Due to my unusual perspective, people will often ask me my views on the state of the world. But it never changes all that much. From the start of society we’re a progression. We’re pretty much always advancing, then repairing mistakes, and then repeating that pattern.
Humans aren’t given enough credit. We actually have accomplished a lot of meaningful, wonderful things. If we only focus on mistakes then our standard is perfection, and perfection would be stagnant and impossible. The world is always changing, it’s just sometimes we’re prompted to notice.
We are working to better balance our prioritization of the environment with our economies (which is really just a general term for our ability to gain shelter and eat). We’re in a period when everyone senses we can do better than war and petty politics.
But if we were to cast our eye over all of civilization for the single most insidious, society-destroying aspect of our culture it may very well be advertising.
Personally, I love advertising, marketing and PR. It’s exactly the sort of thing my weird brain is really good at. But my nature would lead me to try to be someone like Banksy, the brilliant artist responsible for the mock Coke ad (among many others).
His work makes things clearer, unlike advertising which uses super-subtle psychological effects to essentially brainwash us into a self-hating, other-fearing, branded, controllable people. That probably seems extreme to you, but it’s not really inaccurate.
Would anyone feel good if random strangers approached us on the street and told us our clothes were out of fashion, or ugly, or too cheap? Or that they were from the wrong store or manufacturer?
Or would we accept a stranger walking up and telling us that our skin looked bad, or that if it didn’t, then it would soon? What if we pointed out all of the downsides to their weight gain?
What if strangers interrupted a movie we were watching and they told us to worry about diseases we had almost no chance of getting, but not to worry about ones we did have a good chance of getting?
And after the movie, what if block us into our parking space while they tell us that our car isn’t nice enough? Or that we need to think or vote the way they do, or be classified as ‘dumb?’
If people that did these things approached us on the streets, we would just see them as cruel jerks for offering their uninvited opinion in a way that undermines our sense of self and we would be right.
Some cities like Amsterdam (and Scottsdale Arizona I hear?) try not to accost you with advertising. In those places, public visual space cannot be taken over by those with a singular agenda. You’re welcome to let people know you’re there, but advertising in the North American sense would be seen as disrespectful to the visual environment of many European citizens.
When we consider phones, TV’s, computers, apps, signs on the street, written materials, or even people’s t-shirts, our personal space has been taken over by salespeople. Inevitably these are all invasions of our space by commercial interests who are fully engaged in manipulating us. It can get exhausting.
But advertising has nothing to offer unless we’re first missing something. And advertisers are quite brilliant about manufacturing need.
Young girls around the world feel ugly because of advertising. Young boys feel they must be more macho or sex-motivated than they likely may naturally be. Media images (whether they are formal ads, or ads disguised as shows), present an impossible view of beauty precisely because the idea must be impossible.
There is no way to continue selling us products if some day we would finally think we’re beautiful the way we are. That would be the worst thing that could happen to them. What would we buy if we liked ourselves as-is?
Doesn’t it say something about our society that we’re so remarkably permissive about an industry that is built upon the idea of telling us that whatever we are, or have, or wear, is simply never enough?
We must ask, how much self-respect do we have if one of our most-powerful creations is literally designed to work against us?
It’s going to exist, so there is no point in tilting against windmills. But we can start seeing advertisements for what they truly are: lies told to us to get us to buy things we almost always don’t need.
Buying things that enrich our lives is a healthier way for any company to generate the profits that pay the people who create those things for us. That exchange is ancient and there is nothing wrong with us trading value as we all seek personal balance.
Issues occur when we get tilted far out of balance, and we begin selling for its own sake. At that point we’ve built a ‘monster’ idea, and we’ve programmed it to chase us around the world and beat up our self esteem.
This video speaks strongly to this subject matter. Before viewing it, PLEASE NOTE THAT IT MAY CONTAIN CONTENT THAT SOME MAY FIND OFFENSIVE. This visualized poem quite artfully makes the same case this post does.
Increasingly, people want to take their space back. Through laws, or art projects, or simple citizen action as groups or just as individuals. They put up messages that encourage us rather than discourage us.
It makes little sense for any of us to just complain about the plight of the world if all we focus on are the industry-created ‘short-comings’ we’ve been taught to see in ourselves?
How can the world be surprised that people are more and more depressed when we are ever-increasingly told we wrong and that we don’t fit in as is?! It’s insane. Truly, completely, fully insane.
We need almost nothing we buy. We have been told to buy it by people that understandably want the benefits of our labour (our money) to be transferred to them. Yet that is a losing proposition because wealth does not buy happiness.
If we truly want to make the world a healthier psychological environment then we could do no better than to seriously look at how we view advertising. Because everyone reading this is a beautiful human being, created by miraculous cosmic forces.
As science has proven, we are all literally made of stardust. That being the case, there simply is no collection of words or images that changes how remarkable each and every person’s existence truly is.
Each of us is a tiny miracle among miracles. But we generally lose sight of that once people aren’t babies anymore. That’s when we begin having judgmental thoughts about how they should be. And a good portion of those will have been imposed by marketing and advertising.
Advertising, largely by design, is simply dangerous to our mental health. It does us all good to become more conscious of its remarkable effect on our life. We are better to enjoy it as an artform and as a psychological exercise than guidance for life. Then we can even appreciate something that formerly victimized us. That’s using our minds wisely.
Because whether it’s losing more weight because we’re not watching food ads during TV shows, or whether you just go out more and have fun because you’re not constantly being told you’re not beautiful enough –breaking through the thought-based ties that advertisers use to bind us is one of the first steps toward a psychologically free society.
Ignore the ads. Everyone’s fine as they are. Relax. Enjoy your day.
P.P.S. Here’s a link that demonstrates how the subtle power of advertising can change even the most basic cultural norms. This really is crazy: http://www.fastcodesign.com/1673020/in-20-years-we-re-all-going-to-realize-this-apple-ad-is-nuts
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.