Saturday, July 23, 2005

They're out to get us!

I was recently called for jury duty, so I used my impending civil service as an excuse to buy a couple of books. I could, of course, have chosen a half-completed cross-stitch or quilt project to pass the time, but my weakness for new books proved to be stronger than my desire to actually finish a project, and I bought two books, 1776 and Don't Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America. I just finished the latter.

The author of Don't Eat This Book is Morgan Spurlock, the creator and star of the movie Supersize Me, which, as most of you know, was a documentary of his experiment of eating nothing but McDonald's food for a month, detailing the destruction it wreaked on his health. His new book reminds me in a way of The Jungle, which my son and I read together when he was in high school. After reading The Jungle, Matt gave up hot dogs completely and cut down tremendously on his meat consumption. Don't Eat This Book is affecting me in the same way about fast food. I did see Supersize Me a few months ago, and the book just confirms the facts used in the movie.

What impressed me most in this book is his take on the advertising industry. I have touched in this blog at one time or another on how the indisiousness of advertising in our culture can undermine a journey to simplicity. Spurlock brings the case home even more. He explains how the fast food industry as well as the processed food/junk food/cereal industry has taken great pains to market their products effectively, especially to children. Then came the cross-promotion with the toy companies, synergy, which made kids want to eat fast food/junk food even more. He even mentions a marketing study from 1998 called The Nag Factor. It was:

...done to help advertisers and marketers learn how to target kids better, to get them to nag...The press release that went out to advertisers to announce the publication of this study was called - I'm not kidding - "The Fine Art of Whining: Why Nagging Is a Kid's Best Friend." Another industry nickname for it is "pester power."....The different tactics kids use to nag: the whine, the threat, the guilt trip, the suck-up. How marketing and ads can be designed to trigger these different tactics.

I'm 50 years old. If you are around my age, are you thinking what I am thinking? We have been conditioned for decades by these marketing strategists who tell us what we want, what we need, and why we must buy it. How many hours of TV commercials have we sat through in our lives? How many billboards have we seen? How many magazine advertisements? How many ads at the movie theater? On the radio? It would be a very interesting experiment to go through one day and write down how many ads you see or hear. They say that even in movies and TV shows the ads are incorporated into the shows themselves. If you see a character drinking a Coke, the Coca-Cola company paid for their name to be seen on that can.

I used the term insidious because that's exactly what it is. From

in·sid·i·ous Audio pronunciation of "insidious" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (n-sd-s)
  1. Working or spreading harmfully in a subtle or stealthy manner: insidious rumors; an insidious disease.
  2. Intended to entrap; treacherous: insidious misinformation.
  3. Beguiling but harmful; alluring: insidious pleasures.
Of course, advertising does not end with fast food and junk food. The corporations are constantly telling us that our lives will improve with all of their products. And we so often, like robots, accept the propaganda. This is what we are fighting in the journey to simplicity. We are fighting ideas that have been drummed into our heads from an early age. We are the generation that grew up with television, Ronald McDonald, Froot Loops, and Coke. It is time that I stop listening to their messages of "More! More!" and hear my inner voice pleading, "Less! Less!" There are some segments of our population that still think, "If it wasn't true, they couldn't say it on TV." And the manipulation grows.

The first step in fixing a problem is identifying some of the sources of the problem. Our corporate culture of pervasive advertising is a definite contributor to our society's excessive consumption and captivation with acquisition, regardless of the consequences to our health or peace of mind. May we have the ability to recognize it for what it is - years and years of mind control - and for our sake and for our kids' sakes, summon up enough power to defeat it!

1 comment:

Tif said...

Good points. After much public pressure, they finally removed the TV ads for cigarettes, but now we're inundated with ads for specific drugs to help us with our baby boomer ills! Patients show up every day requesting a specific medication, even if they don't need it, simply because they heard about it on a TV ad or saw a magazine ad for it. It's contributing to our high health care costs yet does little to improve the public health. And doctors, who already have precious little time to spend with the patient on an office visit, are now having to devote much of that time to explaining why that particular drug is not appropriate for him or her.