by Darius Dunn
Why does so much of the information we receive from the media leave us feeling so doubtful? It’s like that feeling you get when you’ve maybe overpaid for a new laptop and after you’ve just unwrapped it and posted selfies on your social media accounts of you using it to update your Netflix subscription like a boss, smudging it with finger prints and oils that cover the once shiny newness of your device in that translucent film so ubiquitous on today’s glass touchscreens, you feel an unnerving and likely familiar doubt creep in. It’s a doubt that forces you to consider that you may have just paid $1500 for a device that works just as good, if not a little slower, than your roommate’s $650 laptop PC.
Although that doubt may be well understood by social researchers and consumers alike as the phenomenon called buyer’s remorse, there is another particular type of doubt, similar in nature to buyer’s remorse, the one derived while getting your information from mainstream news media, which leaves you feeling void of substance?
Journalism and literature are worthwhile endeavors that seek to say something true. Journalism (not talking heads hosting debatably news worthy events), and literature don’t have to ignoble their commentary by deigning to meet a certain advertiser’s whim.
Journalism concerns itself with presenting error free information (truth) to inform the public of matters ramifying it; information/informing is its primary occupation. And this practice is carried out with integrity regarding those who are true journalists.
Literature is the artistic expression, using language as a medium, which seeks to say something universally true about its subject. It endeavors to entertain as much as to reveal the hidden truths within the conditions and characters of human experience.
In the case of both mediums, truth is the highest item. And as we all know, truth dispels doubt.
This is in stark contrast to commercial publications like TV news shows, situational comedies and dramas, radio broadcasts, and magazine articles as they are all conduits for advertisements. They sell consumable products and services to an under-educated audience segment who are prone to the psychological ply-ing inherent in the rhetorical appeal of advertising copy.
Magazines and television, although they utilize narrative elements, only produce shows and articles to sell advertising space within those mediums. The only reason some commercial serials (the crop of recurring shows and articles within the mediums), possess pleasurable content at all, is to hook the audience so they will be exposed to the content of advertisements.
The distinction between the former and latter is that the latter is a product-focused medium, sold at a loss (the mediums cost more to produce than its media sells for), to stimulate advertising dollars as profit for the host medium i.e. TV, radio, print, or website. The former professes the higher purpose of propagating culture, of spreading ideas, and of informing society at large of its conditions, its confines, its virtues, and its vices as it narratives the spectrum of experiences in the human condition.
That’s why the best in novels and news don’t show commercials. Shows like TYT don’t sell slots for commercials. YouTube.com, their “network” might sell time before the presentations, but those advertisers don’t get to tell The Young Turks what their content may consist of.
Novels obviously never have advertisements between their pages; so only the true intent of the author is what is meant to come across, not the intentions of any advertisement firm or corporate sponsor, unless of course the novel was commissioned by a delegate of corporate entities for the purposes of propaganda—which I’m sure some novels must exist in this state, right?
Mainstream establishment magazines and TV shows do often succumb to advertiser’s morals and ethics when scripting, shooting, and presenting their narratives in an effort to avoid offending their corporate sponsors. Shows sell advertising time slots not the other way around. And the more successful the shows and articles, the more the mediums may charge in advertising dollars.
This is the state of the market in the era of “Culture Industry.” “Culture Industry” is famed sociologist and Frankfort school proponent, Theodore Adorno’s term for the inauthentic appeals of media designed to interpellate individuals into consumers (the subjects of advertising’s ideology.) In describing the problem during an interview, he was famously quoted saying, “People know what they want because they know what other people want.” And how do consumers know what other people want? One way is to observe what products others are buying and using in their daily lives. The other way, and the way I’m sure Adorno meant to reference, is to see what the attractive people in advertisements value.
If, within a print ad or television commercial, a flock of successful, young looking models are chasing a certain lifestyle that is concomitant with a certain brand of mobile device or the social apps used on such devices because of the imaginary value that brand will add to their lives, then consumers, believing the lie of the brand, will latch onto that brand’s products over another brand that is less capable of presenting a believable fantasy. And this is the deception of advertising based mediums. Neil Postman in his book, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology says:
But today, the television commercial, for example is rarely about the character of the products. It is about the character of the consumers of products. Images of movie stars and famous athletes, of serene lakes and macho fishing trips, of elegant dinners and romantic interludes, of happy families packing their station wagons for a picnic in the country—these tell nothing about the products being sold. But they tell everything about the fears, fancies, and dreams of those who might buy them. (Postman Loc 2404)
By utilizing what is wrong with buyers advertises can leverage it against them by presenting in their commercial advertisements “psychodramas,” that address the consumer’s personal area of lack: thereby, “hailing” those with that particular desire to find hope in what the product offers in the way of filling that void. Once the consumer does that the hook of interpellation sinks in, deepening the grasp these advertising bodies hold on the psyches of consumers. According to Postman:
What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer. And so the balance of business expenditures shifts from product research to market research, which means orienting business away from making products of value and toward making consumers feel valuable. The business of business becomes pseudo-therapy; the consumer, a patient reassured by psychodramas. (Postman Loc 2404).
While novels and news offer you a simulated experience with truth, developed in motives that repeat within the narrative until they ultimately state their purpose, advertising mediums present a lie that appears to be an obtainable truth to those targeted by the ideology of the brand existing in the narrative of the advertisement. Fiction uses “lies” to tell the truth. (“Lies,” only insofar as fiction is a made up thing.) Advertisements use the appearance of reality to sell unfulfilling and unattainable lies (at least unattainable by the means prescribed by the advertisement), that take on the facade of potential and joyful gains. To this end the advertisers, “use all available symbols to further the interests of commerce, by devouring the psyches of consumers” (Postman Loc 2408).
I’ve just noticed through a minute spelling error that within life there is a lie. Only one letter separates the words lie and li(f)e from each other. I think this poignant play in the spelling of two words is the basic notion underpinning all of advertising. There is in life a little lie that individuals tell themselves to bridge the gap between the things they desire and the locus of disappointment waiting on the other side, representing the potential condition that they may never attain the things they long for. Along this fantasy bridge that exists within the farthest corners of the human heart—the desperate and subjective longings within us all that we are often deeply in touch with, but so rarely understand (those drives that romantic poets wax melancholy about when writing on love and longing)—is the place where advertisers cart their lies (the ones they unpack as the reality that consumers may only access through the use of their clients’ proprietary goods or services.)
Instead of gravitating toward this tenuous and inauthentic connection to “psychodramas,” presented just to fool your emotions and empty your pockets: yet, will always lack the fulfillment you crave, seek out journalism that presents its arguments with evidence underpinning its positions. And choose literature that illuminates the universality of the stark human condition. Doing this will at least inform you of your identity and your environment, allowing you to take the lead in individuating yourself thus freeing you from the binds of ideology by presenting you with necessary and world ramifying ideas and values left off the ruling ideology’s curriculum.
And above all else, be sensate of those areas of longing in your own personal journey, unless the advertising institution leverages your sincere desires against you, molding you into a victim to the sort of buyer’s remorse that can ensnare individuals only through the “Culture Industry’s” ideology.
Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (2011-06-01). Kindle Locations 2402-2406. Kindle Edition.
Adorno, Theodore. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Amsterdam; Querido Verlag N.V., 1972. Print