Oh, you know, just casually writing manifestos for class. #Ilovemymajor #learningtofightthesystem
Advertising is something that can no longer be avoided in this society. Images, slogans, and logos are branded onto practically every inch of the space around us. Television, radio, and the internet cannot be navigated without avoiding advertisements. For most people, advertising is simply part of daily life. It has become a routine part of the drive to work, the process of checking our e-mail, the pens that we write on. Almost everything in our lives is trying to sell us a product.
We Are Sold an Alternate Perception of Reality
Advertisements do not accurately portray the world around us. They predominantly feature young, white, able-bodied, slim, heterosexual, and attractive people. They emphasize stereotypes and make generalizations, including common concepts of masculinity and femininity, race, and wealth. This both reflects and reinforces the many standards that we still have in modern society. They manipulate images. They photoshop pictures of women down to disproportionate sizes, they erase all “blemishes” including freckles and pores, they lighten the skin tones of models. They tend to show us only the happy, joyful parts of life that we unrealistically want to experience at all times (and if they are showing us the distressing parts of life, chances are they’re also showing us that buying their product will cause us to be happy again). They are carefully constructed to play off of our emotions, to make us feel a certain way about their product, to convince us to buy something.
We Internalize These Messages
However, after being bombarded with these images thousands of times per day, people have begun to internalize them. We now expect ourselves to meet these flawless and unrealistic definitions of beauty. We now compare our belongings with the belongings of those around us, attempting to see if we “match up” to them. We continue playing the certain roles in life that have been given to us by many factors, but are heavily perpetuated by advertising. For example, the concept that women are in charge of the domestic sphere of life. This idea was not given to us by advertising, but advertising continues to perpetuate this stereotype by only showing women performing household tasks and only appealing to women regarding topics such as childcare (think “choosy moms choose Jiff”).
We buy into the advertisements that shame us or make us feel bad about ourselves. As a culture, when we see a commercial for a diet product, we don’t stop and think about the unrealistic beauty standards that have been placed upon us, or the fact that 95% of dieters regain at least all of the weight that they have lost within 5 years. We don’t think stop and think about the shaming tactics that this advertisement is using, the fact that these advertisements are essentially telling us that it is wrong to be fat, that you are not good enough if you are fat. Perhaps the advertisement is indicating that one cannot have happiness or confidence unless they lose those last ten pounds. We don’t stop and consider that maybe this isn’t true, that maybe the thousands of carefully constructed images and commercials that tell us this, are simply trying to get us to buy their product. Instead, we view these advertisements and agree with them, we think to ourselves “yes, I will be happy if I lose those last ten pounds” and we go out and buy the product.
Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that not only do we internalize the messages we are sent, but we have become immune to the existence of advertising at all. We have been bombarded with so many advertisements that these kinds of images have become normalized. We think nothing of being sold products thousands of times per day. As a result, we have lost the ability to critically look at these advertisements as something intended to sell us something. We view them as normal and routine.
Competition Feeds the Cycle
We weren’t born thinking that we aren’t good enough as we are. We weren’t born craving flawless skin, plasma screen televisions, and a way to prove to the neighbors that we make more money than they do. All of this was taught to us throughout our lifetimes, now at increasingly earlier and earlier ages. Advertising isn’t the only factor in this complicated and debilitating equation, but it is teaching us to crave and to be unsatisfied. It is carefully calculated to sell us a product, to make a profit off of us, regardless of whether we need or can afford that product. In order to make this profit, companies often manipulate us into craving their items. They use psychological pressure and play off of our often preexisting fears and insecurities; our fears of wanting to match up in comparison to those around us.
We now live in a world obsessed with competition, obsessed with proving ourselves to others. What better fear is there for a company to feed off of when trying to convince you to buy a product? Advertising quickly and easily fuels these fears by reassuring us that we will be good enough as long as we work for it, as long as we put money and effort into it, as long as we meet a set of ridiculous standards that these companies can (coincidentally) provide us with the materials to meet.
- We should be able to determine for ourselves what we do and don’t want, without the pressure from the companies selling us products. We are capable of realizing on our own the things that we need.
- We should be able to determine for ourselves the standards that make us “good enough” and “worthy.” We should be able to realize for ourselves that we are worthy even if we don’t have a fancy car, a pore free face, or the latest style of jeans. Worth is independent of all of these outside factors.
- We should be able to view an advertisement and critically deconstruct it. To look at the advertisement and acknowledge the messages that it is sending us, decide for ourselves whether or not those messages are true or whether we are just being told that they are true.
- We should be shown actual representations of reality. Advertisements should not reflect some fantasy world where everyone has unlimited wealth, the “ideal” American family, and 7% body fat.
- We should be considered capable of much more than simply being a mass of people that can be manipulated into providing a company with an income. We are capable of much more than that; we just have to take back the ability to do more.
Advertising isn’t the only part of this quest for perfection and competition that fuels us and makes the problem worse. Altering (or even erasing) advertising will not make our need to prove ourselves worthy go away. There are many more factors within this culture that continue to perpetuate that need. But taking a look at the advertising around us is a good start. Completely eradicating advertising in a capitalistic society is most likely not realistic, but if we, as consumers, work towards learning to critically view the media and advertisers work to present us with more appropriate views of reality and with less manipulation, this culture can begin to be free from the manipulation to buy things, the pressure to be perfect, and the overwhelming message that we aren’t enough.