There's an initially obvious dissonance around the advertisements and business schemes that corporations are carrying out amid this year's pandemic. It's clearly distasteful for these companies to be profiting off of a disaster, and this naturally creates a sense of unease despite the attempt from these companies to convey earnest intentions. But it seems like nothing more than the usual commercialized shallowness until you realize that it has a very political purpose: to keep the people confused and socially fragmented during a time of economic crisis and growing class conflict.
In the last few months, tens of millions of people have permanently lost their jobs, which is creating a collapse of retail, exacerbating the new housing crisis, and bringing financial ruin to much of the American population. In August, which is when the government will stop giving special relief funds for the unemployed, the situation will get even worse. As this prompts our society to gain more negative attitudes about capitalism, the ruling oligarchy is trying to perpetuate the status quo by keeping people politically demobilized and uneducated about how to bring about revolution.
Throughout the history of neoliberalism, these traits have been instilled among the masses through a combination of engineered scarcity and propaganda. When poor and working people are struggling to survive, they're more prone to ignore politics in favor of day-to-day concerns. And when the only information they're exposed to is pro-capitalist political propaganda or advertising, they can't develop the consciousness required for joining a revolution.
The pro-capitalist propaganda that we're being exposed to in this moment usually involves the promotion of imperialist narratives; the anti-Chinese and anti-Venezuelan bluster that's now being weaponized by both major presidential candidates represents the kinds of anti-socialist, nationalistic sentiments the ruling class seeks to propagate among the people. And to keep the population loyal to capitalism, or at least sympathetic towards those who profit from it, there's an onslaught of COVID-19 commercialism and public-relations campaigns for corporations.
We're seeing companies create comforting ads about life in quarantine, seeing somber messages from companies about how much they care about our experiences during the pandemic, and sometimes seeing corporate brands be awkwardly placed next to directions towards COVID-19 testing sites. We're also seeing the companies and wealthy figures who stand the most to gain from this crisis work to sell the solutions they've come up with. Google's CEO is marketing a series of technological fixes to the state of New York. Bill Gates is also partnering with Governor Andrew Cuomo to proliferate his technologies throughout the state.
"It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent pandemic shock doctrine is beginning to emerge," commentator Naomi Klein wrote last month. "Far more hi-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent--and highly profitable--no-touch future."
In another fulfillment of the established patterns of neoliberalism, the social conditions that these companies are profiting off of is an exaggerated version of what life has long been like under late-state capitalism: systematically isolated from the community at large, filled with transactions that make daily activities commodified and artificial, and culturally defined by consumerism. Reflecting how advertisers have long tried to get people to associate their products with their personal identities, companies like Google and Amazon are now trying to get people to see them as friends that will help us all out during a difficult time.
And as far as the goods and services of these companies will benefit people during the pandemic, they'll be able to make a case that they're improving people's lives. But look below the helpful Amazon deliveries and useful Google communications tools, and you'll find the realities of current global capitalism that the COVID-19 ads don't talk about.
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