DATE: 6/24/2004 09:26:00 AM
Every Time I Look Around, It's in my Face
You can't escape it. You can't open a newspaper or magazine without pawing through page after page of ads. You can't go to a movie without sitting through fifteen minutes of commercials, followed by fifteen minutes of previews of coming attractions, and then if the movie's big enough, as was the case with the Matrix sequels, product placement has Neo and Trinity hawking cell phones and cars even as they battle faceless institutional (corporate?) evil. And you most certainly can't watch television or listen to the radio without commercials every ten minutes.
I can't even escape it in my job. I started off as a glorified secretary--now I've been "promoted" to Marketing Administrator, as if the highest I can hope to soar in my career is being given the opportunity to sell stuff.
Commercials have become the most important form of media in our society. An oligarchy of transnational corporations governs the world, and commercials and advertising are just their highly effective form of propaganda.
In fact, it's getting so that commercials, advertising and marketing are not just filler or a side note to your regularly scheduled life programming but the medium and the message for our cultural identity. In a hundred or two hundred years when alien archaeologists are combing the ruins of our planet to study our failed society, the most prized artifacts will not be novels but grocery store circulars. Not Citizen Kane but a Girls Gone Wild commercial. Not a symphony but a jingle.
We have evolved to preserve our sanity by tuning advertising out, by becoming selectively conscious of the world around us, by pumping up our pupils to absorb the flickering images of Mtv. And it's probably necessary for self-preservation to place marketing, advertising and commercials on a lower organizational tier--in other words, to see them as irrelevant or secondary to True Art.
But no one goes to operas anymore. Not too many people are writing concertos, when both these things used to be fundamental communication lines among people. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring caused a riot. Today it causes yawns and feeble half-understanding in a classroom full of Generations X and Y who have already heard so many tunes and seen so many stories and passed their eyes over so many images, nothing provokes them anymore.
Can you imagine a ballet inciting a revolution? Nope.
So for all the lip service we give to the Fine Arts (and don't get me wrong, I don't deny their value in showing what human beings can achieve if they only allow themselves to evolve), it's commercials that have come to represent us. Mozart has been replaced with Nike.
It's even gotten so that commercials are beginning to cannibalize other forms of pop culture. This morning, for example, I heard an Old Navy commercial that set its jingle to the tune of "In the Navy" by the Village People. Of course, it's so strange that this very commercial wasn't made before (given the name of the store it advertised) that I figured it was just because they hadn't been able to get the rights to the song before now.
Either that, or they're empty-headed morons, those advertising people, and they wouldn't know creativity if it rose up out of their double mocha grande latte one Monday morning.
Or they're failed artists, ruined shells of creative people who have devolved to setting horrifyingly trite lyrics advertising a clothing store to cheesy old tunes from the 70's.
Either way, hearing that commercial absolutely ruined my morning. The stupid song along with "Y.M.C.A." are now blaring in my head, which is probably exactly what Old Navy wants.
You can't escape it. You cannot do one single thing during your day that doesn't involve a product or the advertising thereof. Every waking moment of every hour of every day of your life, your mind and the thoughts in it are for sale.
Not that I'm going to go start hugging trees and following Phish around the country, of course. Let's be honest. If my reptilian brain didn't contain a liberal helping of greed and personal materialism, advertising wouldn't work. It wouldn't exist. And I like having money, and I know it doesn't come for free. I like the radio shows and the television shows that I listen to and watch, and if that means having to endure spots for MacDonald's and KFC and Rolex watches and Downy fabric softener and so on, maybe it's a necessary evil.
Maybe the idea isn't to get rid of advertising altogether. In any kind of free economy, merchants should be able to advertise their products in order to sell them and feed their families. We've just gone from barkers at a flea market to voice-overs. From traveling pedlars to pop-up ads. Does that make the reasoning behind it somehow more corrupt?
Maybe what we need is to put the advertising revenues in the right place. Maybe they, and not Volvo-driving Northampton residents, should support things like the National Endowment for the Arts. Maybe we should stop letting MacDonald's and Coca-Cola sponsor the Olympics. What's next, Marlboro sponsors the Boston Marathon?
They already target audiences, let's just take it a little further.
And for all the flap about decency on the airwaves, you'll notice none of it has been directed toward beer commercials with titties flopping everywhere. The real objection to Janet Jackson's tit popping out was that the advertisers and show producers didn't have the idea in the first place. It wasn't scripted right. It didn't fit in with the marketing plan.
More stuff like that needs to start happening. Unscripted moments. I'm not advocating for an all-out Seattle WTO Conference-style spray painting, here, but just a balance. Creative responses instead of more shrill, bleating Michael Moore movies. Michael Moore has the right idea, of course, but someone with more talent needs to start following his lead.
Keep the advertising, but make more art. Let's impress the aliens.