One of my dearest mentors lamented the increase in advertising over the course of the twentieth century. From the sale of tobacco to ideological announcements of political action committees, the resignation we have towards the ubiquity of commercials became something he routinely criticized, but could scarcely ignore or escape.
As we proceed with another holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, just coming off a hotly contested presidential election, we can expect to experience an omnipresent marketing blitzkrieg. At first glance, it might appear that Black Friday and the day after Christmas are consumers’ bonanzas. Suggested retail prices are slashed, and the consumer is led to believe that the discounts are, well, heaven-sent. However, upon closer and careful examination, what is not found in the fine print is that the retail prices to begin with were set for the profiteering of owners and manufacturers and did not have the interests or needs of consumers in mind whatsoever.
The persuasive, pervasive juggernaut of advertising presses consumers to misperceive wants as needs, discounts as steals, and gifting as morally obligatory. Psychological depression and attempted suicides increase during this period of time because we are greedy, wanton, fiscally irresponsible, and desirous of adulation. So we spend countless hours and money we do not have to feel good about ourselves and to appear as if we are thoughtful and generous folks. But the truth of the matter is that we are bamboozled: duped into believing that this season of good cheer and jolliness demands an especial sacrifice, and the plethora of advertisements confirms its mandatory nature.
If you remember, on the heels of the devastating tragedy of September 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush, in an attempt to transcend the moment and to return to the arrogant normalcy of American exceptionalism, strongly encouraged U.S. citizens to “go shopping.” The statement was historically one of the most condescendingly ignorant things that a government leader could say, and it could only alienate not merely would-be terrorists, but allies as well. As our national memory cords lengthen, we should always recall our standoffish, unilateral behavior amid a disastrous crisis that did not affect us singularly, but, rather, tattooed its perniciousness around the world and reshaped global relations evermore.
As the recovery from recession becomes more widespread and the fiscal cliff is averted, companies will begin to regain their footholds. This rebound will, of course, result in a renewed vigor to court the consumer into believing they need to spend more in order to increase profits and continue to hoodwink the masses of people into believing that their anticipated tax-relief dollars will cover their indebtedness.
In the economic arena, as in the politics, we tend to act against our best interests and the national welfare. We live beyond our means and we purchase beyond our power, because we are coopted into thinking doing so makes us feel good and worthy—until we realize it is a fleeting feeling and we have been had again. We fail to recognize that we can fend off financial crisis by being more circumspect in our spending and by perceiving commercials for what they are: not-so-subtle subterfuges to trick potential buyers into filling the coffers of the owners of production and their shareholders.
The masses of people in the United States do not have appreciable wealth. One way to improve that status is to spend less, save, and soundly invest. Needless to say, the poor are in a bind for they cannot get anything unless they spend, they cannot save because they have to survive, and they cannot invest because disposable income is scarce or nonexistent. The real test of our mettle as human beings is whether we have the inclination and the will to eliminate poverty and reshape our capitalist economy so that it no longer majors in minority wealth and majority pauperism. What a new form of advertising that would bring!