- Paperback: 296 pages
- Publisher: Columbia University Press; Reprint edition (April 15, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0231103255
- ISBN-13: 978-0231103251
- Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.8 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,405,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Adcult USA Reprint Edition
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Twitchell is the beaming Koresh of Adcult.... Often amusing and illuminating, but always extreme―just like advertising. (Time Out, New York)
What are we to make of this mixture of high and not-so-high culture? 'If we find the process invigorating, you call it bricolage,'writes Twitchell. 'If not, you call it tasteless.' (Adweek)
Twitchell eloquently excoriates the standard dull rants about the evils of commercialism. In true postmodern fashion, he argues that there can be no meaningful division between high art and advertising.... Not a single page is without a cleverly turned sentence, thought-provoking remark, or outrageous conclusion. (Wired)
From the Back Cover
'Twitchell eloquently excoriates the standard dull rants about the evils of commercialism. In true postmodern fashion, he argues that there can be no meaningful division between high art and advertising.... [N]ot a single page is without a cleverly turned sentence, thought-provoking remark, or outrageous conclusion.' -Wired
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Mr. Twitchell finds advertising a fascinating cultural phenomenon, the very bedrock of modern culture and I find that hard to deny. He interest prods him to go deeply into all sides of advertising and he seems at pains to deflate any pretensions about high art and culture, claiming that ads are to our time what cathedrals and the paintings of the old masters were to the Middle Ages. While this may be plausable, at least in the Middle Ages you could get away from the cathedrals and paintings now and then!
When you finish with this book you will have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the field. The author goes into great detail about the industry and the history of advertising with plenty of illustrations you will recognize from TV and print.
He looks at the subject with wit and insight but doesn't attempt much examination of what ad saturation might be doing to us with it's direct attempt to guide fantasy to alight on the material.
He identifies every trick in the adman's book and believes we may be reaching a limit (my heart beats faster!) to advertising as the content of many ads now show irony in the message itself, a winking agreement with the targeted consumer that the whole act of selling through ads is psychologically bankrupt and no more than nonsensical entertainment...like the emperor having no clothes and clearly pointing it out himself while mugging and giggling for the amusement of all.
As Twitchell says, the link between advertising and sales has never been conclusively made. But that's OK because we claim an equally tenuous link between our rationality and our behavior. The only question is who is fooled more, the consumer or the advertiser? As knowledge and intellect fall back before feeling and fantasy, are we now in a very comfortable, convenient and attractive fools paradise?
Twitchell does take a close, inside look at culture of advertising and that in itself makes this book very valuable. He also makes an argument about advertising and culture. The unique memorability of advertising, acknowledges Twitchell, allows it to take on the function of shared cultural memory, and has therefore has inevitably replaced less memorable literature and science. This is a valuable if unoriginal insight, which many of the old-fashioned types refer to as the "dumbing down" of culture. But wait, there's more! The twist in AdCult is that Twitchell, while admitting that advertising culture is mindless and superficial, compellingly argues that this "dumbing down" is really a good thing.
It's good that we are inundated with superficially memorable images and phrases rather than literature and science? Yes, says Twitchell, and the old fogies who think otherwise just aren't getting it, they are mainly just feeling threatened by how advertising is "stealing their thunder." No, Twitchell is not some cyberpunk, he is (by profession) a university professor who did the research for this book in order to teach a class about advertising.
It's not that he never believed advertising was powerful, it was that he originally thought that power was a good thing, and then came to believe it was harmless anyway. Twitchell was apparently very impressed by advertising critics of the 50's like Vance Packard and Bryan Wilson Key, and took home the message that if advertising was so powerful, the advertisers must be doing something right. He later seems to have decided that advertising has lost most of its impact through constant immersion, familiarity, and increasing superficiality for ever wider appeal. So now, there is no reason to despise this aspect of culture which has redefined the way we speak and what we desire. Now it has become the source of our very substance, Twitchell argues, and bless it for that.
Twitchell characterizes pomo philosophers as intellectuals in a matter-of-fact way, while taking pains to point out how terribly quaint and old-fashioned are the culture critics who imagine there to be some basis for value in human life beyond what attracts our attention or feels good. Ed Hirsch's populist attempt to foster cultural literacy is to Twitchell hopelessly "whitebread." There is nothing of special value in what we traditionally think of as literacy. The main problem is that Hirsch's terms make hopelessly poor ad copy. Rather, Hirsch should have used phrases from commercial jingles as his basis for cultural literacy, since that's what really defines our culture at this time in history.
Twitchell reminds me a lot of the anthropologist who got too close to her subjects and couldn't report on them objectively any more. No, he doesn't see advertisers as kind, gentle, or noble savages. He accurately sees them accurately as promoting "commercial discourse" for a variety of self-interested reasons, including but not limited to trying to move products and create markets.
It is his view of culture that is wrong (or at least a collection of half-truths) and adopted from the twisted mindset of advertising culture. Twitchell completely ignores (or disavows?) any relationship between culture and the capacity for human thought. In the pomo tradition, he treats human thought as if it springs in final from individual heads, connected to each other by whatever arbitrary superficial ideas happen to be floating around and catching our attention at the time. In the advertising tradition descended from an idiot cousin of Freudian theory, he fully buys the argument that people are instinctively aquisitive but need to be told what to acquire by others.
More subtly, Twitchell encourages the view that cultural literacy plays no role in facilitating complex human thinking processes, except that it makes ideas "memorable" and that advertising is good because it does this really well. To discover why this view is wrong from a scientific perspective, a good start is Merlin Donald's "A Mind So Rare." Memory is certainly central to thinking, but literacy changed our minds in a very real and very fundamental way that is not independent of the content of culture, nor is it bound to Ed Hirsch's "whitebread" version of cultural literacy by means of key terms.
Put simply, humans are a symbolic species and the content of literate culture is part of what supplies the meaning of the symbols that enable us to think the way we do. We know that people don't think completely differently as a result of different kinds of cultures or languages. We can translate a great deal between cultures and still understand each other to a great extent. However the content of culture does play a central role in what kind of ideas are generated and accumulated over time, and so the path of cultural evolution.
Twitchell's conclusion that AdCult is superficial mind candy, but good enough for shared meaning, and his assumption that social order is independent of the content of culture (or even improved by superficially memorable images) will probably pass most people by without much thought in this slick advertising-like presentation. That powerfully supports half of the author's argument, that our minds do soak up slick memorable images like a sponge. It also reveals the dark side of Twitchell's perspective, the one that relentlessly wants to believe that there is nothing being lost except a few quaint stories.