Sometimes something is so obvious and ever-present that we forget it is there, like the sound of the fan inside your computer, or the socks you’re wearing. Like so much white noise, advertising is our barely-noticed constant companion. When you turn on your television, or use the internet, or open a magazine, or move the radio dial, or drive on the highway, or put on a branded piece of clothing, or walk in the city you are taking a bath in the storm of advertising that is soaking the world like a Second Flood. And like the First, it is making it harder to breathe the free air.
There are plenty of people who are more qualified than me when it comes to the issue of advertising as it relates to our society. That being said, I believe I am still able to assess the situation. A lifetime of perpetual exposure to the message of advertising juxtaposed with a well-developed counter-worldview informed by my Christian faith gives me, I am confident, the perspective needed to thoughtfully address this topic.
We live in the age of the 24-hour news cycle. CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC are the three major network news channels. Each also has a presence on the internet. Every day they compile stories to report, experts to analyze, and commentators to express opinions. FOX News is slanted to the right, MSNBC is slanted to the left, and CNN is center-left. These political biases attract different audiences. Each network is aware of their audience and tailors programming to attract more viewers. They are concerned with their ratings. Each day offers a fresh chance to expand their numbers. So, considering the political bias of their audience and the issues that cause people to “stay tuned”, these networks turn to vitriolic speech, violence, and the things that excite the ignoble side of our natures. Anything for the sponsors.
News and advertising should be like oil and water. The news is supposed to report true and relevant information, while advertising is supposed to get you to buy something by manipulating you on some level. News tells you how it is, and advertising tells you how they want you to see it. Unfortunately, news and advertising have bonded together, creating a monster that threatens our true perception of the world. Stories about murderers, rapists, pedophiles, alarming studies, and marital infidelity work to gather up viewers so that when the commercials role, the sponsors have an audience to preach to. On top of this choice selection of mankind’s worst deeds, the networks also infuse an unhealthy dose of political opinion. Talking about how Obama is an anti-American socialist (Glenn Beck) really gets the blood of conservatives going, just like talking about how Scott Brown is a “homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman and against politicians with whom he disagrees”(Keith Olbermann) gets the liberals fired up. All of this hate speech serves to further divide an already divided America. Instead of reaching out and attempting to understand those who believe an opposing ideology, we are being conditioned to view them as the enemy who seeks to destroy our way of life. And this is because it is good for ratings.
Watch this, and then watch specifically at 8:40. What does the host tell Jon Stewart? Then pay attention to the items Wolf Blitzer brings up during the commercial.
Advertising is about showing people that they need the product that you’re selling. You do this by convincing them that they will be happier, healthier, or prettier once they have made the purchase. The Christian idea of being content with what you have, and not comparing yourself to other people, or envying their status or worldly possessions is not compatible with most forms of advertising (Unless you’re selling a book to Christians). Advertisements tell you that you should not be satisfied until you have more X, or better Y. You’ve heard the saying, “keeping up with the Jones’.” Advertising depends on you feeling inadequate next to your neighbor. Now, consider the daily onslaught that we endure from advertisements. Don’t you think day after day, year after year of this message has a significant effect on our perception of ourselves and the world? I know we all like to think that we’re too clever to be fooled by ads, but this kind of incessant indoctrination has to shape our minds, at least somewhat. We look at a country like North Korea with all of its government propaganda and we feel disgusted, but how do we feel about the corporate propaganda that has infiltrated every corner of our lives?
I’m not about to prescribe a cure for virulent advertising. It serves a necessary function in our society. I simply want to address the reality of it, and cause you to think about its presence in our daily lives. What does it do to the integrity of the news? What does it do to our understanding of the world? How does it play into our basest natures?
How will you ride out this storm?