Am I the only one these days that can’t help but feel like everyone around me is phony? I’m sure I sound a lot like Holden Caulfield of the Catcher in the Rye fame, and I’m aware there is a certain level of judgement involved in saying such things, but it just seems most people would rather ‘fake it till you make it’ as opposed to ‘come as you are’. There are even so many facets of life that promote some levels of fakeness: wearing uniforms to a job or school, conducting yourself a certain way for an interview or first date, the buying of material things in a vain attempt to impress those around you. Where does all this social pressure come from? The answer to that question is pretty darn complex, but I believe there is one thing that plays a big role.
We are all at war, and no I’m not talking about with ISIS. Or Iraq. Or drugs, guns and child eating alligators (too soon?). Or the countless of other wars the U.S. just loves to declare on anything and everything. The war I’m talking about is all of our individual wars on advertising. There is a perpetual battle we fight everyday as we try like hell to weather the storm of life and the constant bombardment of ads and commercials we are exposed to on a daily basis.
Jay Walker-Smith, president of the Yankelovich marketing firm, talked to CBS News back in 2006 about how, “we’ve gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970’s to as many as 5,000 a day today.” He then went on to say, “It seems like the goal of most marketers and advertisers nowadays is to cover every blank space with some kind of brand logo or a promotion or an advertisement.” In her infamous book No Logo writer Naomi Klein expands on this idea in the chapter called No Space. She details various ways corporations and branding giants invade all space of the American life from Time Square billboards to ads on college campuses.
There is literally no escaping it. If you are of the 99% of Americans that own a TV , then you probably watch on average about 5 hours a day (more if your black, less if you’re Hispanic or Asian) which will come out to around 9 years of you wasting away in front of an idiot box over the course of your lifetime. But let’s say you decide to get off the couch to step outside for some fresh air. If you happen to live in or near a city, the amount of ads you’re exposed to can be worse than watching TV all day. Everything from buses to the side of buildings are smothered in ads. It’s like a horde of zombies ravenous for brains, but instead of the walkers from the old Romero films, they sprint like Olympic gold medalists. And at the end of the day, when you’re laying in the grass with your significant other stargazing, you might just see a big Russian rocket ship with the Pizza Hut logo on the side. Now instead of thinking “this is so romantic”, you’ll probably think “I could totally go for some stuffed crust.” That’s right kids, not even space is safe.
It’s extremely hard out here for a pimp with all these ads telling you how to think, how to feel, what you should look like and what you should be doing with all of your precious time and money. “Buy this car and you will surely get all the ladies!” “Take these weight-loss pills that aren’t FDA approved so your body can be ‘beach ready’ by the summer!” Buy now! For a limited time only! Just 10 easy payments of $99.99 and possibly the remains of your withering soul. Can’t afford it now? Sign up for our credit rewards card! Or sell your children off to slavery! We don’t care how you do it, as long as you think less and consume more.
So what do we do? How do we fight such a relentless enemy? Well the unfortunate reality is that entirely cutting advertising out of your life is only possible if you are willing to live in a cabin in the woods like the unibomber. Advertising and consumer culture have become as American as baseball, obesity and bombing countries full of brown people. But the good news is that being conscience of its subtle influence and kung-fu death grip on our society is half the battle.
While the battle for space might be lost, the real war is the battle for your mind. Look in the mirror and ask yourself: Am I winning the war? How much of what I do, what I’m about and what I stand for is determined by external influences as opposed to what I truly want? Is my confidence and self-image dependent on others and the media portrayal of what I should be? While everyone, including me, is quick to jump at the media for photoshopping models or skewing reality to push products, the fact is that WE are the guilty ones. We buy into it. We obsess over People and Us Weekly. We put celebrities on ridiculous pedestals. We continue to eat up the slop they feed us, so why wouldn’t they want to continue doing so? There is no nefarious group of men in suits who decide what should be hot and what shouldn’t. Instead, they rely on focus testing groups, surveys and last years profits to help decide that for them. But if by some unexplainable social phenomenon we all stopped buying into it the industry would be forced to sing a different tune. So real change begins with us, on an individual level.
I’ll leave you with this pearl of wisdom from the legend himself, Tyler Durden : “We’re consumers. We are the byproducts of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty—these things don’t concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy’s name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra…fuck Martha Stewart. Martha’s polishing the brass on the Titanic. It’s all going down, man. So fuck off with your sofa units and strine green stripe patterns. I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let’s evolve—let the chips fall where they may.”