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Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture Paperback – June 23, 2009
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“In his opening salvo in the mental war against the paradoxes of late capitalism, George W. S. Trow proposed a motto: ‘Wounded by the Million; Healed--One by One.' What the editors of Stay Free! set up inside the brilliant framework of their magazine is an arena where writers can roll up their sleeves and get cheerfully to work at shrugging off the succubus of commercial culture--for their own sakes, and for all our sakes. This book is a treasury of Trow's kind of healing.” ―Jonathan Lethem, author of The Fortress of Solitude
“There's no better way for you to avoid the pitfalls of our sinister consumer culture than by buying this book. Purchase it now. And make sure to browse the store's wide selection of novelty bookmarks.” ―Patton Oswalt, actor and comedian
“Equal parts damning and delightful, Ad Nauseam is a guide for every shell-shocked consumer besieged by American commodity culture, a battleground where the greatest danger is thinking you're smarter than an ad.” ―Ben Popken, Consumerist.com
“As a longtime critic of advertising and a great fan of Carrie McLaren's and of Stay Free!, I welcome this collection of smart and sassy, illuminating and entertaining essays. This book is a must for anyone concerned about the increasingly pervasive and pernicious impact of the consumer culture on our lives and our world.” ―Jean Kilbourne, creator of the "Killing Us Softly: Advertising's Image of Women" film series
“The book will appeal to readers with an ironic sense of humor or a general suspicion of consumerism as well as those who enjoy keeping track of popular culture.” ―Elizabeth L. Winter, Georgia Institute of Technology, Library Journal Reviews
“Entertaining and informative … If you want to convince your dog to love your iPod, this is the book for you.” ―Book Calendar Review
“Several pieces … delve into less familiar territory, and in these passages, the book's themes garner real heft. … While I was reading it, and for a time after I was finished, I found myself questioning everything. … Ad Nauseum broke through the haze built up over years of media consumption.” ―Carolyn Juris, Bookslut
About the Author
Carrie McLaren founded Stay Free! in 1993. A longtime blogger, she speaks regularly on the topic of advertising and media. Jason Torchinsky is a writer and illustrator based in Los Angeles, who currently writes for the Onion News Network.
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I have never posted a review on here, but I feel like I have to for this book because it's that awesome. Read it!
In a rather (unfortunate) dark, small and detail-less layout of various food items, the McDonald’s “Big Mac” photo shows a delicious-looking, towering sandwich, obviously prepared with much thought and luv, neatly stacked with the trimmings in view…but the side-by-side comparison of same (of what consumers actually get) shows a slovenly construction, a slightly tipped fast-build sandwich at about 80% of the beauty shot’s girth. And so it is with Wendy’s, Arby’s and Banquet products shown. They package the perception, we buy the not-quite-so-appealing reality…and this book’s going to focus-in and tell us all about the sleight of marketing hand that consumers experience everyday. (?!) ~Not.
After some lightweight essay discussions about product placement and general marketing, Ad Nauseum makes a turn for the worst and engages us in advertising history, physiological advertising design of the 20s and 30s, Hollywood legalities, prankster-ism, how 80s ads targeted kids, how marketeers use paid shoppers to influence other shoppers…none of which goes beyond a two to four-page “chapter.”
Before it gets really interesting, it’s on to the next (rather) unconnected chapter…about, for instance, how ad-men of the 20s relied on gauging the buying public as rather unsophisticated and “idiotic” shoppers. So, how does all the generalized information on history, marketing, strategy relate to today’s “American consumer culture”? It pretty much doesn’t. Not here, anyway. ~And getting through the last 1/2 of the book is a struggle, with too often tiresome, pointless, unrelated, (short but) uncoordinated essays.
Interesting note… this reader's library copy had folded page corners, as the self-absorbed previous reader used 5 or 6 as book-marks, a grubby but not uncommon practice to find his/her place. ~But page 240 is curious --the corner remains bent (!), presumably because the previous reader never went, understandably, beyond this point. --My sentiments exactly. (!)
Getting through the concrete boredom of a stray essay about someone putting unwanted items into shoppers’ store shopping carts, for example, is one of the many unfocused essays without much merit, insight or wisdom. Too, the chapter on “pranks” is remindful of calling the corner convenience store and asking if they had “Prince Albert in a can.” Childish. Aimless. What does this supermarket mischief have to do with the mechanisms of modern American advertising -–from the consumers’ point of view (or the advertisers’, for that matter)?? –Not much, actually.
A “guidebook” for the American consumer? –Hardly. This paperback might be good as some kind of marketing primer (maybe Advertising 100?); but as a useful read for the average consumer…not a chance. In lost-concentration form, it mercilessly goes on and on and on--essays haplessly unrelated and unexplained-- …ad-nauseum.
I divide nonfiction into two categories: heavily researched and annotated books that aim to be scholarly treatises, and more mass-market books meant to be easier reading. I put AD NAUSEAM squarely in the latter category. It's pretty honest from the get-go that it's more a collection of related pieces than a scholarly work. So, with that in mind, I read along quite happily, nodding my head in agreement many times, very much enjoying the fact that these authors seem to perceive the same things I do, and learning enjoyably as I read along. For those of you who don't know how Lysol started out, you're in for a shock...
I particularly liked the look at trends in advertising from inception through today, as well a revisit of the idea of "subliminal advertising" and the unintended effects of one crazy man's tendency to see skulls and bestiality in ice cubes. Plenty of fun stuff in here, too, like the "secret" word that can be attached to the names of most SUVs, some really hilarious fake ads, and nice opinion pieces about, say, the type of guy who goes to taste-test Johnnie Walker scotch at a tent on the grounds of the Playboy Mansion.
The writing's great, too. That snotty, we-know-it-all-and-are-VERY-hip Brooklyn tone. Truthfully, that annoys me sometimes, but for this book - it works, because, really, how can you write about the modern advertising business without being really, really snotty? But the writing's clever, and funny, and pokes fun at itself, too.
My only complaint: A lot of the reproduced ads, etc., are much too small to see or read, and some of the printing on flowcharts, etc., is so light that I gave up trying to read it.
There's a key unanswered question in the book, perhaps because there's no answer, and that is: Are Americans stupid? The authors do get on their high horses a little, talking about the white men who run (and always have run) the ad business, and how they like to look down their noses on everyone. But, authors: Have you watched TV lately? You know, reality TV, the Kardashians, and all those other cringe-inducing embarrassments? We may have to accept the possibility that yes, the average consumer is pretty dumb, pretty clueless, pretty self-absorbed.