear, what Netflix to watch, and even our daily phraseology is influenced by pop culture. We can easily be made to feel inadequate in society if we don’t keep our personal vision at the forefront.
In Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, John Storey states “The culture industry, in its search for profits and homogeneity, deprives ‘authentic’ culture of its critical function, its mode of negation - ‘[its] Great Refusal’ (Marcuse, 1968a: 63). Commodification (sometimes understood by other critics as ‘commercialization’) devalues ‘authentic’ culture, making it too accessible by turning it into yet another saleable commodity.”
It is my understanding that this quote demonstrates the control that the industry can have on a person, and how we can be stripped of our own decision making authority if we play their game. If something looks like everyone else is doing it or buying it we often feel that we want to be a part of that something, too, so we buy. Advertising is known for manipulating photos to portray models as thinner, bustier, and curvier than the girl actually is, or more rugged, more muscular and having better facial hair than the male model truly has. The models don’t always look bad in their pre-airbrushing photos, but the advertising industry seems to think that good and healthy isn’t good enough. The following clip shows the process*:
We see ads that we like, we think it looks good, and we buy the products because we want to be as hip as the model. Adolescents are targeted by the industry so that they get caught up in the game in their youth, and continue buying into the advertisements well into adulthood. The industry wants our money, and the industry wins our money. By the time we are on to them and their advertising expertise, we are often habituated to their products, and by this time it’s hard to break our patterns. Even studying for this assignment I caught my eyes jumping to a sidebar advertisement for Zulily**.
I thought this woman looked pretty. She was thin and had a pretty jaw line. I didn’t particularly care for the top that the ad was promoting, but as the advertisers expected, I thought, “the woman looks good in it, and if I buy that top then I’ll look good in it.” I was the perfect textbook example of the buying public. This concept is elementary, but it still catches us doing exactly what the advertisers want us to do: buy their products. It is easy to be sold on an item because the model looks great. It’s not until the package arrives on our doorstep and we don the pants that we realize it’s not the pants we liked, but it was the model’s (airbrushed) thin thighs that made us recite our credit card number...again. (By the way, I didn’t buy the top). So often we buy things we don’t need or don’t want, but we get drawn into the ad and we want to be on the cutting edge of fashion, or at least current and we've lost our sense of refusal. With respect to the photo above, even though I wouldn’t recognize this woman, were her eyes in the photo, the fact that her eyes are cropped out seems to promote a detached aspect to the personal side of buying. She doesn’t actually matter. It’s not about her, it's not even about me, it’s about my money.
In conclusion, we can easily lose our personal vision when we allow ourselves to get caught up in advertising. We can lose our “authentic culture”. I understand this to mean, in part, our personal style and tastes, and again, as Storey conveyed, our ability to refuse. Advertising isn’t all bad. Writers, illustrators and photographers are witty and clever, that's what catches our attention to the products, and that’s how they keep their jobs. However, when we let them win us over, we give up our “authentic culture”, we buy into their dictated culture and we come to the hidden realization that credit card debt isn’t as much fun as VISA makes it look.
How often do you find yourself buying a product that you don't want or need due to advertising?
Do you think that advertising should be more transparent?