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Social Commentary from a Marxist
on March 26, 2007
To appreciate this book you need have at least a general understand of the work of Karl Marx because the book is written from a Marxist perspective. From this 'perspective' the author is able to draw certain conclusions about American society (or a capitalist society) in which a reader may mistakenly infer as to the intent of the actual participants of that society. Its one thing to describe a particular outcome as a result of advertising and it's another thing to say that this outcome is the actual intent of advertising companies and businesses. A casual reader (or biased reader) may have trouble distinguishing between the two. The book title is a little misleading, saying `Captains' of Consciousness when the author does not focus on any 'specific' advertising company or business. The book cover is also a little misleading, with a picture of the store front NikeTown with heavily armed police. The book was written in 1976, no where in the book does it mention the Nike company and book contents does not convey any sense of power struggle thingy going on. Overall, it's an okay book for those who are familiar with the work of Marx and sociology in general. If you are not, then you would have no understanding of where the author is coming from or really the conclusion he is making. To sum I would say that is book is really just social commentary from a Marxist.
Here are some notes I've taken from the book (word for word) that I feel are most meaningful to me:
Modern advertising was concentrating upon a type of copy aiming to make the reader emotionally uneasy, to bludgeon him with the fact that decent people don't live the way he does
Mass industry, requiring a corresponding mass individual, cryptically named him "Civilized American" and implicated his national heritage in the marketplace. By defining himself and his desires in terms of the good of capitalist production, the worker would implicitly accept the foundations of modern industrial live. By transforming the notion of "class" into "mass", business hoped to create an "individual" who could locate his needs and frustrations in terms of the consumption of goods rather than the quality and content of his life (work).
In an attempt to massify men's consumption in step with the requirements of the productive machinery, advertising increasingly offered mass-produced solutions to "instinctive" strivings as well as to the ills of mass society itself. If it was industrial capitalism around which crowded cities were being built and which had spawned much of the danger to health, the frustration, the loneliness and the insecurity of modern industrial life, the advertising of the period denied complicity. Rather, the logic of contemporaneous advertising read, one can free oneself from the ills of modern life by embroiling oneself in the maintenance of that life. A 1924 ad for Pompeian facial product argued that: unless you are one woman in a thousand, you must use powder and rouge. Modern living has robbed women of much of their natural color.. taken away the conditions that once gave natural roses in the cheeks
The advertising which attempted to create the dependable mass of consumers required by modern industry often did so by playing upon the fears and frustrations evoked by mass society - offering mass produced visions of individualism by which people could extricate themselves from the mass - mass pseudo-demassification
Appealing to dissatisfaction and insecurities around the job, certain advertisements not only offered their products as a kind of job insurance, but intimate that through the use of their products one might become a business success - the capitalist notion of individual "self-fulfillment".
Much of American industrial development punctuated by attempts to channel thought and behavior into patterns which fitted the prescribed dimensions of industrial life
If you are advertising any product never see the factory in which it was made. Don't watch the people at work. Because when you know the truth about anything, the real, inner truth - it is very hard to write the surface fluff which sells it.
Speaking of seeming purposelessness of American industrial life itself, this lack of purpose in life has an effect on consumption similar to that of having a narrow life interest, that is, in concentrating human attention on the more superficial things that comprise much of fashionable consumption. The mass-produced goods of the marketplace were conceived of as providing and ideology of "change" neutralized to the extent that it would be unable to effect significant alteration in the relationship between individuals and the corporate structure. "Fatigue" with the futility of modern life might, if all other avenues of change are eradicated, be channeled toward a "fatigue... with apparel and goods used in one's immediate surroundings".
The concept of consumption as an alternative to other modes of change proliferates within business literature of the twenties. Given the recent history of anticaptialist sentiments and actions among the working class, the unpleasant possibility of "deeper changes" gave flight to a more pacified notion of social welfare that emanated from comsumerization. Recognizing the irreversibility of frustration among those who felt trapped in their surroundings, change would be "the most beneficent medicine in the world to most people", mass consumption is offered as a means of acting out such impulses within a socially controllable context. "To those who cannot change their whole lives or occupations, even a new line in a dress is often a relief. The woman who is tired of her husband or her home or a job feels some lifting of the weight of life from seeing a straight line change into a bouffant, or a gray pass into beige". The basic issues of industrial capitalism were fractionalized, isolated and reduced to trivialities in her formula. "Most people do not have the courage or the understanding to make deeper changes".
The logic of using consumption and mass leisure as ameliorations for boredom and social entrapment was not merely an underlying trend in advertising
Fear in itself is paralyzing; it robs one of the power of action. No one buys anything through fear, but rather through the instinct of self preservation or some other reaction that is almost inseparable from fear
AGAIN, if you don't understand what the hell the author is taking about then I don't recommend this book to you.