Saturday, 17 April 2010

Century of the Selfishness

People are generally pretty thoughtful about other people. But in a very more real and distinct way, they are not. Its amazing how far we have got in this world despite utter and unabashed rudeness and hatred of one another. Now I'm not saying this is good or bad, I'm just saying that it's convenient or inconvenient if you consider the context. Say if a man gives me the finger because I'm a terrible driver, thats just rude. He doesn't know the context. He doesn't know what my day has been like to cause me to drive so terribly, or what horrible diseases I'm suffering from. He's just being a dick. But this human condition of looking out for yourself at the behest of others is one that has been utilized by a particular brand of person for years and years. This is the advertising person. A person that, I think, is best epitomized by this picture...

He's the one on the left.

Who knew advertising people were so devious? Well, everyone, but what I certainly didn't know was the lengths they would go to to be devious. For all the disgusting qualities that advertising people need to possess, such as manipulation, evil thoughts, and a general lack of hygiene, there is something no one can deny; Their cunning. In the documentary The Century of the Self, by Mr. Adam Curtis, or at least the section There is a Policeman Inside Our Head, we were shown quite how cunning these people are, noticing patterns and using the powers of psychoanalytical techniques in order to make people buy things more. Like fools. Rich, angry, drunk fools.

So during the 1950s, people were quite easily influenced. They would be listening to Buddy Holly, having a good time, and they would go and see their Davy Crockett movies, content with the advertising of cars with identical wheels. Like chumps. It was easy to make the people of this time buy anything. They would buy toothpaste simply because of a brilliant and jaunty tune and cigarettes with repetition. I mean, come on, with that many uses of the word "cool" who isn't going to buy those? I'm going to buy some right now. These techniques seem to be derived from both Anna Freud, and Edward Bernays, Freud's nephew, who renowned documentarian Adam Curtis calls "the creator of public relations".

In the 60s, people became more rebellious and headstrong. Now the thing to do was to reject the values and the morals that parents put upon you, rejecting that Archie Comics boy howdy attitude or dare I even say...this.


Yes, rebellion was the thing, a lot of it happening on college campuses, with professors filling the youngsters heads full of ideals, causing them to believe that they were all individuals and they all had an opinion that mattered, and that lots and lots of people were doing very bad thing. The natural response to this was to dress strangely and act even stranger, and certain other elements played a big part in this, such as music, and drugs. Thus begun the age of the individual, and the death of the conformist society.

So in a culture that rejected conformity, which was the life blood of many products, how were companies going to keep going to maintain their cash flow? The production companies were only profitable with large sales of the same mass-produced item, so how were they going to sell a thousand cars that were all the same? The answer was, they weren't. Instead they set up focus groups in order to see what the hell is going on with the people, focus groups that were largely unsuccessful, because many of the individualists refused to join in. The solution to the problem was to advertise in a way that did not focus on the product, but on the consumer.

"We must conform to the new non conformists." A memo said, "We must listen to the music of Bobby Dylan." This move provoked a new range of products, one that appealed to the individualistic person, to their creativity and self-expression, tapping into human potential, to "be what you wanted to be."

Its the sort of stuff that was developed by different psychologists, ones that encouraged us to express our emotions rather than suppress them like Freud would have us do, to let out the anger and show everyone who we were, what we were capable of and who we "wanted to be", and with advertisers egging us on, we were buying things that made us seem individual.

No one is individual. Especially not the people trying to be individual. We may be individual in the sense that we all have original thoughts, and ideas, and we all choose when to pee, but on the surface layer everyone is the same. We all shop in the same stores, and wear the same clothes. Look at your clothes. About 10,000 people in the world are wearing exactly what you are wearing. You could carve up a box for a hat and wear a potato sack, but you would still be part of the select group that wears box hats and sacks.

Its the delusion of expressive individuality that the advertising companies tapped in on, and they were just as in control as they were in the 50s. Like I said, devious.

(Century of the Self, a documentary by Adam Curtis, says these things better than I could. This particular post is in reference to There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed segment. Its incredibly good.)

No comments: