Why advertising is cultural malware -Part 1

By E.F.Nicholson 

Part 1 

This article explores the impact of the 2000 advertisements, on average, we are exposed to daily and looks at how meaningless objects can be paired with deep human needs in order to sell things. By seeing advertising as a form of “Cultural Malware”, we can start to see the insidious impact it has on how we see ourselves and the value systems we live by.

ad everywhere A question I ask myself often is, how much of what we think comes from an unique and personal experience and how much of what we think is simply a personalised version of something we heard before, identify with and now just repeat? What part of our belief systems are unique reflections of who we are and what parts are just mirroring the social and cultural value system we all inhabit? I think these are worthwhile questions to ask, as they are questions about who we are and who we are not. As the things we believe shape the choices we make and the actions we take. Therefore  I think it’s critical to examine, not only what they are but how did they come about.

The ego blinds…       

In asking these questions we look to the key areas of influence within our cultural and social fabric, that being the case it’s hard not to be drawn to our media and advertising. Given its immense reach and exposure to the average citizen, understanding its message is key to understanding ourselves. As we all like to think we are independent and unique in the way we think and see the world.Not many people would be happy to just accept that most of the things they think and feel are totally unoriginal. The reason that would be such an unpopular way to see ones thoughts, is it goes against our egos need to be special and important. The idea that we are just humanoid thought-bots, will not fulfil our egos need to feel special. Yet despite our egos protests,  is it possible we are less original and unique than we think? To know this we need to know how it is we come to form our beliefs and have the courage to honestly look and examine “Is that “thought” something I have worked out and decided in my own right or am I in fact just buying into a way of thinking about things that makes me think that? This is at heart what I would like to explore in this article. As I think we are global society we are on a course for self-destruction, with climate change being the key factor in what is driving us in that direction. It’s so crazy and so hard to fathom at times, how a society so advanced on one hand, can end up being so dumb on the other. To get so close to this point of humanities annihilation there needs to be certain systems in place that allow that to occur. These are systems that obscure and mostly distract the citizenry from seeing the obvious.

 Serious consequences..

Global warming is a  consumption problem and advertising is the pesky salesman knocking on the minds door compelling us to consume. All day ,every day, advertising is whispering, telling, talking or singing the message of “have more “or  “get more” or  “take  more” and ultimately  “consume more”. As our bleak future looms ahead, the tycoons that fuel advertising industry don’t let up. Even though it will be the death of us all, they still want us, to want more. I think deconstructing the key message in advertising is critical part in seeing more clearly what parts of the our social structure are against the best interest of humanity itself. To know how it infiltrated our minds and how it hijacked our own original feelings and replaced  them with wants we don’t need. I would like to share how this is done and examples of what it looks like. I would also like to explore how it  has it ended up like this and what are the key components of what holds it all together.

The mirror test..

If we want to see evidence of advertising subverting our minds just think of a slightly overweight person looking in the mirror. When a man or women stands in front of a mirror and laments at how fat they have become, are the thoughts that make up the self-talk born purely from their cultural understanding of the ideal body. As who could say when thinking the thought ”I look so fat in these jeans”  considered that thought as original or unique to themselves. How many other thoughts that populate our consciousness are in fact of the banal semi-implanted variety? How many thoughts and ideas are predicable outcomes of the ingestion of cultural memes ever present in our lives?  Thoughts that in fact arise from messages we absorb from our advertising rich environment and internalised as our own. When we are surround by images of male models with six pack abs and female models skinny , tanned and oozing airbrushed flawlessness , the thought “holy moly I look so fat”  is the natural response to the visual message that we are bombarded by. It is the advertisers purpose to make you think your fat or allow you to think about oneself in those terms. The example of thoughts about body type are but one of thousands of  induced ways of thinking about ourselves and the world. Be it our idea of happiness, success, money, romance, sex, relationship and so on are being shaped, warped and scripted, almost “by proxy”. It is now almost impossible to escape the bombardment of the visual and auditory incubators of advertising our lives have become.

Things we believe we don’t believe…

When we attempt to separate the truly original parts of who we are from the  mass messages our environment blitzes into our psyche  it can end up quite confronting. This may not appear so with a cursory glance, but as we dig deep and really start questioning where and how in fact we came to acquire this “belief” or that “opinion” which we then claim as our own. This process only deepens as we peer into the unconscious aspects of how we see ourselves and the world. As example this would be the unseen or unaware racism many white people have towards blacks. Intellectually and mentally they feel no fear or racists beliefs or thoughts, they could be even vocally supportive and consider themselves “anti-racist”. Yet walking home at night the black man passing them causes a tight, body clenching brace that didn’t happen when the white guy passed them earlier. Or their son brings home a black girlfriend and they don’t know why but they feel weird about it. That kind of senseless fear is culturally absorbed; it’s not inherited, genetic or arising from personal and direct experience.

 The cultivation of fear and insecurity..

As we look at most of our insecurities, fears, anxieties and limitations we see that they have been imposed upon us. Advertising by no means is the sole contributor towards what gets taken in but is becoming more and more pervasive in its reach and this is evident in the way we consume, what we consume and how often.  Measuring its influence by measuring consumption, it appears  the message is being heard loud and clear . Although each advertisement is different in what it’s selling, there is homogeny in the fundamental message. That is, it attempts to make you think that buying what it’s selling, will give you a feeling of something, or help you avoid a feeling of something .They do this with the awareness that it won’t and so they don’t say outright this is the case, rather they use the powerful language of symbols, stories, colour and sounds to bypass your intellect and hit on that emotional need that’s looking for fulfilment.  It is termed the “art of persuasion” , which just a nice way of saying the science of manipulation, the skill of taking a lie and making it look like a truth. What ultimately is  most destructive is it points whole societies in a completely wrong direction in the pursuit of having their most basic needs meet. This is evident in studies where once a population gets to a certain point of comfort, where basic needs are meet, any further accumulation of more “things” has no impact on overall happiness .So the idea that compels us to buy is driven my an idea that has been implanted and nurtured, of which our continued purchases are the fruits of. It does not encourage and support original thinking, innovative ideas, rather just offers  more and more sticks and more and more carrots, hoping no one wakes up and wonder what the hell they are doing. When a persons unhappiness and lack of fulfilment continues, they don’t look outward at the validity of how the messages they absorb. Rather they blame themselves and don’t realise that it  is the false ideas that have been  taken on board that sets them up for unhappiness, not that there is something wrong with them.

What we unknowingly download….

thinking-brain-image----vector-material_34-57772It can be seen like software, getting mistaken as being the laptop itself. Instead of seeing the software as some “added” to assist in the function of the laptop, the software itself suddenly determines and defines what the laptop can and can’t do, what’s range and scope is for doing one thing and not another. When it comes to our fears and insecurities , probably the metaphor of “malware” would be more accurate. If someone gave you a laptop that was already infected with many viruses, Trojans and malware and you had little knowledge or know how, of how these things worked, (think most peoples Grannies) you could easily end up believing that all the issues, troubles, problems and limitations the laptop had, were just the way the laptop was designed and built. You could spend days and weeks trying to just work around these on-going interruptions, power outs, freezing up, random pop up and all sort serious disruptive and irritating obstructions. All this can only be tolerated and accepted when you are unaware that something from the outside has breached and infected your  laptops hard drive .As long as you continue to think it’s a “make and model issues”, not only are you unable to fix it but you could unknowingly expose yourself to future threats, compound and existing problem even further. Yet luckily, once you can become aware of it’s an “infection” problem, you can go about cleaning up your hard-drive and protecting your laptop from further threats. So with all that in mind comes an awareness that much of how we see ourselves , others and the world, comes from absorbing the dominant and prevailing belief systems of the culture .This knowledge allows us to  enquire  and ask ourselves “What aspect of how I function are coming from the malware of the mind and what is the hard drive of my authenticity” .We can really start to a get real feel of what is that makes me, in fact me. Separating what is imposed, against what is personally understood, permits us to build greater feeling of authenticity.

 The value of an authentic thought…

Authenticity is something many people place a high value you on , as well as originality and creativity. Consider the contribution to the world these qualities bring about, you would think they would be far more pursued and actively cultivated. Yet when we look at the key institutions which have the opportunity to do so, such as our education system, they appear to aim for the opposite, cultivating conformity, unthinking obedience and subordination to authority. This is also the case in many large corporations and public service infrastructure. These places have no interest in how a person truly feels or what original and creative thoughts they have, unless of course it somehow enriches them. It may appear on the companies mission statement but in fact nurturing the creative and original is for the outpost of the art colleges and gaming programmers, not everyday life and work.

For part 2 click here 

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