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March 3, 2001
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Are teens a reflection of the media or is the media a reflection of teenage culture? According to NYU prof Miller "The MTV machine does listen very carefully to children. In rather the same way--if I can put it controversially--as Dr. Goebbels, [Hitler's] ministry of propaganda, listened to the German people. Propagandists have to listen to their audience very, very closely. When corporate revenues depend on being ahead of the curve, you have to listen, you have to know exactly what they want and exactly what they're thinking so that you can give them what you want them to have." More about the PBS special here
posted by noom (76 comments total)

 
The Frontline special was incredible. The extent to which NewsCorp, Viacom, and other major interested parties market to teenagers was eye-opening. All the music they listen to, tv they watch, magazines they read is pure marketing.

The scary thing shown by that special was, MTV and the record labels claim they are simply creating the products that teens want, but what they won't admit is that, at the same time, they're dictating what teens want. Example: Total Request Live is supposed to show typical teens, and play music teens like, but teens imitate what they see on the show, and listen to music played on the show. They show's producers have created a perfect marketing loop. But how is the cycle ever broken?

The stuff about midriffs and mooks was great too. It was fascinating, and I picked up a couple of Rushkoff's books on the subject shortly after catching the special.
posted by mathowie at 12:42 AM on March 3, 2001


The Frontline special was indeed great. I kept thinking things like, "Wow, that 'coolhunting' thing looks like a really fun job!" and "Why on earth are parents stupid enough to collectively put $150 billion worth of spending power in the hands of their kids?" and "I wish I'd gone into marketing, I could be making some serious cash right now." Worth watching.
posted by kindall at 1:00 AM on March 3, 2001


As McLuhan put it “all media are extensions of some human faculty—psychic or physical.” He predicates his claims about the power of media on a belief in the mutability of man. We are the content of our media. Therefore our modes of perception are unnatural.

At one time the media dealt to us in a very subliminal way. Not, anymore... Today teens are a construct of their very own image in the media, fueled by corporate marketing. What will be 10 years from now? When those teens make up the very same corporations by which they are 'slaved' today?


posted by noom at 1:06 AM on March 3, 2001


What impact is this information going to have on the way you raise your children?
posted by Watcher at 2:15 AM on March 3, 2001


That show creeped the FUCK out of me.

I knew a lot of that stuff went on, but I hadn't realized how solid and efficient they are... It was truly frightening.

Seeing that 13-year old girl, Barbara, so excited to show herself off as a piece of meat, and bumping and grinding with some strange guy for the camera, made me want to puke.

I have a daughter who's almost two. This show made me want to take her to a desert island or something, lock her up in a cave, so she doesn't turn out like that.

I wouldn't really do that, but I do realize just how much I've got my work cut out for me, to keep her involved in doing creative things that she enjoys, that bolster her strength and self-worth. I would hate for her to grow up feeling that her only purpose in life is to consume and to be a midriff, to be ogled and sexualized and depersonalized.

I can't understand how a person can realize what Marketing types do, and actually want to *be* one.

I guess this show really crystallized for me what I'm fighting against...
posted by beth at 2:58 AM on March 3, 2001


Agreed. I watched it a few days ago and will probably watch it again - I was just amazed at what kind of a system Viacom has worked out for the content machine.

It's funny about MTV too... a while back I found myself watching some self-serving "MTV's history and greatest moments" type of thing, and the current head of the network actually said something regarding their lack of music videos. He essentially said that the music had so much to do with the culture that MTV decided to take a lot of the focus off of the music and focus on what motivates the music. It was nice to see them admit it.

OTOH, I'm fairly certain they did so because advertisers were saying, "Okay, we're tired of having commercials sandwiched in between videos all the time... we want shows to offset the fact that our commercials look like videos!" And it was done.

In any event, I also enjoyed the way the show segmented the dubious "role models" for boys and girls, and recognized their presence in every Viacom property. So scary!
posted by hijinx at 5:59 AM on March 3, 2001


I recall that many--very many--years ago I had a gig in the clthing industry. Once I was invited by my boss to attend a very fancy gathering of top-notch guys who catered to the fashion industry for men. A chief speaker noted that up to this time, men would never wear a combination of blue and brown. But as of the forthcoming season they would change this attitude because that was what would be pushed on them as the ultimate in fashion color combinations. He "knew" then what most others would learn later about what they "preferred."
posted by Postroad at 6:17 AM on March 3, 2001


"Okay, we're tired of having commercials sandwiched in between videos all the time... we want shows to offset the fact that our commercials look like videos!"

Don't forget that music videos are nothing but commercials; creatives ones (sometimes), but still commercials. Their purpose is to get you to buy a product.

I think the real reason MTV has moved away from music videos is because, even in its current enervated, creatively bankrupt state, music still has a subversive undercurrent that can't be totally harnessed by the corporate machine. It makes complete sense that the machine would move to get rid of the music once they captured their audience, and replace it with non-stop "lifestyle" shows that are intended to do nothing but reinforce their marketing messages of mindless anxiety, sex, and consumerism.

The only videos allowed on MTV are the Britneys and the Mariahs and the manufactured boy bands that are processed and focus-grouped and market-analyzed until there's not a shred of validity or true human feeling in them. Not to mention music.

Every time I hear John Lennon singing "You say you want a revolution" as a shill for the machine, it makes me want to weep.
posted by cfj at 7:43 AM on March 3, 2001


The reason that MTV moved away from the music video format is that music videos don't promote constant watching - people channel surf while they watch them. Traditional rating systems don't take a minute here and there into account - you need to watch for a full fifteen minutes or something. It's all business.
posted by xammerboy at 8:13 AM on March 3, 2001


By mentioning Nazi-propoganda, are you suggesting that there will be a vast extermination of teenagers? I'm not sure I quite follow you there...
posted by samsara at 9:01 AM on March 3, 2001


<metaphor class="slightsarcasm">
Their individuality has already been exterminated!
</metaphor>

cfj: you're right, videos are commercials. Could there be room for exceptions? I might have a few in mind, but while they're still mainstream music, you wouldn't see them on MTV (possibly MTV2.) And I think xammerboy's got the other solid point. You can't just "drop in" on MTV anymore; you enter into a show, just like on almost every other network known to man.
posted by hijinx at 9:47 AM on March 3, 2001


"By mentioning Nazi-propoganda, are you suggesting that there will be a vast extermination of teenagers? I'm not sure I quite follow you there..."

I don't think he's suggesting that (except perhaps in a spiritual sense)... the Nazi propaganda machine was one of the most effective the world has ever known. But it's easier to do what they did in a dictatorship. Harder in democracies. The point of bringing it up, I think, is to suggest that today's marketers are every bit as effective in product propaganda as Hitler's propagandists were in fascist propaganda. In fact, maybe MORE SO because they have to function in a world where people are at least theoretically free to do what they want. Anyway, the point of both Nazi and Corporate propaganda is not just to subvert the truth, but to create a whole NEW WORLD OF "TRUTH". To actually BECOME TRUTH. Much like Newspeak and Mini-true in Orwell's 1984.

For me the interesting thing here isn't that our remaining culture is being utterly destroyed/subverted by corporate propagand. It's not even that entertainment and advertising are becoming almost indistinguishable. These things have been a given for most of my life. What's really creeping me out is that we're heading for a world where NEWS AND ADVERTISING ARE INDISTINGUISHABLE. The very fact that most reporters clearly don't even understand the extent of the problem just makes me that much more creeped out. Real journalism (if it ever existed) is over for the mainstream.

posted by muppetboy at 10:28 AM on March 3, 2001


On the MoC site, in the press responses, I found this bit from the Boston globe's John Koch:
On the other hand, and quite remarkably for a program apparently allied with the interests of young people, 'The Merchants of Cool' ignores teenagers as on-camera sources of ideas or opinion or in any way as active collaborators.
I think this is a point worth considering. How bad is it, really? Has anyone considered talking to some teens instead if just Viewing With Alarm about all this? I'm not saying your concerns are unfounded (I have an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old and my reaction was exactly the same as Beth's), just that I wonder whether teens might have more sense that they're being given credit for here. In Pynchonian terms, the Counterforce.
posted by rodii at 11:57 AM on March 3, 2001


rodii, i think you're right that teens and even pre-teens do have WAY more sense than they're given credit for. the problem is that asking a teen about advertising propaganda is going to be a bit like asking a fish about water. if you're whole world is defined by the MoC, and you've known no other world, then you have no point of reference from which to understand things.

this point extends in a scary way to news media. if you've never got your mind entirely outside the box to see how it works... what important stories go unreported or get dropped, sabotaged or transformed by corporate media... you really can't understand the degree to which mainstream news is propaganda. and by the way, i'm not just talking about publications like USA today. i mean all of them, including (perhaps especially) periodicals like The New York Times.

posted by muppetboy at 12:09 PM on March 3, 2001


rodii, there are interviews with teens on the website that didn't make it into the show, but I've heard it criticized for the teens being from a prestigous private school, and not exactly the demographic the show seeks to study (as mentioned on the FoRK list here - follow the 'next in thread' links for more)
posted by mathowie at 12:27 PM on March 3, 2001


Some teens are more immune than others to the constant marketing ploys targeted at us. There are teenagers who watch little TV and don't buy much of anything; then there are teenagers whose eyeballs are glued to the television which is constantly tuned to MTV. I've known both kinds. It truly is scary to see one's little sister write up a $300 list of clothes she "absolutely, really, truly, needs," and to see how advertising has made her feel that way. Do teens have more sense than they're given credit for? Some of them do, but not nearly enough. And it's scary, too, to think about what it is that makes me buy what I do; I have to think that I'm just as vulnerable as anyone else, but to different things and in different ways. Which is why I've entirely stopped watching TV...
posted by Jeanne at 12:45 PM on March 3, 2001


I've entirely stopped watching commercials, except to analyze, critique and mock them.
I still watch Simpsons.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:49 PM on March 3, 2001


I like to call the TV the propaganda box. I do my best to stay away from TV, except for the odd movie and the simpsons. When speaking about teens and there reaction to this you have to think that they likely have never been exposed to anything else. They are influenced since before they can remember, thus they have no way to gauge how much they have been influenced. There are some smart ones that aren't influenced and there are others that are, but even the smart ones are influenced to a point, they just don't know it. They are in our heads, and once that happens its very hard to get them out. To them kids are just money, screw society, screw morals, go for the gold, if you don't do it someone else will. That's the trouble with our society. It gets to the point where you can't trust anything, you have to reject everything you know to get them out of your head. You have to question everything, everything you are learning, everything you have learned. A point where you don't want to believe anything that is told to you, but you don't have any way to look it. We are all part of the machine.
posted by bytecode at 1:09 PM on March 3, 2001


I think it's insulting to teenagers to say they're pawns of corporations. Some with very low self-esteem may buy into it. But we're a diverse bunch. As a kid, I hardly watched any television. Most of what I did watch was PBS. Most of the things associated with being a teen that I've wanted I've wanted to retaliate against middle-aged people who want to see me as being very seperate from age group, who say they're glad I'm not one of those "baggy pants wearing teens", I've made very sure to wear baggy jeans almost exclusively.

I think our problem is not capitalism or commercialism or any of that. It is, at heart, a cultural problem. There is no great culture because we've rid ourselves of every way to say what is great culture. We've become cynical. We have nothing left but to fulfill our basest desires. And when that gets boring, we have to descend deeper. We have to explore everything we once thought wrong. There's nothing left but to distract people with glitz, then someone will realize you could put a logo on that glitz and sell it.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:45 PM on March 3, 2001


I really do not see a direct relationship between what MTV is doing and what happened during Goebel's era. The type of propoganda done pre-WWII and even during had very different players, motives, political influences, etc. I'd rather leave it up to an history buff to get the setting right when talking about supremacy propoganda, and the hardships of a society, that turned to blame the jewish for their strife. I do agree, however, that this is disturbing on the level of it's precision. Probably surprising is a better word, because it's really just evolved marketing. But putting this and Germany's form of propoganda together doesn't work when you really think about it.I was a teenager not too long ago and can say that they are more influenced by their peers than anything else. So when you know what to sell to kids, by word of mouth it becomes a trend...and so on. Nothing new, just more focused in this case. It's up to questioning the consequences that determines whether we accept or reject it within our beliefs.Mention Hitler=get many posts :)
posted by samsara at 1:55 PM on March 3, 2001


They are influenced since before they can remember, thus they have no way to gauge how much they have been influenced. There are some smart ones that aren't influenced and there are others that are, but even the smart ones are influenced to a point, they just don't know it."

The adults, of course, are immune.
posted by fable at 2:56 PM on March 3, 2001


"I think it's insulting to teenagers to say they're pawns of corporations. Some with very low self-esteem may buy into it. But we're a diverse bunch. As a kid, I hardly watched any television. Most of what I did watch was PBS. Most of the things associated with being a teen that I've wanted I've wanted to retaliate against middle-aged people who want to see me as being very seperate from age group, who say they're glad I'm not one of those "baggy pants wearing teens", I've made very sure to wear baggy jeans almost exclusively."

Naturally, people are different. And I'd hardly say this problem stops with teenagers. Adults everywhere buy into it too... in different ways and to different degrees... but it permeates everything. You can't help but being a corporate pawn because that's most of what there is today. Take a look at the logo on those baggy jeans. Then think... what else has corporate america sold you? And how?

It's funny kind of hubris... everyone thinks that advertising is effective... just on SOMEONE ELSE. But not THEM... somehow, they're above all that. Then you start looking at the facts, and the fact is IT WORKS. Corporations wouldn't spend BILLIONS on it if it didn't work. If it didn't work on YOU.

I agree that it's very disconcerting... because we like to think of ourselves as individuals. But it's a constant fight if you want to keep from being played as a pawn. I recall a professor at my college gave a long talk on this subject and pretty much every student there raised their hands when he said "Who here feels they are unaffected by advertising?" He then walked up and down the aisles saying "Nike, Nike, GAP, Reebok, GAP, GAP, Nike, Adidas, Levis... etc." Virtually *everyone* in the place was wearing the very stuff that these corporations advertise. What's MORE... the quantities of stuff correlated very, very closely with the advertising budgets of the companies. Naturally this could be a statistical fluke (only a hundred students or so)... but he repeated it with other classes... it was quite a powerful demonstration. So are you not a corporate pawn? Perhaps not. If you buy local organic produce, avoid pop music, never watch TV, don't own a car, don't read the paper, don't go to the mall... etc... But MAYBE you just haven't examined your life closely enough to see the myriad of ways in which you *are* a pawn (most of us are)...

posted by muppetboy at 3:19 PM on March 3, 2001


Pawns? Nah...I don't think so. We buy what's around us most of the time regardless of advertising. I wear Docks...never saw a commercial for them, but have been told by everyone that knows about them that they are excellent quality shoes. So what does advertising actually do? McDonalds would probably be a good example of a company that adopted Pavlov's (dog and bell, not Taco Bell) theories about the "association by experience" side of behavioural science. For instance, you show a toddler a mouse and he/she thinks it's cute. Show the mouse again and make noise to upset the child. Show the mouse for another round without the noise, and you have a crying kid. See what happened?So lets take this into a less upsetting setting with fast food. Show the golden arches....show the beefy soy-burger...show the arches again....have a catchphrase. Boy, I'm hungry for a umm...pizza right now. It doesn't work on the same level when from the boob tube.What's disturbing about advertising to me is the occasional lapse in judgement marketers sometimes take. Let say...using Micky D's again...promoting a rib sandwich with the Jungle Book movie. I'm certain a few people would say to themselves, wow...what an idea. To me, it's just the same stuff that's been happening as far back I can see.
posted by samsara at 3:55 PM on March 3, 2001


I think you're missing the point samsara. Advertising doesn't work at that level. The very fact that you know ALL ABOUT "Docks", "McDonald's", "Taco Bell", "The Jungle Book Movie", etc. is the WHOLE POINT of advertising... it's called "brand development". That you don't understand how it works just makes you a pawn who doesn't realize he's a pawn...

So keeping those brand names in mind... by contrast, how many *non*-brand-name jeans do you know? How many jeans do you know that aren't advertised in the media? Now how many of those *non*-brand-name jeans that aren't advertised to you do you then go out and buy? What do your friends think of them?

As a concrete example... have you heard about what cool, environmentally friendly shoes "Deja" shoes are... or what an amazing radical design "Fluevogs" are? They're great, btw. If you have that's a direct or indirect function of advertising.

So building something like that "Docks" brand that jumps to your mind is a combination of product and advertising (NOT necessarily in that order though! It often pays more for companies to spend on advertising than it does to spend on product improvements... which proves how effective it is). So how many soft drinks *not* owned by either Coke or Pepsi do you know? How many do you go out and buy? In fact, consider this... why do you buy carbonated sugar water in the first place?

posted by muppetboy at 4:18 PM on March 3, 2001


"cfj: you're right, videos are commercials. Could there be room for exceptions?"

sure, there could be...if you can point me to one music video that isn't tied to a product we're supposed to buy. a lot of "straight" commercials also are very creative, have great production values, etc., but their sole purpose, the only reason they exist, is to entice consumers to buy things. and that's the only reason music videos exist, too; if they didn't feed the record industry by leading to sales of CDs, there would be no music videos. who do you think pays for them to be produced?

"xammerboy's got the other solid point. You can't just "drop in" on MTV anymore; you enter into a show, just like on almost every other network known to man."

but this really only reinforces my point; that the real purpose of MTV is to act as a shill for the corporate machine that permeates every molecule of modern life.

it's like oxygen; it takes a conscious effort to notice it, otherwise you just keep breathing it in and breathing it out. and i think it's very important for us to notice that children and teenagers are being targeted for this stuff, and groomed and conditioned to be unthinking consumers, more than ever before in human history.
posted by cfj at 4:44 PM on March 3, 2001


To make this more confusing and ironic....I use my TV as a monitor for my computer and am drinking Shasta Twist. I never heard of Shasta until I found that it was cheaper than most of the other soda's on the rack I was looking at...let me look at the label (one sec).Yep...it's from a company. I've been pawned again :)muppetboy: I wasn't entirely disproving what you were talking about and I do understand branding. Actually, that's pretty much what I was describing in the golden arches reference. All branding does is create a reference in your mind, or an association to the product. It doesn't make you a pawn...actually, that's the only thing I disagree about, is the "pawn" part. Because, in essence, that would mean that you really didn't have control over what products you bought. Branding doesn't do that and neither does advertising. I can't just say, "Hi, my name's Adam, you are now my pawn because you know my name." And furthermore, if I was a pawn, who would be holding the strings? It's certainly not one of the many failing dot-coms....or the SuperFresh down the street. (you could say that pawns exist within monopolies)Other than that...I agree. P-c6
posted by samsara at 4:46 PM on March 3, 2001


Bourdieu.

Taste in its modern definition emerges in the late 1600s, with consumerism and the bourgeoisie. It's about the need to assert "power" in the present moment, by making economic choices: fashion as a dilute self-fashioning. (Oh, and that's when branding went big, too.)
posted by holgate at 5:32 PM on March 3, 2001


Unless you sew your own clothes, you are a "pawn."

And PBS has a demographic, too.
posted by solistrato at 6:28 PM on March 3, 2001


Not only does PBS have a demographic... they essentially have advertisers as well.

posted by muppetboy at 7:13 PM on March 3, 2001


You would have to also make your own sewing needle, thread, etc. The fact that you recommend that though, makes me double think its validity as an alternative. The way it's described, I don't think there is any way you could actually get away from being a pawn as it becomes synonymous with being human.
posted by samsara at 7:31 PM on March 3, 2001


To me, it is not about what you buy... it's about how you think. If you think like a pawn, you are one. If you think you are not a pawn, you have probably not yet noticed the board. However, there is hope for true spiritual awakening in all of us... and I think perhaps we are not ALL pawns all of the time. Are these the words of a pawn?

"The man I meet is seldom so instructive as the silence which he breaks"

"I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life...to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

(Henry David Thoreau)


posted by muppetboy at 8:19 PM on March 3, 2001


Propaganda is just information with a motive. The point is not to disconnect and reject all information provided by anyone, but to become aware of the motives behind the information you receive. It's not that advertising is somehow evil or insidious; it's that every message makes assumptions about the world around it, and if you don't notice the assumptions you may end up incorporating them into your way of looking at the world without even realizing you've done so.

I think the word "pawn" in this context would refer not to someone who uses things made by other people (as that is an irreducible part of living in a human civilisation!), but someone who fails to question the message and underlying sales pitch threaded through all commercial media. It's hard to avoid looking at the world through consumerist glasses if everything you hear starts from that point of view.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:42 PM on March 3, 2001


That sounds exactly right Mars, except that propaganda means a bit more than just "information with a motive"... it implies that the end is more important than the means... that the truth will be created, distorted or omitted in order to support the doctrine or cause of the propagandist. This is exactly what modern advertising is about... creating, distorting or omitting the truth. Very much like wartime propaganda in its outlook, but more subtle in its approach.
posted by muppetboy at 9:00 PM on March 3, 2001


Now how many of those *non*-brand-name jeans that aren't advertised to you do you then go out and buy? What do your friends think of them?

My friends don't care what brand of jeans I wear. If yours do, I'd suggest getting some new friends.

(my jeans are from L.L. Bean, if any of you want to hate/love me for it. Why there? They have jeans long enough for me).

Come to think of it, I've never had a great desire to go out and buy jeans. I would wear the same pair of jeans for a month straight until my mother decides to buy me some.

As a concrete example... have you heard about what cool, environmentally friendly shoes "Deja" shoes are... or what an amazing radical design "Fluevogs" are? They're great, btw. If you have that's a direct or indirect function of advertising.

No. I haven't. sorry. My boots from the Goodwill in Fremont are ok with me.

So how many soft drinks *not* owned by either Coke or Pepsi do you know?

Jones Soda. oh yeah.

In fact, consider this... why do you buy carbonated sugar water in the first place?

It has caffeine.
posted by dagnyscott at 9:08 PM on March 3, 2001


Okay... from the Jones Soda website under "What We Do":

Jones Soda is at the forefront of the return to the traditional soda. Not your average pop, Jones Soda’s hip urban labels bear a continually changing array of images, designed to resonate with today’s fashion conscious youth.

You're not being sold to? Yeah, right.


posted by muppetboy at 9:27 PM on March 3, 2001


More from their website (10K filing):

The premise underlying our business strategy is that the success of any alternative or
New Age beverage brand will, in large part, be determined by its brand image. Moreover, due to
the limited life cycle of beverages in the alternative or New Age category of the beverage
industry, we believe that the ongoing process of creating new brands, products and product
extensions will be an important factor in our long-term success. Beginning in March 1995, our
business has shifted from being solely a regional distributor of licensed and unlicensed brands
and products to being solely a developer, producer, marketer and distributor of our internally
developed brands and products. During this period we have also reorganized and strengthened
our senior management team.

[...]

We believe that the market for alternative beverages is dependent to a large
extent on image more than taste, and that this market is driven by trendy, young consumers
between the ages of 15 and 34. Accordingly, our strategy is to develop eclectic brand names,
slogans and trade dress. In addition to eclectic labeling, we provide each of our distributors with
point-of-sale promotional materials and branded apparel items. We promote interaction with our
customers through the use of such point-of-sale items as posters, stickers, table cards, shelf
danglers, post cards, hats, pins, T-shirts, and our proprietary lighted display box. In addition,
through the labels on its bottles, we invite consumers to access our website and to send in
photographs to be featured on the Jones Soda Co. labels. We believe that our labeling,
marketing and promotional materials increase distributor, retailer and consumer awareness of our
brands and products.


posted by muppetboy at 10:02 PM on March 3, 2001


muppetboy, i don't think you're being fair at all. just because she's a teenager you're attacking her based on your own stereotypes.

if you ask me, a pawn is not only the things that mars mentioned above, but a person that stereotypes people based on what they wear or what brands of sodas they're aware of. how would you suggest that a human being participate in society? if she buys jones soda, she's screwed. if she buys coke or pepsi, she's screwed. maybe jones tastes the best. maybe pepsi does. isn't the whole idea of an informed decision to make a value analysis? if i think that clothes from the gap last me the longest and look the best and cost the least, why the hell shouldn't i buy from them? (note: i'm not familiar with the gap's record with human rights. if it's less than exemplary, that is one reason. but if it's just because they're "popular", then your reasoning is not sound.) so companies that advertise are evil now? what the hell is a company supposed to do? i, for one, think jones soda tastes pretty damn good for what's available around here (the pink flavor especially). am i a Plastic Corporate Pawn, Feeding at the Incestuous Trough of Big Business Drivel? i don't think i am.

people who attack things just because they advertise or they're popular always just reek of pent-up jealousy and bitterness. "you've bought yourself perfect popularity. too bad you couldn't buy yourself a soul."

of course, i'm still in high school, what do i know? my brain is copyright viacom/pepsi/aol/timewarner.
posted by pikachulolita at 11:46 PM on March 3, 2001


America has a sick culture, seriously-- and we're exporting it globally. However most of our citizens do manage to transcend (at least at times) the pap shoved in their faces. As much as people on both sides of the issue would like it to be, we are not what we buy. Still, I can't help but feel that we're going through a tough time right now as the conflux of mass media and quick-buck capitalism converge fully, and I do feel bad for those teens (singled out purely for their disposable income) caught in the middle.
posted by chaz at 12:22 AM on March 4, 2001


"So how many soft drinks *not* owned by either Coke or Pepsi do you know?"

Do you know how hard it is to find that out? They're all marketed as different brands, and unless you're into reading fine print on cold aluminum, you'll probably never know. The fact that most sodas that people are familiar with are either Pepsi- or Coke-owned makes this even harder.

"In fact, consider this... why do you buy carbonated sugar water in the first place?"

Because I like the way is tastes. In a side-by-side comparison, by the way, I can tell the difference...but if I ask for a Coke, and you give me a Pepsi, or a generic store-brand cola, I won't care. Hell, I probably won't even notice.

One thing I am a little picky about, though...I only drink A&W brand root beer, unless I can get the really fancy stuff. Is it because I'm their corporate pawn, endlessly pandered to by their marketing division?

No. In fact, I don't remember the last time I saw an A&W ad. I just like the way it tastes. Mug leaves a funny feeling in my stomach, Barq's has caffiene in it, and store brands always taste like they're missing something. Unlike with Coke/Pepsi, if you pour me a store-brand root beer, I'll know.

And just to extend this beyond soda...let's see what I'm wearing.

Shoes: New Balance. They fit better than any of the other shoes I tried (and *you* try finding comfortable size-12 wide shoes)
Socks: Champion. Apparently "slightly irregular" means "they're all left socks."
Pants: Hell if I know. Let's see...ah, Dockers. They were probably on sale, though I admit to being attracted to the name.
Shirts: A Metallica t-shirt I picked up at a concert, and a button-down by "FieldMaster," a company I had never heard of before I got this shirt.
Glasses: Generic no-name frames
Watch: $10 at Wal-Mart.
posted by CrayDrygu at 12:42 AM on March 4, 2001


Muppetboy: We both have that sparkle in our eye that we know what we're talking about. You saying that propaganda (spelled it right this time) trenches deeply into the subconscious of culture, and myself saying that the freedom to choose...whether branded products or leaves as toilet paper, makes you able to escape being branded as a pawn. The funny thing is, the more you put the arguments up against each other, the more they counteract. I guess we both had different economy professors :)But in reality, these are two frames of thinking. And after mulling over it a bit, I believe both exist in the same space in our culture. You have people who buy what their friends buy, or see their favorite icon endorsing a product that they must have. And then you have people like me who more or less is oblivious to this type of propaganda and just buys things because of known/proven qualities of the product, or just because I'm a cheap bastard.It's all interesting to say the least. And I wonder how far commercialism has reached into our psyche's.
posted by samsara at 5:13 AM on March 4, 2001


I think if you want to find things out for yourself... you have to start really thinking for yourself (outside "the box") and deeply questioning even the most basic things you "know" like what exactly you "like". It's important because... who put these ideas in our heads? And when and how? I mean, sure, you like Jones Soda or rootbeer or whatever (I like a good rootbeer myself once in a blue moon), but it's *definitely* not good for you, it costs money, the price is a rip-off and their main "product" is not soda... it's advertising (true of all soft drink vendors). So rather than acting like a pawn, why not try drinking water instead of Jones Soda for a few months and see how that makes you feel. You might be surprised how little you miss soda. In fact you may even feel better than ever. But you'll never know unless you try...

BTW, I don't see myself as any better or any different from you guys... I've got my share of problems as a consumer (I'm actually painfully aware of most of them) and I'm certainly not bitter or whatever... I have no idea where you got that impression. It's not surprising to me that you feel defensive though, considering that I'm questioning *our* whole way of life. What can make us each *not* a pawn is to take that uncomfortable, defensive feeling and use it to explore all the ways you're being sold to and manipulated and all the other propaganda and spin in your life. Believe me, it's all around you. Take that uncomfortable feeling about GAP clothing, for instance, and do some research on their human rights record instead of just lying down and taking it. There *are* small, ethical clothing manufacturers out there. And I'm sure that they wish people like us would give them a call! Thinking for ourselves and questioning *the most fundamental things* is the key to getting free... you won't get there by following the path of least resistance and buying whatever you "like"... and you certainly won't get there unless you start questioning the way you think.
posted by muppetboy at 8:52 AM on March 4, 2001


i do like soda, though. given the choice between water and soda, i will choose soda. it's not good for me, i know. but i do plenty of other stuff that's not good for me (that's not advertised), most of which is far worse than drinking yummy sugar-water. and no, advertising is not what they're selling. they're selling soda. yes, advertising is a main part of it, and yes, that's probably what they're focusing on the most, but when i buy a soda, i drink it, i don't just sit around looking at it. i think pepsi tastes better than coke (yes, i won the pepsi challenge). does that mean that they've Finally Gotten Me With Their Advertising? no, it doesn't. it means i can make judgments based on taste.

on the gap front, i admit that yes, i should poke around the human rights thing more. however, i am also a poor high school student, and in terms of bang-for-buck, gap outlet stores usually have the rest of my shopping choices beat. that probably does mean i'm too complacent, yes. but it doesn't mean i am a tool to their advertising or their image. i've bought from a lot of places, and gap stuff just seems to last me the longest. it doesn't wear out. i'm curious, how is a person supposed to make an informed decision about their purchases without being influenced by advertising if, as you say, it tinges everything we ever do?

by the way, if you're buying "small, ethical clothing manufacturer's" stuff, believe me, you're being Pawned as well. what image are you buying with that? if we're going to turn this around so that everything has an image, then we have to do it fairly and equally.
posted by pikachulolita at 1:20 PM on March 4, 2001


I think you're totally missing the point here. What I would hope to achieve here is not an end-result... it's engagement in a meaningful and ongoing PROCESS. If you choose to live with such a process, then you strive to make a conscious, mindful evaluation of every product that you purchase and the consequences of that action.

If you buy stuff just because it's cheap or you like it, without thinking about the consequences of your action... then I think you're just another pawn. An unthinking consumer. I think anyone can choose to live a more examined life.

Look at it this way... regardless of whether your drink Jones Soda, Coke or water, the key here is (at least working towards) ACTUALLY STOPPING AND THINKING about every purchase you make, every penny you spend, everything you read etc...

For myself, I've thought quite a bit about the soft drink industry and have come to the conclusion that the value I get for the energy that I expend is just not worth it. On top of that, I feel that the major manufacturers of pop are unethically run businesses that exploit youth.

Now realize, this is my own PERSONAL decision. There's no "Right" or "Wrong" about it. If you check I think you'll find that there is good and bad in EVERYTHING WE DO.

So what I'm advocating is not some kind of absolutist morality nonsense, but engaging in a life-long process of thinking about and questioning *everything* and then refining your actions and refining your mind. Nobody can decide but you how well Jones Soda or GAP supports your values. But to be engaged in this process, you really have to stop and think about what giving your money to the GAP really means. Not just once. And not just at the GAP. But everytime you buy anything anywhere. Ethical problems have many facets and are NEVER cut and dry. They're intractable by nature. Which means that you have to do this stuff not just once, but every day, all the time. It's hard work, and there's no way around that.

posted by muppetboy at 1:55 PM on March 4, 2001


Has anyone here ever read "The Image: A Guide to Psuedo-Events in America," by former Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin. Funny, at least three-fourths of the book was a rehash of his book, which was published in the early 1960s. Is "Madison Avenue" evil, or a reflection of our own American obsession with image? Already covered. Reverse image-making or, rather, conspicuously refusing to buy into "the system" as a form of fashion-as-protest, thereby acknowledging the system's own power over your mind? Covered.

Anyway, the lamest bit in the linked interview is the idea that pop songs are now like jingles. Sheesh, what is so darn new about that? (My favorite acknowledgment is in "Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin," by Sly and the Family Stone.) Pop music is music recorded, usually in a studio environment, for an audience and not a pure folk thing, right? This stopped ages ago. Look at the one or two available pics of Robert Johnson. Where on earth did he learn that cool guy pose? Had he seen photos before? Heavens, yes. What's new is the unfathomable control a few global corporations have over images, not images or image-making alone. Consequently, this should be seen as a regulatory issue. For cryin' out loud.
posted by raysmj at 2:55 PM on March 4, 2001


It's not surprising to me that you feel defensive though, considering that I'm questioning *our* whole way of life. What can make us each *not* a pawn is to take that uncomfortable, defensive feeling and use it to explore all the ways you're being sold to and manipulated and all the other propaganda and spin in your life. I think you're missing the general reaction that people have had in this case. Their not defensive because either it's too hard to realize or that they don't like to be labeled, but rather because I would say they are mostly American and will bite back if they feel like their pushed into a corner with their rights. Saying that if you purchase a consumer product from any corporation makes you a pawn is too overly inclusive, and I have found way to many instances in which that way of thinking is a bit off center of what's actually happening. There are many cases, that you end up with a branded product that you did not buy. This doesn't make you a pawn because you didn't purchase it, but does it make you a pawn if you enjoy the product? The point I'd like to make, and that you pointed out as well, is that we all interpret the world in different ways. Just because you don't agree with something, doesn't mean that you're missing the underlying truth. For gods sake, that's exactly what happened with the witch trials (latter McCarthysim), and persecution of the Jews in Germany (god forbid I rehash a bad analogy) for their supposed "control" of the markets.
Lets take a look at some of these companies: First, MTV. There's definitely something going on here that downright scary to some because of it's precision. They sell culture, and they sell ideologies...and are very adamant about representing a changing dynamic in today's youth accurately. The problem is that it's encouraging things that many parents would never have dreamed of doing at that age. Just like parents back in the 20's where deafly afraid of what would happen to society once their children became adults. Or just like how parents back in 200AD...and so on.Now lets take a look at the manufacturers, which I will admit, have the same marketing practices that MTV is perfecting. You buy coca-cola because it has that tasty bubbly joy, or you buy Pepsi for its crisp goodness. Lets say you have a taste test between one of them and an off brand. If you chose the off brand substitute would that make you a pawn? Or would you have made the right decision and avoided the mistake (thus making a "well thought out decision"). I don't believe that we really ought to care. We are born into this world and depending on what country....are expected to accept the laws governing (ie. social contract reference). In the US, we are surrounded by products...the fact that you buy Pepsi or Coke, or even Jones Cola doesn't mean that you're not thinking, or analyzing the companies intents behind advertising....it just means that they produced a shit-load of cola that happened to make it to you're local retailer. Hooray for corporations and their abilities to employ enough people to mass produce the stuff! But are their intents evil? Maybe. There's a good possibility that some CEO relies on his income to purchase high cost hookers on occasion. Or that marketers are willing to dive into an overused fad just to have the security that what their doing is making more money. But I really doubt that there is a collective conscious within corporate media that somehow traps any individual into being a pawn. Rather, a person becomes a pawn if he or she chooses to...and it would be more blatantly obvious than you suggest. The reason being is because it can be heavily argued that the truth in things doesn't lie beneath what you already feel is true, but actually IS what you feel is true. On the other hand, it could be as you put it or as Trent Reznor would say, "happiness in slavery." There are too many inconsistencies however to fully support your position.
Btw, the matrix is real (apologies to the happy-go-lucky)
posted by samsara at 4:41 PM on March 4, 2001


"There are too many inconsistencies however to fully support your position."

I suspect you don't understand my position. Would you care to restate it so we can see what got across?
posted by muppetboy at 5:03 PM on March 4, 2001


Muppetboy: Basically, what I understand that you are saying is that if you fail to realize that a corporation is lying to you, then you are a pawn, and you have also mentioned that if you do not question the propaganda behind those products that you purchase, you are a pawn as well. My only concern is that it is a bit too all encompassing the way you put it. My opinion on it is not that you have companies that do inhumane practices that must be searched out, but that you have people that make decisions within these companies that are, or can be seen as morally wrong. If the public is made aware of these practices, (they would rally together and protest right?) I'm afraid I can't speak for my generation. The only problem is, that these people exist in all facets of society (depending on your moralistic orientation) and can influence people in many more ways than just through commercial mediums....I suppose it would be a good case that they have the most "pull" in big corporations. Being an apathetic sucker would be a better way of putting it than being a pawn. You really do have control over what you do, just fail to realize the obvious. The fact that you use the internet right now somehow, indirectly, enables a company to treat people inhumanely. If we become more and more focused in exposing the truths behind corporations gone bad, then we can free a society of being told what they've bought without the courtesy of being told how it was made or how it is hurting them (case and point: Tobacco industry)I hope I got you right. If I didn't, I'd like to understand your case a bit more before continuing to disagree. I find both views very interesting. I hope this better explains my position.
posted by samsara at 6:19 PM on March 4, 2001


I think maybe we're letting semantics get in the way. Especially this badly defined term "pawn".

I don't think that if we fail to realize a corporation is lying to us that we've become a tool. That's way, way too simplistic. We've just failed to realize that they're lying to us. This happens all the time. What I'm suggesting though is that, in a world where this kind of thing goes on all the time, we each bear some kind of personal responsibility if we refuse to think critically or if we intentionally disregard what we know or suspect... if we shrug our shoulders, try to ignore what's really going on and disregard the facts and what we hear from others, then we get what we deserve...

As far as ethics goes, it's always on a case-by-case basis. You have to take what you know and make a decision using your best judgement. The key principle in doing this, I think, is that we're each responsible for the *predictable* consequences of our actions. I think that bears repeating. You're responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions. Since there are good and bad consequences of every action, this can make ethical decisions very complex and ultimately very personal. But in the end, we each do have a responsibility to weigh these *reasonably predictable* consequences before acting.

Okay, so this then extends to being a consumer. The moral calculus is different for everyone because we all have different values. But one common value we all have (except for sociopaths) is "be nice to other people".

Now let's look at a specific case. Suppose I were to go and buy GAP clothing having NO idea that the GAP has a long history of horrifying labor practices. Since I'm responsible for the *predictable* consequences of my action, I can't really bear any responsibility because I had no basis on which to predict the outcome. Right. Now suppose that I do know all about export processing zones in the Phillipines and the severe human rights abuses going on there in GAP assembly plants. I wouldn't necessarily be wrong to buy GAP clothing. Life is more complicated than right and wrong. There may truly be no alternative to GAP clothing for some reason. In that case, I'm still responsible for the predictable consequences of my action. I've just chosen to accept that. I've chosen to accept that my money will be going to support an institution which has in the past abused people and in all likelihood will continue to do this. Using my money.

So given this dilemma I need to step back and weigh this predictable negative consequence to my action against my own need for clothing and my OTHER alternatives. If there truly AREN'T any alternatives, the decision is easy. But life is rarely so easy. There are usually solutions. I could hem up my old pants. I could go to a used clothing store. I could try to find a more ethical manufacturer. I could just buy the clothes and accept that I'm making life hell for someone else by doing that. The choice is mine. But throwing up my hands and saying "it's the cheapest" or "I like it the best" or "that's what everyone else does" is really allowing myself to become a tool of those who do this kind of abuse.

Okay, so I think most of us agree with this kind of moral reasoning, even if we don't do so well at it most of the time. But it gets murkier. I think once you start noticing that there's a real pattern to corporate abuses (including product propaganda), it's really up to you to take your consumerism to another level. To demand, as a consumer, that these corporations behave themselves. That's what I'm suggesting. Every purchasing decision we make is like an on-the-spot vote for what kind of world we want to create. We have to consider what we're buying and why. Buy, yes. But try to do it consciously. Don't allow yourself to be sold.

posted by muppetboy at 7:28 PM on March 4, 2001


Muppetboy: If all you ever worry about is how your personal purchase decisions affect social outcomes, then you'll . . . well, you'll never affect much change at all. You'll just feel all warm inside about yourself and how darn ethical you are. And how on Earth is that, um, ethical? It's a fashion statement made in reaction to the folks setting the fashion standards, supposedly. (It's more a mix of the the corps. and consumers, e.g. people, but it's grown harder to say given the power of some conglomerates. The issue's especially hard to figure out with teenagers involved, which is what this thread involved at first.) Hmmm . . . who owns the rights to the Muppets these days? Are they abusing people overseas. Guess that makes you uncool. This is such head-up-your-(blank) stuff. The matter here requires realistic, serious political action of some sort for any solution, and not symbolism or personal feelin'-grooviness.
posted by raysmj at 8:14 PM on March 4, 2001


That's excellent. The only problem is that most people wait to be told by the very media that instills these values in them that a particular product has a murkier side to it. Being as limited on time as our culture is, we often get caught up into believing pragmatic truths as commonly as coexistant ones. Who would question the media or even the biased history and science books we present to our children? I think the issue you present is true, but reaches far deeper and personal than the consumer level. When you begin to question the actions you take, you start a chain reaction that will stick with you for the rest of your life and affect the ones around you. I'm pretty sure, other than the things that I have received as gifts, and the spool of 100 Verbatim CDRs, that nothing I currently own has involved ethically questionable actions as a whole. I would need an understanding of these companies to great detail in order make an informed decision however. The fact that there are very few objective reports done on them (consumer reports would not be a good example), there is no way to predict the immediate consequences of your actions. Rather, you should make efforts afterwards to do the best you can and inform others of your findings. But I would stress that the type of person MTV is catering to, would look you right in the eye as if you were a madman, and that's where they have succeeded.
posted by samsara at 8:22 PM on March 4, 2001


I *totally* disagree with your first sentence. It's not about achieving an *outcome* (which is impossible anyway, because things just keep changing) as I've already said at least once... it's about the *process*. The process itself IS the change that we each seek. If you change your mind, you change the world... because your mind creates your world. It's that simple.

If you start looking for a result rather than a process, you'll end up getting depressed or giving up. You may even become a cynic and give the kind of rationalization you appear to be making... "can't get there from here"... "someone else's fault"... "why bother trying" etc... And how does that help you to transform yourself?

As you point out, yes, there's way more to do here than just making ethical purchasing decisions... But when you get down to it, what I stay is still true... we're each only *responsible* for ourselves. You can't, by definition, be responsible for someone else's actions. Even when you take political action, you do this as an *individual*. We each take responsibility for the predictable consequences of our political actions (or inactions) too.

Finally, BTW, I totally fail to see why anything at stake here is "harder to figure with teenagers involved". Last time I checked, teenagers thought for themselves and made daily ethical decisions.


posted by muppetboy at 8:45 PM on March 4, 2001


Sorry, that last post was in response to raysmj. This one is in response to samsara.

"When you begin to question the actions you take, you start a chain reaction that will stick with you for the rest of your life and affect the ones around you."

Yes, this is exactly what I'm talking about. Engaging in an ongoing process of ethical self transformation. I think we are on the same wavelength at last.

"I'm pretty sure, other than the things that I have received as gifts, and the spool of 100 Verbatim CDRs, that nothing I currently own has involved ethically questionable actions as a whole. I would need an understanding of these companies to great detail in order make an informed decision however. The fact that there are very few objective reports done on them (consumer reports would not be a good example), there is no way to predict the immediate consequences of your actions. Rather, you should make efforts afterwards to do the best you can and inform others of your findings. But I would stress that the type of person MTV is catering to, would look you right in the eye as if you were a madman, and that's where they have succeeded."

I think what you meant to say is that you're not aware of questionable ethics in regard to anything you own. Truth is that if you look closely enough, it's all gray scales. Every action has positive and negative consequences. And your decisions are all totally self-defined. The trick is to give yourself slack on the individual cases (nobody's perfect), but proceed to refine the process in a reasonable way (meaning one that's kind to others and yourself). That's the ticket. As you said "you start a chain reaction"... and this process of living an examined life never stops does it?
Amazing!

posted by muppetboy at 8:58 PM on March 4, 2001


Muppetboy: No, teenagers are very much influenced by what they hear, read and see, etc. Ever wonder why prayer in schools is banned? It's not simply the separation of church and state, but the notion that the young are more susceptible to proselytizing. Why do we have juvenile laws (which are increasingly overlooked or ignored in serious cases, but that is another story)?

And the world inside your mind is not the planet Earth. Your world is the same world we all live in, all notions about objective reality aside. (If I threw an rock at your head, would you mind if I said I didn't throw it, actually, that you can't prove it and thus can't file charges, since the incident did not occur in my world?)

What do you mean changes in process and not outcomes? Gee, knowing that things change didn't stop many of our ancestors from trying to affect real change in a tangible, deep way and in many cases succeeding beyond their wildest imagining. They made the world in which the Gap, you and your processes, metafilter, my keyboard, etc. exist even remotely possible. And we've all trashed their heritage by thinking that politics is a nasty business, that the world is safe only for action at a small, personal level. Didn't mean to imply that such action does no good, but in and of itself it's small pototoes.
posted by raysmj at 9:05 PM on March 4, 2001


muppetboy: yep, that's pretty much it. If you look back, we stayed on the same wavelength on that topic....just semantics and over-speculation got in the way. (semantics over the use of pawn, speculation over what I already know and how I've already questioned my actions as a consumer before this topic). This is really nothing new to my ears, but puts a different perspective on the urgency in which we, as consumers, need to act in regards to ethically questionable buisness practices. I would assume that there are already a bunch of people actively protesting and writing well documented reviews. They are in the thick of it. The only problem is that many of us, regardless of how the product was processed, do not have the moral self disipline to actively practice our rights as consumers. We're not controlled, yet some of us are so damn lazy in this department that we might as well be. (if you don't believe me, pretend you're shopping at the GAP and watch). The trick is, using propaganda in a useful manner by educating people who are currently unaware...but without making yourself look like a nutcase. Propaganda can be used in a good way and doesn't have to be on a grand scale. Interpretation of one's motive is important to starting that cycle of self examination. It's as simple as starting with "does Chicken of the Sea actually make efforts to not harm dolphins?" Or whatever you feel strongly about. As you implied, we all care about different things.
posted by samsara at 9:56 PM on March 4, 2001


Oh, I thought you were referring to ethics regarding teenagers. Yes, teenagers are more impressionable to be sure (as are 20 somethings, really). And I totally agree that advertising is way overstepping its bounds.

Your second para reminds me of the Zen story where the student exclaims "pain is emptiness!" when asked what pain is... the Zen master then whacks the student with a stick. "Pain is also pain." There's no question that we live in the same physical "world". That's not what I mean by "our mind creates our world". I mean that how you interpret the world, how you react to it is MORE IMPORTANT than how it actually is (which is unknowable anyway). Buddhists have a saying that goes something like "Beautiful mind, beautiful life". That's my point.

There's a story I once heard that might help. Best as I can recall it goes like this: Once upon a time, a village discovered that one of its children had become sick due to a tree in the village square which was apparently quite poisonous. The story then described the same village under three different scenarios. In the first village, when told about the poisonous tree, the shaman said "A poison tree!? We must burn it down or the children will get sick and die." And so they did. And everyone was happy and safe, although they missed their village tree... In the second village, the shaman said "A poison tree. It is deadly to the children, but we enjoy its shade so much! Why don't we build a fence around the tree so the children can't get at it?" And so they did. And the village was happy and safe, although the children regretted that they couldn't climb the tree anymore. But in the third village, when told about the poison tree, the shaman said "Ah! A poison tree! What a blessing this is!" He then proceeded to extract the poison to create medical cures. The village was happy, the tree was shady, the kids were climbing and the people were well. So it is with different minds.

Your last paragraph reveals, perhaps, a difference in the way we approach the world. In the world I see, absolutely nothing lasts. And there are no endpoints or results... only processes of change. Even broad political movements are just processes created by thousands and millions of small scale actions by individuals.

We have to act on a small, personal level because that's the only way we *can* act. Don't infer from this, however, that I'm suggesting that we should abandon trying to take real, deep, dramatic, political action. We just each have to arrive at that in our own way because there is no other way. Actually, if the circumstance is dire enough, I think even violent revolution can be a reasonable or even necessary course of action. But again, we still each make our decision to participate or not in a movement on an individual basis and according to our ethical principles.


posted by muppetboy at 10:07 PM on March 4, 2001


"The trick is, using propaganda in a useful manner by educating people who are currently unaware...but without making yourself look like a nutcase."

There's more than one way to skin this cat. I think simply making our whole lives an example to others is our best possibility for sparking meaningful change in others as even the best "propaganda" doesn't work if it falls on deaf ears... which reminds me of something from a book on Rumi I've been reading (The Illuminated Rumi)...

"[...] Anything human beings do, every story, can serve for Rumi as a lens to see the growth of the soul. Whatever curl of hair interests you, he uses that to draw you to the greater whole.

The Indian Master Ramakrishna was once approached by someone who said, "I'd like to bring my cousin to see you, but he's not interested."

Ramakrishna replied, "Tell him we have fish soup."



posted by muppetboy at 10:19 PM on March 4, 2001


One more, muppetboy, regarding this statement: Even broad political movements are just processes created by thousands and millions of small scale actions by individuals.

True to a degree, but the Civil Rights Movement wouldn't have occurred without actual organizations and leaders including MLK. Brown v. Board came out of a long NAACP struggle in the courts. And the change has been long-lasting. Will Campbell, a renegade independent Baptist preacher/philosopher, thinks it would've been more effective in the long run to have affected a change in peoples' hearts. BUT in the meantime people were being denied basic American rights.

There's also a chicken-egg question here, always. White evangelical churches, via "fusionism" politicians and organizers (Jerry Falwell, Barry Goldwater, etc., and others who mixed libertarian ideas together with ideas regarding traditional values which are actually undermined by laissez faire capitalism -- if that makes any sense), have done a humdinger of a job in getting folks to think that laissez faire economics is somehow connected with a higher power's intentions for humankind. Did that come from the church-goers themselves, or the fusionism politicos, or a combination of both?

Connection with the topic at hand? Mass political has never, ever occurred without the efforts of organizations, political entrepreneurs and others. Never. Also, changes in outcome can be long-lasting, and actually affect the thinking -- or thought processes, as you might put it -- of millions of people.
posted by raysmj at 10:28 PM on March 4, 2001


Finally, BTW, I totally fail to see why anything at stake here is "harder to figure with teenagers involved". Last time I checked, teenagers thought for themselves and made daily ethical decisions.

funny, that's not what you implied back when you asked dagnyscott what her friends thought of her jeans... i'm agreeing with your general sentiments, but it's your holier-than-thou attitude that makes me want to go buy kathie lee gifford straight-from-the-sweatshop clothes.
posted by pikachulolita at 10:54 PM on March 4, 2001


Right. Things just aren't that clear cut are they?

Still, I have a couple of thoughts here. First off, these organizations and leaders are just a bunch of individuals. Individuals who went through the very process of self-transformation and engagement that I'm talking about.

Secondly, while they get the credit, my feeling is that this "great man" history stuff is mostly a load of crap. These people, while interesting and influential, didn't *themselves* precipitate change. It's actually quite the reverse. Sweeping social change of the kind I'm talking about is what *created them* (brought them to the limelight).

Rather than being key events, I'd say that political victories and court decisions and such are simply the punctuation mark at the end of a sentence created by the people themselves. The reason we don't talk about history like this is that it's much harder to do. It's easier to attribute sweeping social change to a couple of charismatic leaders, when in fact the real and meaningful change always begins in the ranks.

I'd expect that the connection between laissez faire economics and God goes back to Manifest Destiny and even earlier... you can hardly pin that meme on modern evangelical churches. And I'm not sure if that meme is really as powerful or all pervasive as the meme of Darwinism in laissez faire economics...

posted by muppetboy at 11:00 PM on March 4, 2001


Muppetboy: Wouldn't disagree with you on the "no great man" idea. Note, however, that I gave more deference to organizations, not individuals. Also didn't mean to outright blame evangelical churches for the laissez faire economics-traditional values thing. It was spearheaded, instead, by politicians or political entrepreneurs working through or for larger coalitions. Interesting that you bring up Darwin. The Scopes trial attorney for the plaintiff was William Jennings Bryan, who saw himself as being allied with the people who would now be identified as "traditional values" types. But Bryant was a populist, a leftie.

Swear, that's it for me.
posted by raysmj at 11:12 PM on March 4, 2001


"funny, that's not what you implied back when you asked dagnyscott what her friends thought of her jeans... i'm agreeing with your general sentiments, but it's your holier-than-thou attitude that makes me want to go buy kathie lee gifford straight-from-the-sweatshop clothes."

Actually when I wrote that, it never occured to me that dagnyscott was a teen. The power of peer pressure doesn't vanish at 20, you know.

As far as the holier-than-thou attitude, I think that perception is coming from your side.
posted by muppetboy at 11:23 PM on March 4, 2001


I see no real difference between important organizations and important individuals. Both are side-effects of the much deeper undercurrents of mass change already in progress.

I think this is about it for me too. It's fun to talk about this kind of stuff sometimes, but talk is cheap, eh?
posted by muppetboy at 11:27 PM on March 4, 2001


If you start looking for a result rather than a process, you'll end up getting depressed or giving up.

Ahh. Perhaps that's what I'm doing wrong.

Regarding teenagers: experience brings some perspective, and that perspective makes it easier to notice and critique the implied messages in the information/advertising you absorb. A younger person is less likely to notice they're being told something worth questioning if they've never heard anything else. It's not gullibility or lack of intelligence, it's just lack of experience, and I think it's a legitimate reason to restrict advertisement aimed at children.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:42 PM on March 4, 2001


Mars: Wise man say: "Inside every older person is an younger person wondering what the hell happened!" I'd like to go back to what I said earlier about the "dismal state" in society's motivation. I'm not sure that I could generalize that all teenagers, or all 20 something's are highly impressionable. I would say that a good number of teenagers, and a good number of 20 year-olds, and we can even break that barrier above the the 30-year old mark too (being that's where you would fall in to muppetboy). The truth of the matter is, that a vast amount of people, regardless of age, have never stepped "outside the box" to actually see how important their decisions are to the future of commercialism. Granted, corporations will always be as sincere as the guy at the drive thru window when he says, "thank-you, come again." But any improvement would need vast knowledge by consumers about malpractice for anything to actually get done about it. To everyone else: Muppetboy is not being holier-than-thou....he's just being stereotypical for his age. (being satirical of course, the reason you got offended is because he was coining generations just as corporations do. Please do get offended by them too while you're at it ;).Now, I wonder if I can get the Korean translation of "sweatshop" as my NikeID.
posted by samsara at 6:03 AM on March 5, 2001


I'd expect that the connection between laissez faire economics and God goes back to Manifest Destiny and even earlier...

That's Max Weber and yer Protestant work ethic. But especially the Calvinist strain of the Dutch Enlightenment, where your eternal fate's in the bag, so do as thou wilt on earth.
posted by holgate at 6:53 AM on March 5, 2001


Great discussion. I never thought I`d see Bourdieu mentioned here.

I think comparing Nazi propaganda with contemporary advertising culture is a useful device to make a point, but I expect Miller would admit that current commercial `propaganda` is much more effective than Goebbels` efforts ever were.

Suggesting we`re all pawns and that sort of things misses the larger point. In marketing there are the `Four Ps`: product, placement, promotion and price. There is no effort being made to separate advertising (promotion) from the product. The product IS the advertising; when you buy something, you are buying the advertising. The only measure of the success of marketing whether something sells. The social good, personal mental and physical health, the environment, you name it... none of those things are really a factor in the success of a product. It does not matter to marketing people whether or not they are dealing with the conscious or the unconscious mind.
posted by tranquileye at 8:57 AM on March 5, 2001


"To everyone else: Muppetboy is not being holier-than-thou....he's just being stereotypical for his age. (being satirical of course, the reason you got offended is because he was coining generations just as corporations do. Please do get offended by them too while you're at it ;)."

What interests me here are the ideas. And truthfully, ALL of the ideas I've been spouting here (in an admittedly preachy kind of way) come from other people. The bit about "We are responsible for the predictable consequences of our actions", for example, was something I once heard Noam Chomsky say (and he probably got the idea from someone else). That phrase in particular has really stuck with me over the years. I didn't attribute the Chomsky idea because a lot of people have a kind of knee-jerk reaction when they hear his name. And I didn't attribute a lot of the other stuff because, frankly, I don't remember where I heard it. Anyway, I'm just trying to point out some of these ideas that people have had which suggest that there is a better path to walk on. I wouldn't suggest and didn't mean to imply that anyone's a "better person" (whatever that means) for doing so.


posted by muppetboy at 9:26 AM on March 5, 2001


"I think comparing Nazi propaganda with contemporary advertising culture is a useful device to make a point, but I expect Miller would admit that current commercial `propaganda` is much more effective than Goebbels` efforts ever were."

I thought this was part of his (rather inflammatory) point. Modern marketing is far more advanced and look at what Nazi propaganda was capable of... makes one wonder how many of our modern problems are being caused by advertising. I thought it was really interesting that part about how the top 3 countries in the world in terms of how teens felt about themselves were all countries with no advertising (Cuba, Chile and ??). Makes one stop to think... are we really better off with all this STUFF?


posted by muppetboy at 9:31 AM on March 5, 2001


I'd like to add that there are different approaches in marketing depending on your demographics. In Japan , you have products that do not see a shelf life of more than a week or two, as "brand loyalty" seems to be less of a fad with consumers (or it just plain doesn't work as well as in the states). It's an entirely different culture, thus it needs a different approach by advertisers to coax them into buying their product. I haven't travelled too much, but from the different countries I have been in, I have seen notable differences in how serious advertising is taken. The case I have come up with for the U.S., is that a majority of it's citizens own a TV, or have a constant feed of media throughout their daily lives. A few commercials here and there never hurt...before you know it, something catches on as attention is focused on the media, the addition of a commercial here and there creates that "brand association" much more effectively...corporations also know that a stereotyped culture can be embraced and sold to for a few minutes of "air time." It's the bandwagon approach at it's best, yet never all-inclusive.But that's not to say that the U.S. is the only country to be subjected to this type of problem.
posted by samsara at 10:28 AM on March 5, 2001


Getting older does not make you wise, it just makes you old. And older people care just as much about what their friends and co-workers think as teens, they watch just as much television, buy as much stuff as teens that show off their social class (more, because they have more money. take as a case in point cars). The only that changes is that they become snobbier.
posted by dagnyscott at 11:32 AM on March 5, 2001


I couldn't agree more, but are you sure about the getting snobbery part? I've met some pretty hard-headed teenagers who think they know everything. The very idea that an 8-year old child would show herself off like a piece of meat raises questions of ignorance of the obvious consequences (not only with the child, but with the parents of that child too.) I think as you get older, you value your life more as you can actually feel the clock ticking to your inevitable death. When you're young, it's not even an issue unless there are medical or other life threatening complications. You'll see some kids smash into telephone poles or OD on drugs before realizing their true mortal self. But once a person has that consciousness of mortality, one would definitely make effort to have something to say before it's too late...and may even convince one's self that they know what their talking about due to their personal discovery. (I contradict myself in this of course! It's nothing but personal experience mixed with collective observation). I think getting older does make you wiser....but it's maturity levels that don't change much after the age of 18. You see propaganda in all levels of age regardless. Whether it's targeted at youth with rebellion or change....or whether it's targeted at the elderly with life insurance and security. It follows what people feel matters most.
posted by samsara at 12:03 PM on March 5, 2001


dagnyscott, getting older does make you wiser, but that doesn't necessarily make you better, smarter, or superior.

Wisdom really is about life experience. While it's certainly possible for teenagers to be wiser than adults - I don't for a second doubt there are 14 year olds out there that are far wiser than my 23 years have gotten me - as a general rule as you live you learn more about the world around you.

It's an argument of semantics, but they're mildly meaningful semantics.

Age doesn't make you any less prone to marketing (see the classic senior citizen telephone marketing con job for a good example), but it does make you less prone to what's currently being marketed to the mainstream because, for the most part, once you're out of college you're not in the demographic that most of that marketing is geared towards anymore.

You don't care if your mom serves Sunny D to your friends, but you start to care how much washing machines and couches are.
posted by cCranium at 12:45 PM on March 5, 2001


Getting older does not make you wise, it just makes you old.

That's true but misleading. Getting older does not make you wise but it gives you the opportunity to become wise. It is difficult, and thus unusual, for (say) a twelve year old to have experienced enough, read enough, thought enough to have a mature perspective on the world and thus a mature ability to understand the significance and implied meaning of advertising messages.

Wisdom is experience plus contemplation. Experience takes time, and time brings age. The equation is not exact but it does exist.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:03 PM on March 5, 2001


Sorry, wiser than the outcome inconsistent Muppets underlying stereotypes. Pawns? Friends sound tasty, bubbly sewing points "like" different time. Disconcerting because picky alternative ethics take charge especially unless root beer propaganda branded apparel items.
posted by honkzilla at 8:46 PM on July 11, 2001


Zippity BOP™!
posted by daveadams at 12:24 PM on July 12, 2001


Boppity Zip™!
posted by samsara at 9:33 PM on July 12, 2001


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