How is it that humans are so obviously murdering the global ecosystem on which all life, including ours, depends, and we can't summon the collective will to change course? Any roomful of 10 thoughtful, aware people will have 10 answers to this question. "We're stupid" is an answer I never could abide. It provides an excuse to feel smugly superior and do nothing. Greed, corruption, the military-industrial complex, sociopathic leaders, international mega-corporations, a lizard race, a global elite who has invested in palatial underground bunkers where they think they can survive the death of the planet" All these answers have merit, and all are tied more or less closely to the central theme of Capitalism Gone Mad.
If there's a media studies professor in the room, he might say, "advertising", and the other nine might stop for a moment to consider an answer that had never occurred to them.
Advertising. It's the water we're swimming in, so we don't notice it. We tune it out, and imagine that it has no effect on us, but they know us better than we know ourselves. Research into subliminal influence is a science invented and spearheaded by Madison Ave, beginning with Sigmund Freud's nephew in the 1930s. They were using focus groups before any of us knew what a focus group was, and in recent years, they have directly monitored people's brains while watching different ads. They know which brain centers bypass rational thought. They know how to promote addictive behaviors, in which trying to satisfy a craving just creates more craving.
Technology 90 years ago was already well enough advanced to satisfy the basic needs of every human on earth with modest requirements of labor. But capitalism requires expanding markets, and without profits that grow year by year, equities lose their value. So the logic of capitalism spawned the need for new needs. People must be convinced to want things without limit.
We live in a culture that starves our needs for love and belonging, for community and family and meaningful work. It is the job of advertising to convince us that all this can be ours if we choose the right brand of toothpaste or the right car or if we take the right antidepressant or attend a life-changing weekend with Kumare .
Sut Jhally, professor of media studies at University of Massachusetts, tells us that even if we're too smart to believe these messages individually, their cumulative effect has altered our culture, and altered each one of us in that culture. We believe that happiness is an individual state that we can pursue on our own, making our own choices. We believe that freedom to choose how we spend our money is essential for our wellbeing. We may even believe that products have something to do with happiness.
It's not just that advertising drives us to consume; worse is the culture of isolated individuals that advertising promotes. We are inhibited from seeking the collective solutions that alone can save our planet from devastation.Watch Jhally's new movie,Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse.