Are We Artists With An Income, Or Unconscious Pacifiers?

It’s perverse I suppose, but I like to see resistance to advertising. My reason for this is simple enough–I want bad advertising eradicated from our culture. It’s a tall order, but it’s one we can handle. All we need to do is guide our clients toward their brand truths, and show them how to best work with those truths to gain marketplace advantage.

Of course, the harshest advertising critics have a very different agenda. For the purists, it’s about taking “The Man” completely out of the conversation.

Bruce E. Levine, a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite , sounds pretty pure in his denunciation on AlterNet:

All varieties of fundamentalism narrow one’s focus and inhibit critical thinking. While some progressives are fond of calling fundamentalist religion the “opiate of the masses,” they too often neglect the pacifying nature of America’s other major fundamentalism. Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. Fundamentalist consumerism destroys self-reliance, creating people who feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities, the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see. A fundamentalist consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulations, including lies; and when a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulativeness, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and form democratic movements. Fundamentalist consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult for the solidarity necessary for democratic movements.

That’s tough talk, but are you an untrusting mirror gazer? Are your friends?

Levine also points to television as a big problem and shares a not new critique.

Television is a dream come true for an authoritarian society: those with the most money own most of what people see; fear-based television programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for the ruling elite who depend on a “divide and conquer” strategy.

I’m fond of Twisting Orwell’s words into my own saying, “Big Brother isn’t watching you, you are watching Big Brother.” So, I can relate to the ideas forwarded by Levine and his anti-corporate allies. But, I also work in advertising, largely because of how powerful it is–for me personally, it is much too powerful to leave alone. Leaving it alone means the hacks win.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.