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Coercion: Why We Listen to What "They" Say Paperback – October 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1994's Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Hyperspace, Douglas Rushkoff extolled the democratic promise of the then-emergent Internet, but the once optimistic author has grown a bit disillusioned with what the Net--and the rest of the world--has become. His exuberantly written, disturbing Coercion may induce paranoia in readers as it illuminates the countless ways marketing has insinuated itself not just into every aspect of Western culture but into our individual lives. Rushkoff opens with a series of pronouncements: "They say human beings use only ten percent of their brains.... They say Prozac alleviates depression." But "who, exactly, are 'they,'" he asks, and "why do we listen to them?"

Marketing continues to grow more aggressive, and Rushkoff tracks the increasingly coercive techniques it employs to ingrain its message in the minds of consumers, as well as the results: toddlers can recognize the golden arches of McDonald's, young rebels get tattooed with the Nike swoosh, and news stories are increasingly taken verbatim from company press releases. "Corporations and consumers are in a coercive arms race," argues Rushkoff. "Every effort we make to regain authority over our actions is met by an even greater effort to usurp it." As he surveys the visual, aural, and scented shopping environment and interviews salesmen, public relations men, telemarketers, admen, and consumers, Rushkoff--who admits to being one of "them" in his occasional capacity as paid corporate consultant--concludes that "they" are just "us" and that the only way the process of coercion can be reversed is to refuse to comply. "Without us," he assures, "they don't exist." --Kera Bolonik --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Until recently a cyber-optimist who, in popular books like Cyberia and Media Virus, augured a digital revolution, Rushkoff now warns that the promise of the Net as an open-ended civic forum is fading as relentless corporate marketers peddle their wares and capitalize on shortened attention spans. In a scathing critique that extends far beyond cyberspace in scope, Rushkoff identifies the subtle forms of coercion used by advertisers, public relations experts, politicians, religious leaders and customer service reps, among others. Retreading territory covered by critic Neil Postman and others, Rushkoff provides additional examples of how the ordinary person is often unsuspectingly manipulated, whether in the shopping mall, at a sports event or in a Muzak-drenched store or office. This analysis is particularly strong when deconstructing the "postmodern" techniques of persuasion that advertisers use to reach increasingly cynical target audiences, including commercials that self-consciously mock the marketing process. Rushkoff also argues that mass spectacles (e.g., rock festivals, Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March, Promise Keepers rallies) foster "tribal loyalty" but are often contrived, commercial or downright destructive. He devotes a chapter to pyramid schemes used by cults, infomercials, Internet con artists and get-rich-quick marketers. His freewheeling survey underscores the social cost of these coercive strategies, which, he says, tend to make us see one another as marks. Despite his up-to-the-minute examples, however, his overall analysis is not fresh or original enough to take the place of Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1 edition (October 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 157322829X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573228299
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #223,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Winner of the first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other's values. He sees "media" as the landscape where this interaction takes place, and "literacy" as the ability to participate consciously in it.

His ten best-selling books on new media and popular culture have been translated to over thirty languages. They include Cyberia, Media Virus, Playing the Future, Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism, and Coercion, winner of the Marshall Mcluhan Award for best media book. Rushkoff also wrote the acclaimed novels Ecstasy Club and Exit Strategy and graphic novel, Club Zero-G. He has just finished a book for HarperBusiness, applying renaissance principles to today's complex economic landscape, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. He's now writing a monthly comic book for Vertigo called Testament.

He has written and hosted two award-winning Frontline documentaries - The Merchants of Cool looked at the influence of corporations on youth culture, and The Persuaders, about the cluttered landscape of marketing, and new efforts to overcome consumer resistance.

Rushkoff's commentaries air on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR's All Things Considered, and have appeared in publications from The New York Times to Time magazine. He wrote the first syndicated column on cyberculture for The New York Times and Guardian of London, as well as a column on wireless for The Feature and a new column for the music and culture magazine, Arthur.

Rushkoff founded the Narrative Lab at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and lectures about media, art, society, and change at conferences and universities around the world.

He is Advisor to the United Nations Commission on World Culture, on the Board of Directors of the Media Ecology Association, The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, and as a founding member of Technorealism. He has been awarded Senior Fellowships by the Markle Foundation and the Center for Global Communications Fellow of the International University of Japan.

He regularly appears on TV shows from NBC Nightly News to Larry King and Bill Maher. He is writing a new monthly comic book for Vertigo, and developed the Electronic Oracle software series for HarperCollins Interactive.

Rushkoff is on the board of several new media non-profits and companies, and regularly consults on new media arts and ethics to museums, governments, synagogues, churches, and universities, as well as Sony, TCI, advertising agencies, and other Fortune 500 companies.

Rushkoff graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, received an MFA in Directing from California Institute of the Arts, a post-graduate fellowship (MFA) from The American Film Institute, and a Director's Grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has worked as a certified stage fight choreographer, and as keyboardist for the industrial band PsychicTV.

He lives in Park Slope Brooklyn with his wife, Barbara, and daughter Mamie.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 57 people found the following review helpful By John S. Ryan on November 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
Douglas Rushkoff used to be a lot more hopeful that the rise of the Internet would free us from the "arms race" of manipulation and counter-manipulation to which we're subjected through the major media. He's changed his mind, in part because he found that his earlier work (notably the famous _Media Virus!_) was being taught in marketing classes to people who wanted to _create_ media viruses.
But he hasn't turned into a pessimist; he still thinks we can break the cycle, and this book is supposed to help us do it. And given his subject, he writes with a refreshing lack of paranoia: he's well aware that all of these techniques are (a) based on common features of "human nature" that ordinarily serve us just fine, and (b) used all the time, to some degree, by all of us. "We are all coercers," he says," and we are all coerced."
As you read the book, it will help to be aware of something Rushkoff doesn't actually get around to explaining until his closing chapter: by "coercion" he means the sort of "persuasion" that is intended to make it difficult or impossible for us to exercise our better judgment -- as distinguished from genuine, no-scare-quotes persuasion, which engages our reason rather than trying to short-circuit it. Bear that in mind if you think -- as I initially did -- that he's confusing coercion and persuasion.
What he's actually talking about is what people of approximately my generation would at one time have called a "mind-cop." (That term, by the way, has very nearly the same literal meaning as "geneivat da'at," or "stealing the mind" -- a term used in Jewish law for certain sorts of deception.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Michael L. Perla on December 12, 1999
Format: Hardcover
If you've never read anything about the psychology and dynamics of persuasion or coercion, then this will book will open your eyes to this field. Rushkoff asserts that everything is coercive or persuasive in some manner. (Most people view the former as having a stronger connotation.) He deconstructs such areas as advertising, atmospherics (e.g., layout of a store), public relations, and the psychology of hand-to-hand coercion (e.g., mirror consumer's behavior = better rapport = more likely to buy).
Basically, Rushkoff provides numerous examples in each category of how individuals and organizations take advantage of the psychology of human beings. For example, we are more easily persuaded if we regress to when we were younger (and more susceptible to appeals to authority), transfer our feelings to an authority, or listen to certain music or smell certain smells (e.g., bake bread when trying to sell your home).
All told, this book will help the reader to better deconstruct the capitalistic environment that is built on persuasion or coercion of some sort. I also recommend the "Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert Cialdini. Read Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" for a trenchant analysis of the rise of television (and its iatrogenic effects).
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Alex Burns (alex.burns@disinfo.net) on September 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Rushkoff's most solid and well-written book to date, an excellent introductory overview of the coercive tactics and techniques used by Internet e-commerce merchants, multi-level marketing personnel, car dealers, and the U.S. military (the 'appeal to a general and broad readership audience' hot-button).
Rushkoff offers insights from his own consulting career, revealing that issues aren't as simplistic or ideologically pure as is sometimes portrayed (the 'response to critics' and 'juicy inside gossip' hot-buttons).
The index and bibliography are well worth pursuing, including Philip Kotler's seminal 'atmospherics in shopping malls/casinos' work, Noam Chomsky's de-construction of thought control in 'democratic' societies, Peter Watson and Christopher Simpson's review of psychological warfare techniques used on domestic populations (car salespeople using CIA interrogation manuals to increase sales), or Robert Dilt's study of the neurological basis of NLP (the 'appeal to authority', 'appeal to power', and 'appeal to specialist, esoteric areas' hot-buttons).
In an escalating arms race, it's no longer just persuasion (Vance Packard) or influence (Robert B. Cialdini), but coercion. Buy a copy for yourself and one for your friends! (the 'if all else fails, make the buyer feel fearful' hot-button).
Have I coerced you into pressing 'buy' yet?
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "gosibro" on March 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is a valuable little inventory of coercive techniques and strategies used by the various traders, promoters, marketers to sell their products (whatever these may be..)in a turn of the century late free market capitalist society, namely the US.Ranging from hand-to-hand selling of products and nlp, shopping mall "atmospherics" and the mass "spectacles", to public relations brief basics, advertising cults (the most insightful section of the book with a well thought out and detailed analysis of how a cult operates in principle and how the different brand names aim for cult-dom), "pyramids" (systems of organization where the benefits remain in the top of the so called pyramid and the rest of the elements at the lower levels work for the sole benefit of those at the top) and an intro to virtual marketing. So far, so good.
My main qualm about the book though is the confusion that the author seems to be in (I cannot phrase any better). I will explain what i mean. With some good editing this book could have been cut down to 1/3, leaving out all the unimportant case histories (stories of friends and acquaintances of the author) that do not help illustrate the points the author is trying to make, the self-referential info and Rushkoff's "dear-diary" ponderings. It could then have been a near perfect overview of the techniques and going by the name of "coercive techniques" instead.
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