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Friday, October 7, 2011

Advertising a False Gospel

One of the problems we have in our society is that we have an enormous capacity for producing goods, but a limited number of people to buy them. So we’ve developed a huge advertising industry aimed at persuading people to buy more and more of what they don’t need and can’t afford.

Christopher Decker, in an article in the Wall Street Journal called “Selling Desire, Why Chastity is Bad for Business," notes that there was a time when advertising emphasized thrift, durability, and economy. Choices were usually made around how good a product was and how long it would last.  But a consumer society has to reverse these values, he notes, because if advertising is to succeed, and business thrive, people have to be convinced that desires alone are sufficient reasons to buy something and that all of our passions are to be indulged now, rather than denied or postponed. So the very notion of chastity has to go, he says, because that represents a mindset that is opposite from a throw away, consumer culture that urges us to get our our Visa cards to buy and use stuff with abandonment, and then simply discard it for whatever you like even better.

According to Dr. Sut Jhally of the University of Massachusetts, the right question to ask about how a given commercial affects us is not how much it influences whether we buy a particular product, but how advertising as a whole affects our buying into a whole different set of values that are counter to the ones we profess to believe. Modern advertising promotes a magical way of thinking, he says, making fantastic promises about what certain products will do for us, like offer us incredible happiness, gain the gloating admiration of all kinds of desirable people, and transform us into an instant, spectacular success. Consumerism promises all, and as such becomes a kind of religion that replaces the faith we actually claim to live by
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We need to teach ourselves and our children to talk back to the blatantly false messages we’re all hearing on television and other media every day. Or better yet, just unplug ourselves from the barrage of untruths we're being bombarded with and read or tell them some good messages of our own.
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